No one is thinking about time management or productivity during the scariest moments of their lives. When you’re gripped by fear, a lot of things become less important. You forget about feeling hungry or tired or whether you returned that important work email.  

Humans are hard-wired to pay attention to our fear responses and tune other things out. Fear means danger, so it triggers our brains to become focused on that danger and how to survive it. Very useful when you’re being chased by a mountain lion—not as much when you’re anxious about something at work. 

Fear and anxiety are huge barriers to good time management and productivity.

Even when the fear is related to the thing you’re trying to make progress on, and not something that’s actually causing you physical harm, your brain still registers “danger!” and shifts into fight-flight-or-freeze mode. It’s incredibly hard to give your full focus to the important tasks on your computer screen when your brain is trying to convince you to run for cover and protect your safety.  

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a good demonstration of the relationship between fear and productivity. Psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper in 1943 called “A Theory of Human Motivation,” in which he identified five levels of need. (Fun fact: while his theory is now typically illustrated as a pyramid or triangle, his original paper didn’t include anything about this!) 

Per his theory, each of the higher levels is only achievable if the needs in the lower levels are being met. The levels of the pyramid, from bottom up, are: 

  • physiological needs (food, water, shelter) 
  • safety needs 
  • social/love needs  
  • esteem needs 
  • self-actualization needs (things that make us feel truly at peace and fulfilled) 

Here’s the takeaway: You can’t give your full focus to things like personal fulfillment or doing tasks that build your self-esteem when your basic safety needs aren’t being met. Because our brains interpret being in fear as being unsafe, fear can hold you back from accomplishing your goals. 

Fear can show up in tons of different ways as a barrier to time management and productivity.  

As we move toward winter and that year-end pressure starts building, fear and anxiety might be building too. Fear might even be keeping you from making progress on your year-end goals in ways you don’t even realize are rooted in fear. Here are just a few examples of the ways it might be sabotaging you.  

  • You’re putting off starting something new because you fear you’re going to fail and/or experience rejection. Imposter syndrome might show up sometimes too; what if you attempt this new task or ambitious project and you fail so badly that everyone realizes you’ve secretly been an incompetent fraud this whole time? 
  • You have such high expectations for yourself that you’re afraid to just do the thing because you’re afraid that even if you get it done, you won’t do it perfectly. 
  • You’re afraid that you’re simply not going to have the time and other resources to get things done…so why bother getting started? 
  • You fear the unknown in general! You’d rather stay focused on the relative comfort of right now and zone out with some Netflix than take action on your goals, which requires you to do some real thinking about what your life is going to look like down the road.   

Does any of that sound familiar? Even the most brilliant, accomplished and high-achieving professionals struggle with these kinds of fear-driven thought patterns.   

3 ways to defeat fear that stops you from moving forward  

Get clear about what the fear is that’s holding you back.

Yes, it’s super common for professionals to struggle with fear that interferes with their ability to get things done—but fear shows up for us all in different ways. What’s the specific fear or fears that are getting in your way? When you think about your year-end goals, what makes you anxious about the idea of getting those things done between now and New Years?  

Look into the past, and predict the future.

Once you’re clear about what your fear is, think about a time when the thing you fear really happened. Maybe you’re letting a fear of rejection keep you from reaching out to a colleague to propose a new joint venture. When was a time you actually did experience rejection from a colleague? Did it kill you? What did you learn from it? Did it turn out OK anyway? Use positive experiences from the past to help you reduce the fear in the present. Next, project into the future too, by asking yourself a series of what-if questions. What if I send the email, and they say no to my request? What would I do next? And what if they say yes—what amazing things could come from that? 

Channel fear into action.

When you’re able to identify the way fear is keeping you from making progress on your goals, you can recognize that fear when it shows up in your path. Then you can use the adrenaline spike that it creates to propel yourself forward. Notice when those little fear spikes happen and make a habit of turning them into action. Say “hello, fear of rejection” and then get clear on one easy action. Sending an email, for example, or writing one paragraph for the proposal  Do this right away  while you’re still energized.  Taking small actions allows us to observe our behavior and see that we CAN move forward. 

Ready to take action that’ll bring you closer to living the peaceful and fulfilling life you crave?

Join me for Time Matters Boot Camp Live Virtual Workshop!

Starting on December 1st, I’ll be leading a group of like-minded entrepreneurs and professionals through three life-changing, habit-igniting days. In that time you’ll get the tools you need to:

  • transform your time management system
  • figure out how to get the important things done at work
  • and have time for the rest of your life!

Super Early Bird pricing ends this month! 

Click here for information and registration.  



Sarah Reiff-Hekking