Do you feel like you aren’t as productive and focused as you should be? Have you been killing your productivity? Instead of searching for the latest productivity hack, evaluate your existing habits. You may discover that you don’t need to try out something new or different — you may actually need to tweak existing habits that are killing your productivity.
Here are a few of the most common culprits:
1. Making lengthy to-do lists
To-do lists are invaluable. They’re an effective way to help us remember and monitor important tasks. They can also keep us motivated and focused. However, lengthy to-do lists can become exhausting and overwhelming.
When you wake up in the morning, you jot down 20 things you have to. Do you honestly think you’ll be able to cross each item off? You may only get to five of them. While that’s better than nothing, you’re not only going to feel you didn’t have a successful day, but you’ll constantly feel like you’re behind because of the carryover you’re adding to your massive to-do list from the day before.
Instead, keep your to-do lists lean and mean. Only focus on three or four items. Make sure you prioritize them — start with the most important task for the day, and work your way down.
Furthermore, be as specific as possible. Don’t just write “email clients.” List the clients you actually need to email. Download an app like Todoist or Any.do so you can quickly add items, as well as set reminders.
2. Working on too many things at once
It’s easy to understand the appeal of multitasking, especially for overloaded entrepreneurs. Instead of working on one thing at a time, you can knock several items out simultaneously.
The truth is that multitasking is a myth — and it can actually slow you down. Multitasking should be avoided because it takes more time to switch between tasks and mindsets. Because of that, you make more mistakes — you’re not paying full attention to the tasks. As your stress level increases as you juggle multiple obligations at once, it damages the parts of your brain responsible for cognition and emotions and affects your memory. Worst of all, perhaps, is that it can reduce your creative thinking (invaluable for leaders).
Just like with endless to-do lists, the solution is to focus on prioritizing. Then, do the most important item before moving on to the second. This way, you give your full attention to the task at hand, meaning you’ll complete it faster.
3. Overloading your brain
The brain is an amazing and powerful organ. But flooding it with too much information will cause it to overload and shut down. In fact, research has found that our brains don’t like having too much information. And because short-term focus is limited, having too many options and decisions on our plates can make us miserable.
You need to limit your decision-making. That may sound broad, but I’ll explain.
On a Sunday, plan and prep your meals for the week. You won’t have to think about what you’re going to eat for lunch or dinner. The same tactic can be used with clothing. Lay out your clothes the night before so you don’t have to make this decision in the morning.
You can also limit your decision-making by creating a daily schedule. You’ll know when you’ll work on your priorities, when to check your email and when to take breaks.
Simply put, take the time to limit daily mundane tasks so you can save your energy for more important responsibilities.
4. Working nonstop until you’ve completed a task
I think we’ve all been guilty of this at some point. You look at your to-do list and decide you’re going to work nonstop until you’ve crossed an item off the list. It may sound great in theory, but it can be counterproductive. Again, when our brains get overloaded, they’ll shut down.
Don’t power through a task until it’s done. Work for around 52 minutes, then take a 17-minute break. The team at DeskTime reports this is the trick that the most productive people use because it refreshes the brain and combats cognitive boredom.
However, don’t use these breaks to check social media, watch TV or browse the internet. During these breaks, you should do things that energize you, such as exercising, meditating, reading, eating a healthy snack or even napping.
5. Relying on too many apps
There’s no denying that apps have made life a whole lot easier. At the same time, when your devices are jam-packed with apps, you’re actually doing the opposite — you’re not only going back and forth between apps, but you’re also spending time learning how each one works.
Use only the apps that will make you productive. For example, business owners should limit their apps to a calendar, a project management tool, a chat app, voice notes and a bookkeeping app. To be honest, you really don’t need more than these apps to run your business from your phone.
If your business needs more specific apps, make sure the team members who need these apps have them downloaded. But do yourself a favor, and don’t download them to your devices. All it will do is distract you.
6. Becoming too organized
Organization and productivity definitely go hand in hand. But organizing your workspace too quickly can backfire — after you’ve refiled paperwork, placed items in drawers and trashed piles of paper, you have no idea where anything is located. Even worse, you may have thrown away an important document.
While you should make sure you are organized and have a clutter-free workspace, take your time. For example, spend an hour at the end of a Thursday filing papers, and then on Friday, start going through that stack of papers on your desk. Your brain will have time to track where each thing is going so you can remember.
7. Not getting enough high-quality sleep
There’s no better way to boost your productivity than by getting a good night’s rest. After all, sleep affects focus, critical thinking and memory. Unfortunately, we focus more on the number of hours we sleep instead of the quality of sleep we get.
Research shows that those who undersleep (getting five hours or fewer) and oversleep (getting nine hours or more) are mentally two years older than those who get the right amount of sleep.
But there’s a way to overcome sleep deprivation. First, find out when you’re most productive. If you’re a night owl, don’t force yourself to become a morning person (or vice versa). For example, I’m most productive early in the morning. I wake up no later than 6 a.m., which means I don’t stay up past midnight.
After you’ve set a more consistent sleep schedule, make sure you get high-quality sleep each night. Avoid blue light from TVs, laptops or phones before bed. Reading is a better option to wind down, anyway. Make sure your room is dark, quiet and cool, and develop a relaxing bedtime routine, like yoga or a hot shower.
These seven silent killers may be hurting your productivity, but you can shift them to benefit you. You may not need a new slate of habits to achieve your goals — you may just need to get out of your own way.
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.