Despite everyone’s busy schedule, some people seem to manage it effortlessly.
How do they do it?
They are happier for one thing. According to research, happiness makes people 12% more productive. However, highly productive individuals also have very specific habits.
Furthermore, the most productive people are generally the most organized. Despite their tidy desks and systemized schedules, their approach is much more comprehensive. They know how to cut down on wasted time.
The most important thing is that they avoid all the pitfalls that cause us to suffer from work stress and disorganization.
How do productive people avoid doing these things? To be more productive, you should avoid these 12 things.
1. Constantly saying “yes.”
In his book Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More, Morten Hansen details how saying no to more work can help us reduce our responsibilities and focus better. Stress, burnout, and depression are also more likely to occur in individuals who cannot say no.
Steve Jobs strongly advocated this strategy. As Jobs pointed out at the 1997 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference:
People think focus means saying yes to what you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done.
The other thing that is important to keep in mind is that we commonly believe that taking on more projects or working more hours will lead to greater productivity. That’s not true. After 50 to 65 hours, Hansen says, the performance benefits of those extra hours start to diminish, and after 65 hours, performance starts to decline.
In addition, Hansen adds that multitasking is counterproductive if you’re trying to juggle too many tasks. “Excellent work requires focus, and focus requires few,” says Hansen.
2. Working in marathons rather than sprints.
“One of the biggest productivity pitfalls I see people falling into is trying to work in marathons,” writes clinical psychologist Nick Wignall.
Consider a scenario in which you have a deadline coming up for a major project. Your plan is to finish it on Tuesday morning. After calculating that it should take about 6 hours, you decide to get to work at 6:00 a.m. With that in mind, you clear your calendar for the day and get to work.
Here’s the problem: you’ve thrown yourself into a marathon, he adds. You don’t want to run marathons if you want to be productive.
In a situation like this, you’re likely to see:
- Give up. The minute you sit down at your desk, you’re overwhelmed by everything you need to do. You give up after a couple of false starts.
- Procrastinate. You procrastinate instead of giving up. After you check your email, return a few calls, and read some news, you decide to start working. Suddenly, you’re “behind schedule,” and panic sets in. So you procrastinate some more to distract yourself from your anxiety. If you do this a few more times, you’ll end up with a low-quality piece of work.
- Get lost. Ultimately, people get lost down rabbit holes when they marathon through work. When you’re working through a big pile of work, it’s easy to lose track of what’s a priority and what needs to be done. Because of this, we spend too much time on some things and not enough on others. Eventually, you give up or deliver a low-quality result.
Are there any ways we can avoid all of these? Consider — instead of marathons — they learn how to sprint.
Sprints are short, focused, high-energy bursts of work, Wignall explains.
You might split six hours of work into three parts, for instance. Work on each part in 45-minute sprints.
Work in sprints, and you’ll have more clarity, and you’ll be able to do more. There are also more opportunities for rewards and flexibility.
Before you start a big project, ask yourself:
Is there a way I can work on this project in sprints rather than a marathon?
By planning ahead, sprinting can make your biggest projects and tasks way more efficient and fun, he says.
3. Trashing your schedule.
Occasionally, we wake up feeling down or exhausted. Because of this, you just want to toss your schedule in the trash like an empty milk carton.
On the flip side, there might not be any real “plans” for the day, especially if it’s a weekend or holiday.
A productive person, however, would never, ever do this.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday; they’ll still work out, organize their closet, clean their car, or grocery shop for the week.
Simply put, make a schedule. Moreover, make sure that your schedule is irrevocable.
Unless there is an emergency, you must check every item, or you risk losing a privilege or purchase you are hoping to obtain.
4. Don’t go by urgency alone.
Highly productive people do not rely solely on urgency to accomplish their tasks. Instead, they prioritize things according to their importance. They know that urgent tasks distract them from the real big problems. Rather than focusing on the more urgent tasks, they can make a bigger impact by focusing on the more important ones.
The problem? Generally, our to-do lists aren’t prioritized. Instead, we do whatever comes to mind or what comes first on our list. The result is that we focus on the urgent things first, which might not be the most important.
5. Not being accountable.
A productive person not only knows their deadlines but also when they are due. However, they are responsible for their own projects.
As a rule of thumb, don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Usually, you’re left with even more work. Take responsibility for the work you do instead.
6. They don’t ignore their mental health.
“I would never skip my 20-minute morning mental health hygiene practice,” says Jessica Massey, a productivity coach and founder of Hustle Sanely, a brand dedicated to productivity.
According to her, we create our words from our thoughts, we direct our actions from our words, and we experience life based on our actions.
By having a morning ritual, Massey suggests you will show up to your family and coworkers as your healthiest self.
In addition to journaling, Massey suggests meditation and prayer. Spending some time listening to your favorite podcast or exercising might also be on your list.
“I’m so adamant about making sure people know your morning practice does not need to be two hours long to support you, it doesn’t need to be aesthetically pleasing to support you — it doesn’t have to look the exact same every day to support you,” she said.
7. They don’t run on autopilot.
Stefan Falk reveals several keys do’s and don’ts of top performers in his book Intrinsic Motivation: Learn to Love Your Work and Succeed as Never Before.
As Falk points out, we should avoid entering the workplace on autopilot. By going through our familiar daily routines on autopilot, we can shut off our minds and drift into boredom more easily.
Additionally, the term “boring” is simply not in the vocabulary of those who love what they do. Professionals who strive to cultivate a passion for their work set deliberate daily goals, even when facing the most mundane tasks they’ve done a thousand times over. To motivate them to improve, these goals give them a sense of growth.
8. Complaints don’t last long.
Here’s the thing with complaining it doesn’t accomplish anything — even if it temporarily relieves stress. It is more important for them to identify solutions and work on their problems than to complain.
You should instead use the 15-30 minutes you would normally spend complaining to work on your problems. Even the smallest steps will make a big difference.
9. Work in an unorganized environment.
A desk can be organized in a variety of ways. However, the environment in which you work plays a significant role in your productivity. It “can either energize you or deplete your energy,” Julie Morgenstern, a time management expert, told The New York Times.
Generally, only 25 percent of messy desk results from organizational skills, Ms. Morgenstern says – the rest results from inefficient time management. For every paper on your desk, there is a task associated with it, and each task takes time. Have you given yourself enough time to complete everything? She suggested you delegate if your piles of paper get out of control.
Does your desk contain the same piles as it did three weeks ago, or are they changing? It’s probably okay to have some clutter as long as they don’t stagnate, Morgenstern said.
It is generally best to keep your desk clear aside from the project you are working on at the moment, as well as the equipment you need for it, according to her. It is also important to create a space for an “in the zone,” which houses brand new items just coming in, and an “out zone,” which contains finished items for distribution.
Start by preparing your desk for tomorrow’s work by spending 10 minutes at the end of your workday. It will save you from starting your day with yesterday’s mess, said Morgenstern. Setting your desk up for the day can have a powerful impact on your mindset and productivity.
10. Decide what you value most.
By establishing values, we can see what goals need to be set. However, make sure your goals are measurable and objective. Also, unlike a value, a goal can be achieved. The ability to succeed in your career is an example of a value you might be unable to achieve. Nevertheless, it is possible to reach a goal, such as earning six figures this year.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed, sub-goals can then be established, identifying smaller tasks to complete.
11. Avoid workplace drama.
It is inevitable that we will encounter workplace drama at some point. The problem can manifest in many ways, including malicious gossip, resistance to change, constant arguing, and disgruntled workers disrupting the work environment.
Your focus will be diverted from what is most important — your work — if you get caught up in the whirlwind of workplace drama. The time lost to workplace drama could be extremely costly for your work or business.
In her book No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement, and Drive Big Results, drama researcher Cy Wakeman writes that drama produces mental waste and unproductive behavior.
Ultimately, workplace drama can lead to low morale, a deteriorating culture, employee turnover, and lost revenues. Workers are less productive and less committed to planning and implementing business strategies when they are entangled in workplace drama spending too much time managing conflict and fighting politics.
According to Wakeman’s research, the average employee wastes two hours and 26 minutes daily on drama. In turn, the cost of emotional waste for some companies is in the millions.
12. Self-sabotage can occur by focusing on who you do not want to be.
Setting goals often involves thinking about what we want to do less of. To be healthier, we need to stop eating junk food. Want to stop procrastinating? Turn off distractions like smartphone notifications.
When it comes to making life changes, Michael Hyatt believes this is where many people fail. Whenever you focus on what you don’t want, your attention is naturally drawn there. When you think about your goal, you’ll probably think about sugar every time you think about it. You are more likely to succumb to the temptation of sugar when you think about it too much, losing momentum toward achieving your goals.
So what can we learn from this?
Don’t look at where you’ve been, but at where you want to go. It is impossible to hit the bullseye of your goals if your eyes wander backward — and to the sides. Take the time to consider what you don’t want to do or become. From there, switch gears and figure out how that translates to what you actually do want.
What’s the best way to become productive?
Being productive isn’t just about doing more for the sake of doing more. The most important thing is to have a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish.
Getting your priorities straight, planning your daily activities and tasks, and eliminating distractions are key ways to become more productive.
In what ways can I start living a more productive life?
You should start by writing a simple to-do list. As you complete the tasks on your list, reward yourself. Don’t worry about making a big deal out of it.
Enjoy a five-minute break, take a short walk in the nearby park, or eat a healthy snack.
Finally, avoid time-wasting activities such as social media scrolling and pointless meetings.
Do I have any long-term goals?
Although breaking your goals into bite-sized chunks is a great way to stay motivated, it’s also important to have long-term objectives.
Let’s say you need some data for an upcoming report. You will be less tempted to put it off for another time if you keep in mind that it will help you grow your client base, which is one of your major goals.
Do I feel happy?
You can’t expect to be ecstatic every single day. Nevertheless, don’t you ever feel like you just want to get done and go home? If all you do is think about how miserable your job is, you will hardly get anything done.
Therefore, you should find a way to improve your mood if that’s the case. Is your stomach growling? Would going for a walk in the sunshine be helpful? Maybe you should listen to some music — which, yes, benefits productivity? Try to find something positive you can do or look forward to instead of staying at your desk and working on something you don’t like.
Image Credit: Photo by Caleb Oquendo; Pexels; Thank you!
John’s goal in life is to make people’s lives much more productive. Upping productivity allows us to spend more time doing the things we enjoy most. John was recently recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine as being one of the top marketers in the World. John is co-founder and CEO of Calendar.