Just buckle down and get it done, right? If only productivity were so simple. As someone who is self-employed and works from home, I oftentimes struggle with getting it all done. I’ve got my responsibilities here on this blog, as well as the weekly vlog, the work I do with my freelance writing clients, the upkeep of maintaining some semblance of a public profile… and that’s all before everything that goes into being a father, a husband, a son, and a homeowner. It’s a lot.

Visualizing the Concept of Productivity

I’ve come to recognize that the challenge of productivity goes beyond the sense that I don’t have enough time to get it all done. Time is just one factor, and thus, the dynamic is better understood as a Venn diagram. Allow me to illustrate.

Venn diagram for productivity

You see, productivity isn’t just about having the time to do everything. Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, the same 7 days in a week, the same 52 weeks in a year. And yet some people are able to accomplish so much more than others. For the moment, I’m going to put aside discussions of support, delegation and outsourcing. I’m just going to focus on how this Venn diagram relates to my personal productivity… and maybe you’ll find that you feel the same way.

For me, productivity resides at the intersection of time, energy, and focus. It’s that black hole in the center of the Venn diagram; when you’re feeling especially productive, the work really can suck you in. Hours can pass in an instant. It’s rewarding and invigorating.

But what happens when you’re missing one of those three elements?

Time and Energy (But No Focus)

Some days, I’ll sit down at my desk with a fresh cup of coffee. Someone is watching the little one for me, so I have the opportunity to really buckle down and get some work done. I haven’t yet been drained from a day’s activities, so I’ve got the energy to get it done too. But I can’t focus. My mind is racing around in 15 different directions.

When I have time and energy, but no focus, that results in distraction. And as we all know, the Internet is rife with opportunities for distraction and procrastination. Oh, I’ll just check Facebook quickly. Oh, I’ll just watch one more YouTube video. I can’t achieve a sense of flow, because I’m failing to block out everything else.

Time and Focus (But No Energy)

I’ve written extensively about the third shift, so I won’t dive too far back into that topic now. What I will say is this. After spending part of my day getting work done, and the rest of my day taking care of the kiddo, I can feel at the mercy of my exhaustion.

After I tuck her into bed and she falls asleep, I indeed have some time to myself, even if I keep half an ear open in case she wakes up. That’s the third shift. I’ve got some focus, because my to-do list can help dictate what needs to be done. The problem is a lack of energy. I’m drained. I just want to relax.

And thus I find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place again. I can work, so I feel I should work. Because if I don’t work, I’ll pay for it tomorrow. Procrastination, if you want to call it that, compounds upon itself. But I also recognize that the third shift is neither healthy nor sustainable in the long run.

Energy and Focus (But No Time)

Oftentimes, I can feel horrendously guilty for placing work above family life. I can be spending more time with my wife and daughter, so I should, right? Work can wait, right? But as fellow dad blogger James Smith pointed out in a recent blog post, this can lead to a sense of bitter resentment too.

Maybe I’ve got the energy and the focus to be productive, but I don’t have the time. I can feel saddled with the responsibility of everything else going on in my life, and work must then take a back seat. The to-do list continues to grow and I feel like I’m playing a wicked game of Whac-a-Mole. I’m always playing catch-up.

So where does this lead us? I’m not sure. But at least I have a way of visualizing why I can struggle with productivity. What do you find most challenging? A lack of time, focus or energy?