We are the generation of the “multiple windows open”, or as they call it: multi-taskers. With technology taking over our mind and focus, both our work and our distractions are clicks away from each other. And guess which one wins if we don’t take care? The distractions.
“Multi-tasking is a lie”
— Gary Keller, founder of the largest real estate company in the world
When we try to maintain our focus in multiple directions and juggle between the things that fight for our attention, eventually our productivity suffers — more than we even realize it.
“Productivity never is an accident. It's always the result of a dedication to focused effort, intelligent planning, and excellence.”
— Paul J. Mayer
Sticking to one task at a time is a real issue for most of us, which results in decreased levels of productivity. However, with conscious planning, action, and a little more self-control, achieving productivity is not that hard after all.
It is our habits in life which determine how effective or ineffective we are at what we do. And so it’s no surprise that our “bad habits” are the ones to blame for our decreased productivity.
But the question is — what are these bad habits? We are so used to doing things in a certain way, that it happens almost automatically, bypassing our thinking processes, and eventually we never realize when a single action turns into a habit.
Detecting these bad habits and eliminating them is the best thing you can do in order to give your maximum and get more done in less time. Here’s a list of the most common productivity killers you need to say goodbye to:
1. Procrastinating on the most important task
“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”
— William James
We have the tendency to avoid the things that are difficult, uncomfortable, or the ones that we have a lack of clarity on and push them aside as long as possible. When we begin with our day, we often start by completing the easier tasks and let the more important but harder ones wait till the end. This is the number one pitfall of productivity.
A number of researchers have found that willpower is a limited resource and it gradually diminishes throughout the day. That said, it’s best to begin with the hardest task and gradually decrease the level of difficulty by the end of the day. You can do this by prioritizing well and identifying the single most dreadful task on your list right when you arrive in the office — and jump right at it.
Scary? I bet it is. But the results that you will see after practising this approach of work are immensely positive.
2. Hitting the Snooze Button
“Life is what you make it: If you snooze, you lose; if you snore, you lose more”
— Phyllis George
For many people hitting the snooze button is the first thing they do every morning thinking that an extra 10-minute nap will make them more rested. This, unfortunately, is not true.
In fact, by starting your day with avoiding to get out of bad already sets you back from a motivated state of mind. There is simple science behind it; your endocrine system releases an alertness hormone as soon as you first wake up. But when you go back to sleep, this process slows down, making you feel dizzy throughout the day. Plus, there is no actual rest that your body gets in those 5-10 minutes. It is only deep sleep which gives the body time to get restorative.
The solution? Mel Robbins, motivational speaker suggests the 5 seconds rule. After you hear your alarm, count down from five to zero just like you were launching a rocket. When you finish, jump out of bed and begin your day right away. Try it tomorrow morning and see how it makes you feel instead of begging your phone for an extra few minutes of nap.
3. Moral licensing
Moral licensing is a fancy psychological term for letting ourselves do something “bad” as a reward for doing something “good” earlier. It can be simply breaking your routine because you have been sticking to it for the most. The idea that we deserve a lavish off time because we were productive for the past hour, undermines our self-improvement plans — and makes our previous efforts obsolete.
Taking breaks is important for your wellbeing and productivity, but it doesn’t gain you a reason to waste your valuable time doing something half-hearted.
Rather make the most out of both: give your best when you do focused work and turn completely off when you relax.
4. Failing to prioritize
“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important”
— Stephen R. Covey
With a great number of options to work on, and trying to pursue different goals simultaneously, failure is inevitable. To achieve something, it is essential that you decide on the task with the highest priority, and work on it.
But how do you know which one comes first?
A classic method of prioritizing is to divide your tasks and ideas into four buckets.
- not urgent and not important
- not urgent but important
- important but not urgent
- important and urgent
You always need to focus on the last category before doing anything else. Keep a balance between the middle two and try to delegate or eliminate the first category — since it brings the least value to you.
5. Distractions in your immediate environment
“Offline is the new luxury”
The “generation always online” often forgets that to accomplish a task properly within a given time, we have to “unplug” ourselves from social media. We are so obsessed with keeping ourselves updated, that we completely forget to be present at what we’re doing.
Distractions can come in many forms from your favourite team’s football match on television, chatting with friends at a time when you should be working, and of course, social media notifications.
When you decide to be productive, simply blocking off sites which eat up most of the time, and turning off the notifications can work miracles. Shift to a place where there is limited stimuli including screens, music, or people.
No matter how efficient you are, you can never juggle your attention between too many things and still produce quality work. It’s worth giving you those things so you can later return to them and really enjoy them. Or, in many cases, you might just realize that they weren’t so important to you after all.
6. Having giant to-do lists
“Over-planning kills the magic”
— Edan Lepucki
Planning your day ahead is one great quality, but over-planning it ruins the productivity. When you sit down to plan your day, do not get overzealous and fill it with more than what’s achievable.
When you overfill you list of tasks, more than half of them are left unachieved by the end of the day, and it can make you feel really overwhelmed and disappointed.
Keep it simple: add 1-5 tasks to your list for the day (according to your prioritization process) and make sure you complete them on time. This helps you keep momentum and builds up motivation for tomorrow.
7. Being indecisive
Indecision, doubt and fear. The members of this unholy trio are closely related; where one is found, the other two are close at hand.”
— Napoleon Hill
Indecision can turn a productive work session into a disaster.
You keep analysing possible outcomes over and over again and rehearse the pros and the cons of the decision — until you get so overwhelmed that you don’t even want to make any decision anymore.
This takes up a lot of brain power, energy and time.
Use the 2-minute rule and do not take any longer to ponder over your decision. Most things we worry about are actually much less risky than we think they are. And usually, even if we make a bad decision we learn from it and correct it on the go. If you yet think that the decision is a crucial one, ask for advice from your supervisor and just think out loud by sharing it to someone. Sometimes, you just need to put it into words and you realize that you already know exactly what you need to do.
There is a big difference between being productive and just being busy. Now that you know the habits which harm your productivity, you just need to pay a little more attention to them so that you can decrease their effect on your efficiency at work.
Take each day as a new challenge and improve with every passing week. Productivity can save you from the dreadful stressors that you otherwise face at the time of deadlines. There is nothing that you cannot change with a determined mind.
Just stay focused, and do your best. And you shall reap results.