I am often contacted by people after they realize that their productivity isn’t going to meet their department’s expectations. The most common scenario is a person who has received a negative review because they fell into the typical work trap: spending all their time on helping others but making little progress because they’re exhausted from over-functioning in other aspects. As a result, they use all their free time to physically and mentally recover, yet experience guilt and stress over their lack of productivity.
These are always difficult conversations, but I typically start with the basic organizational tips and tricks to get people re-connected to their work. I recommend 30 days of structured support and accountability. At the end of that time, assess your progress. Some people get right down to business; they quickly establish a plan and settle into their daily routine. But others are so deeply blocked that they just can’t do it, so they need to start to work their way through the common fears underlying the resistance that they experience. Working through unrealistic expectations, disempowerment and a hyperactive inner critic helps get the vast majority moving through whatever funk they’re in. However, there’s one qualitatively different type of energy that blocks productivity that can be the most difficult to identify and resolve — unclear goals.
Get Real About Your Goals
At the most basic level, unclear goals can be problematic for those who simply have no overarching plan. For example, you may be having difficulty establishing your agenda or it may be the case that you just keep reactively responding to opportunities that come to you instead of evaluating whether or not they make sense for your career. In other words, you react to other people’s agendas instead of proactively crafting an agenda that addresses your own substantive interests and questions. But at a deeper and far more problematic level, resistance to productivity that is driven by unclear goals is often rooted in a lack of clarity about your long-term professional goals. When I have tried everything I know to break through resistance, I typically end by asking: What is it that you really want to do?!
I imagine this as a direct and easy question for some. But oftentimes this question is often met with nervous laughter, long pauses, and surprising hesitation. People often tell me that they were either inspired by someone else or came across an issue that needed to be addressed. The trick is to determine the difference between escape fantasies that result from feeling confused and the gut-level resistance that occurs when you REALLY know you’re on the wrong path.
I hope that by asking yourself what you really want to be clarifies your own purpose by either helping to confirm your commitment or redirecting your amazing talent and energy. Either way, putting conscious thought towards answering this question will energize you and get you reconnected to your goals in life.