The Five Thieves of Productivity

A study was once carried out in 1973 with a group of seminary students. They unknowingly participated in an experiment titled “The Good Samaritan” which was based on the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible. The aim of this experiment was to investigate what factors will influence whether or not each student will stop to help a stranger in distress along the way. The students were recruited and divided into two groups. One group was told that they had to give a talk on how to find seminary jobs while the other group had to give a talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Within each group, some of the students were told to rush since they’re late, while others were told to take as much time as they need.


The researchers placed a man on their path who seemed in distress and needed help. Guess how many stopped to help. Less than half of the students and the deciding factor was time. About 90 percent of the students who were rushed didn’t stop to help; some literally stepped on him as they were in a hurry. What’s even more amazing is that some of them were rushing to give a talk about helping others! There was someone there who needed help but somehow that didn’t matter.


beggar on street - homeless man

This experiment just goes to show how easily we can lose focus of our real priority in life. Even our best intentions can be affected. There are five things which can pull you away from your priority and thus diminish your productivity. To better illustrate these, let’s assume that you’re a student preparing to write a national competitive exam and you have one month to prepare. As a good student, you set a daily goal to study for at least 4 hours daily. You equally have a study group with friends that meet thrice a week. All of these are necessary for you to achieve your goal of passing the exam. Now, what could hinder your productivity?


students studying - study group

1. The Fear of Saying “No”

You’ve planned your study hours for the day and then you get a call from a friend who needs to talk. Not long after, your sister also contacts you to help her to run an errand. Both of these things will take up two hours of your time. What do you do? You could help them out, after all it’s nice to help people out and you feel bad saying “No” to them. Then you would’ve lost your study time. Trying to please them made you unhappy and you begin to hold a grudge. You’re smiling on the outside, but you’re hurting inside. As a result, you’re unable to study efficiently even for the two hours you have left. Was it really worth it? Well, you could also politely explain to both of them that you have already planned your day to study in preparation for your exam in a month. In essence, you need to say “No”.


sad student

Focus is actually saying “No”. There will be several distractions that will come to steal the time you’ve decided to set aside to focus on what you ought to do. Your one “YES” must be defended over time by 10000 “NO”s. To be productive, you need to say no to things that will shift your focus away from your priority. Colleagues will ask for advice, friends will seek for help, strangers will give you invitations and many more things will come to steal your time. You need to be able to say “No” to these things. The truth is that you can’t please everyone; if you try to then you will only end up displeasing yourself. Yes, it’s difficult to say “NO”, we all want to be helpful. Disappointing someone isn’t a pleasant feeling. It also seems selfish to focus on your own goals. It doesn’t have to be that way though. It all depends on how you say “No”. As with the scenario above, just explain things politely. You can offer a suggestion of someone else who may help. There’s no point saying yes only to do things grudgingly. Whenever you need to say “NO’, say it and get it over with. As Bill Cosby once said: “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”


2. The Fear of Chaos

Once more, you’re about to study and just before you start, you realize that you didn’t clean the floor or arrange your room as you had planned. The dishes are also not yet done. For some reason, it skipped your mind. What do you do? Do you get those things done first before getting to your books? Or do you focus first on your studies? After all the house and the dishes aren’t going anywhere right. Your place will become chaotic, but it’s necessary for you to focus on what really matters first.


student studying

When you truly focus on one thing, there is bound to be chaos. As you work tirelessly on your priority, the world keeps turning, the dust piles up, the house gets dirty, you get the picture. As you focus on one thing, other things don’t get done. That’s exactly where the challenge is. It’s not pleasant to see the tons of things that need to be done. The next natural reaction will be to shift your attention to those things thus leaving your priority. There will always be something to do, some project or people who need your attention. Staying productive means committing to the time you set aside to get your most important work done. If you want to be great, you have to focus on one thing. Consequently, chaos builds up. There’s no way around that. The chaos in this case is a necessary evil for you to stay productive. You need to get used to the chaos. Sometimes in order to get things done, others need to be left undone.


3. Unhealthy Habits

If you don’t take good care of your body, you won’t be able to perform productively. While preparing for your exam, do you study for extended hours without eating properly? Or do you sleep for barely 3 hours a day instead of about 7 because you need more time to study?? You may get away with that for a few weeks by drinking coffee and other energy beverages, but sooner or later you will crash. Guess what, you could crash on the day of your exam! All of that effort would be useless.


If you keep borrowing against the future, by poorly managing your energy, you will eventually run out of gas and crash. Don’t try to do too much. Don’t skip meals, stay up late or avoid exercising just because you have to study for an exam. High productivity and achievement require huge energy. You must have a healthy routine to fuel your body daily.


prayer and meditation

Your routine should be similar to this:


  • Start each day with prayer and meditation for Spiritual energy. Commit your activities to God


  • Get a nutritious breakfast for Physical energy. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Work out to strengthen your body and relieve stress.


  • Spend quality time with family or loved ones for Emotional energy. They will motivate you.


  • Time block your most important task for Business energy. Plan your activities for the day focusing on the most important task which will be studying in this case.


4. Adverse Environment

You’ve gone through your morning routine and now you’ve settled in to start studying in your room. Then barely 10 mins in, your younger siblings suddenly barge in. Apparently, they were playing a game which turned into an argument and they need you to help them resolve it. You resolve it but it takes about 15 mins. Just when you start concentrating on your books, mum calls for you for help in the kitchen for a few minutes. I’m sure you see where this is going. Your environment at the time isn’t suitable for studies. In such an environment, you can’t be productive.


Your environment should align with your goals. By environment, I mean what you experience and see on a daily basis. As a student living in a family house, that environment isn’t ideal for studies. You need to go to a place without any distractions from family, such as a public library.

student in library

You could also study at a friend’s place who lives alone. You need an environment with minimal distractions for you to focus and be productive. When planning your most important task, the where also matters. The people you spend time with daily could either lift you up or pull you down. You are the average of the 5 people you spend most of your time with. Hang around negative people and you won’t go any further. Hang around success-driven people and they will propel you forward.



5. The Shiny Object Syndrome

This generation is often called the “microwave” generation for a reason. We expect things to happen quickly. We want to enjoy success without doing the work. You may expect to pass the exam without putting in hours to study. Or you may expect to get a decent job without extensive job hunting. It doesn’t work like that. That’s why people spend time running from one “shiny” object to the next. Today you hear about this so called “opportunity” to get rich quickly and you hop on it.


happy and excited student

Then you realize that nothing good is coming out of it. Next month you’re on something else and in less than 3 months you also quit that new thing. You’re easily attracted to new opportunities with the desire to achieve overnight success. You can’t focus on one thing for a very long period. You start a business today, and once you hit the first road block you just give up. The Shiny Object Syndrome can be seen in the multiple things that one starts without ever finishing. Is your CV made up of several unfished projects? Or does it have a few completed projects? Shiny objects are a huge distraction and a major thief of productivity. To be productive, you need to focus on one thing and see it through. Only then can you achieve extraordinary results.




No one succeeds alone and no one fails alone. As you pursue your goals, surround yourself with the right people. Seek for those who will support your goals and don’t be afraid to let go of anyone who won’t. It’s your life remember? You get to choose how to live it. When it comes down to it, you have the power to stop the above five thieves of productivity. It’s up to you whether to use it or not. So, what do you think? Are there any more productivity thieves that we’ve not mentioned? Please share in the comments. SUBSCRIBE to our blog for more enriching content such as this. Thank you for reading and until next time, BESTech remains your BEST bet.



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