In the constant quest to become more productive, we often end up shooting ourselves in the foot. Whether it’s trying to get ‘more done’ by multitasking, focusing on small tasks or steaming ahead without a break, there are many things we do in our daily lives that actually limit our productive potential. Here are 9 things that might be killing your productivity, and how you can avoid them.
1. Pointless meetings
Meetings can be a serial time waster. While some managers like to have the whole team present, if you feel you can’t add anything to the meeting – or you won’t learn anything of value from it – there’s no point being there. Pre-meeting prep and post-meeting emails only add to the overall meeting burden, eating up more of your productive time.
Instead: Treat meetings as a last resort – always see if there are alternative faster routes of communication available for solving an issue before arranging a meeting. If your issue really does justify a meeting, make sure you only hold effective ones.
2. Email and instant messaging
Repeatedly checking your email inbox throughout the day can be disastrous for your productivity. Not only is it a passive form of work – you often spend time on communications that aren’t vital to your work – but the constant distraction severely limits your ability to perform enriching deep work. Slack and other forms of instant messaging have the same effect. Most of us are socially programmed to be instantly available, so when an emails pings through it’s tempting to reply immediately.
Instead: Choosing not to respond immediately, setting “contact availability” hours, and enlisting the help of intelligent software to prioritize your inbox or draft emails for you are just a few ways to fight against it.
3. Saying “yes” to everything
We all like to please others and be accommodating, but this should never be at the expense of our own productivity. While it can be hard to say “no” when someone pops over to ask for a “quick favor”, arranging to deal with it together at a later day can do wonders for your own productive schedule and focus. One thing many successful people have in common is their ability to say “no” – whether to taking on new work when they’re busy or to helping people out.
Instead: While everyone needs to work some flexibility into their schedule, you also need to defend your time against threats. Time is the only resource you can’t loan, invest, or get back, so don’t be overly generous with yours (unless you can afford to be).
4. Not taking breaks
When you’re really busy, ploughing through your work without taking a break can seem the most sensible suggestion – but it isn’t. Not taking proper breaks can have a massively detrimental effect on productivity. Human beings are not machines; we need rest, relaxation and plenty of time to refuel. Ignore your humanity at your peril; working intensely without proper breaks can help develop stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression and a ton of major health problems.
Instead: Make sure you take regular active breaks away from your screen, and keep your procrastination constructive.
5. Manual time tracking
Time tracking is indispensable to many businesses, but it’s also monumentally time consuming and frustrating. It feels inherently unproductive, but is also very cognitively difficult – no one can remember in precise detail what they did after lunch last Tuesday. Most time tracking tools are also extremely invasive and clunky, requiring us to interrupt our focus to start timers and take manual notes.
Instead: Switching to an automatic tracking app solves this problem entirely – you’ll get an accurate account of all your time without ever leaving your productive flow as well as useful insight into your own productive behaviors. You can even make your timesheets write themselves!
6. Your office
Remote and flexible working is on the rise, but many of us still waste enormous amounts of time and energy commuting to the same physical place each day, when there’s actually no real reason to be there.
Instead: If you don’t have any meetings or presentations, and really need to lock down on a task, ask to work from home or consider working somewhere close to you where you won’t get distracted. More often than not, travel time is dead time that can be better spent elsewhere.
7. Flicking between tasks
If you have lots on, you may find yourself flicking between tasks and doing a little bit of each here and there. While this might make you feel more productive, multitasking is actually a massive productivity killer. Flitting from job to job means you need to refocus every time you restart a task – which research suggests can take up to 30 minutes each time.
Instead: Don’t spread your attention too thinly; rather, try to do a few hours of uninterrupted work, one task at a time.
8. Putting off your biggest tasks
Putting off big tasks is something many of us do now and then, but it never bodes well for productivity. While reeling off a list of small tasks feels good and gives us a sense of progress, the sum impact of those tasks often undermines the priority we’ve assigned them. It can be difficult – we’re programmed to want to get rid of quick, small tasks – but most of us have a very real problem with small task addiction, that ultimately suffocates our productivity.
Instead: You should always lead with your most important tasks, choosing them over what is urgent or easy.
9. Starting a task too early
If you have a big task or project ahead, it’s tempting to get a head start and chip away at it as soon as possible. But don’t! Many projects and tasks are subject to change before the fully scoped brief arrives in your inbox, or final creative sign-off has been given. A whole day’s work can turn out to be utterly futile if the brief changes.
Instead: Bide your time, wait until the task is good to go and never press on without clear, precise and finalized communication.