If you’re reading this, there are a million-and-a-half things you want to do: Build your business, exercise more, spend more time with friends and family, read more books, etc.
So how do you pack that into a 24-hour day that’s already occupied with sleeping and eating?
While most people try to become more productive by adding things, I’ve discovered it’s far easier to start by subtracting what kills productivity in the first place. Because when you look at highly productive people, even though they’re in different industries with different workflows, they always avoid key mistakes that sabotage everyone else.
If you’re ready to skyrocket your productivity to get more done than ever before, avoid these 7 specific habits. Once you get rid of them, you can see your productivity grow rapidly.
1. Focusing on Minor Details, Not Results
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
— Winston Churchill
Productivity isn’t about how much busywork you can cram into an hour, how organized your calendar looks, having an inbox of zero emails, or having the fanciest scheduling apps — it’s about the result you produce.
If you’re not increasing your results in the things that matter, you’re not increasing your productivity. You’re just doing more busywork more efficiently. Ultimately, the best measure of productivity is how much you create and ship.
Highly productive people deliver their work to the world. They have the courage to make things happen and they act despite their fear. While it’s important to focus on the process, don’t overlook the results.
What is it you want to achieve? Make sure your results are moving toward your goals. Once you start focusing on your output, your productivity will skyrocket.
88% of people check their phone within the first hour of their day and 55% of people check their email before they even go to work.
Yet it’s one of the worst things you can do for focus, productivity, and motivation. Consuming useless information like social media, checking email, and responding to messages to start your day puts you in a state of reaction: Now, you’re flooded with stressors and urgent tasks before you even have a chance to work on your own goals (or put on your pants).
It seems like an innocent peek, but since you’re not at work, you can’t even do anything about it yet; it’ll just stay in your mind and prevent you from being present.
Instead, highly productive people take steps toward their goals before they let the demands of the day interfere. They focus their peak mental, emotional, and physical energy of the morning on their highest priorities—not checking Instagram or watching the news.
To avoid those distractions first thing in the morning, don’t just “try harder.” Leave your phone on Airplane Mode when you sleep. Set a Do Not Disturb mode so you don’t get notifications for the first hour of your morning. Build it into your environment and you’ll break the habit quickly.
3. Allowing Distractions During Work
Whether it’s emails, messages, or calls, we switch tasks or get interrupted every 3 minutes and 5 seconds. Yet no matter how hard you try, if you get distracted that often, you’ll struggle to focus because we are all terrible at multitasking.
Next, if your workspace is clutter or disorganized, it can negatively affect your cognition, stress, and emotions. In fact, just seeing clutter hurts your mental performance and focus.
Highly productive people, however, bulletproof themselves from distractions and constant notifications so they can focus on their task at hand. They also don’t work in a sloppy, cluttered environment, and they keep things (relatively) clean, organized, and minimalist.
To help, try putting your phone on airplane mode or turning off email notifications while you work so you don’t get bombarded. Close all the tabs, browsers, and applications you don’t need. Organize your workspace so there’s less clutter. Don’t listen to podcasts or radio stations while working and instead play the same song on repeat (which actually works to improve your focus).
4. Working Until Exhaustion
While there are times you have to work late to finish a project, it’s not a long-term recipe for success. And if you constantly work until you’re exhausted, those last few hours of work probably won’t be good anyway.
Highly productive people don’t work until there’s nothing left in the tank: They stop long before they get to that point. Remember: Your cognitive abilities are limited—we only have about three hours of peak mental performance every day. Apply those golden hours to things that are important. Sure, you can still work after those three hours, but once you feel your performance dipping, it’s a good place to stop. (After all, you need to rest and recover to be able to perform well the next day.)
Also, take regular breaks during the day to help you recover, re-energize, and refocus for better mental performance—that way, you can deep work for longer.
5. Working Without Priorities
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
― Dwight D. Eisenhower
Not everything on your to-do list is equally important. Highly productive people focus their energy on the most important tasks—not just the urgent ones—which allows them to get the most results from each day.
Before you start working, try ranking your tasks in order of importance so you can dedicate your best hours of each day to what will get you the most results. And if you don’t know your priorities, just ask.
You can’t do everything at once and there’s an opportunity cost to your tasks. Always think about what’s on your plate, what are the one to three biggest priorities, and what can wait.
6. “Finding” Time to Do Things
Here’s a saying I’ve found to be true like nothing else:
“If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”
If you give a task to someone who has all the time in the world, they’ll struggle and procrastinate. But if you give it to someone who is extremely busy, they will make it happen.
Highly productive people don’t find time to do the things they want; they make time. If it’s important—for example, getting regular exercise or spending time with their children—they’ll set it in their schedule and make sure it gets done. They know how to organize and manage their time so all their priorities in work and life get accomplished.
What are the essential things that you often postponed? Don’t “find” time—it probably won’t get done that way. If they’re important to you, set it in your calendar and build your schedule around them.
7. Failing to Set Boundaries
Bragging about working 12-hour days isn’t a sign of productivity; it’s a sign of poor boundaries. Many people take on all kinds of projects that, frankly, won’t move the needle in their life. Or when people invite them to do something they don’t want, they feel obligated, draining themselves of time and energy (and creating resentment).
But highly productive people set boundaries on their time and don’t let lesser things take away from what’s most important. They’re not rude; if anything, they gain respect for showing they focus on the things, people, activities, and more that are most important to them.
Highly productive people are also very protective of their workflow. For example, if they know their mornings are best for creative work, they’ll schedule their phone calls for the afternoon. They understand what helps them achieve their best work and what holds them back.
Learn how to politely say “no” to requests or invitations and save yourself time and aggravation. Maybe it’s just not a priority or you don’t want to do it—that’s okay. Also, find the workflow that works best for you and schedule your day to fit that.