On a recent client consult, the prospect told me about all of the tips and systems he’d been using lately to increase his productivity.

“But they’re not working,” he said exasperatedly.

“What does ‘not working’ mean?” I asked him.

“I have resistance to them and don’t follow through.”

“Let’s be very precise here. It’s not that they don’t work. It’s that you don’t like them and don’t stick to them.”

I’ll tell you the same thing that I told him — it’s totally fine not to use certain productivity and time management systems, but acknowledge that it’s you, not the system. (Here’s how you know that’s true: For any given system, there will be thousands of champions who absolutely swear by it, call it life changing, and are willing to invest thousands of dollars to master it.)

Here’s why it’s important: When you chalk it up to the failure of the system, you’re ignoring the power that you have to harness your mind.

You’ll call it a wash and go off in search of a different, better, shinier tip or strategy that will solve everything for you.

But that won’t work either, because you haven’t solved the underlying belief system that keeps you stuck in the same cycle. (Of feeling overwhelmed, rushed, frazzled, and stressed.)

Here’s a quick exercise that will help you instantly understand your own mind: Ask yourself your thoughts about productivity, time management, punctuality, or focus. Your answers will tell you everything you need to know about what kind of results you’re creating in your life.

If you’re like most people, you’ll have a list that looks like this:

  • There’s not enough time
  • I can’t stay focused
  • It’s normal to show up late
  • Everyone else bails constantly too
  • I say I’ll do things but then just…don’t
  • I can’t figure out why I don’t follow through

Here’s a case study to show how one of those thoughts plays out:

Think about your current to-do list. Does this look familiar?

  • → Thought: “I can’t handle this much.”
  • → Feeling: Overwhelmed
  • → Action: Stall, procrastinate, complain, spin your wheels, don’t do any tasks on your list
  • → Result: Nothing gets done, list stays the same; validates that you can’t handle it.

Or this:

  • → Thought: “There’s so much to do, as always.”
  • → Feeling: Overwhelmed
  • → Action: Do all of your tasks resentfully, make no changes to your systems, don’t say no, don’t brainstorm creative solutions
  • → Result: Nothing improves; you create the conditions to prove that there’s always so much to do.

I’ll leave you with these two questions: What if your feeling is created solely by your thought about your to-do list, not your to-do list itself? And what if that thought can be changed?