Increase Productivity

Avoid These 5 Unproductive Habits


An Amazon search for books about habits produces around 60,000 results. Apparently, people take this topic seriously.

When it comes to increasing productivity, it’s just as important to identify bad habits as it is to adopt good habits for success. However, the line between the two is often blurry. Many habits formed from good intentions turn out to be counterproductive.

If you’re not sure what’s holding you back productivity-wise, you’ve come to the right place.

Bad Habits to Track — and Eventually Kick

You’ll find yourself getting more done in less time if you kick these five habits for good. One or two of them may surprise you, so keep an open mind.

1. Overrating Busyness

Multitasking and taking on too much at once are the enemies of productivity. The very people who seem constantly busy get surprisingly little done in a day. The neuroscience research backs this up.

The University of Michigan recently studied multitasking. Researchers found that juggling two tasks at once results in both tasks taking up to 25% longer to finish. Not only that, but errors and omissions are more common.

As impressive as the human brain is, it does not have limitless capacity. You and I can still create mental logjams. The MRIs of participants in a study at Vanderbilt University bear this out.

Be realistic about how much work you can handle at any given time, and learn to say no.

2. Being an Obsessive “Checker”

Scientists observing employees at Microsoft found that each distraction from a task, like checking email or answering a text message, wound up taking 15 minutes on average. Activities like those come with a built-in temptation to waste time.

The wrong thinking goes something like this: Since you’re already on your phone, you might as well check for breaking news, fantasy football updates, or the number of likes to your Facebook post.

Obsessive checking is definitely among the bad habits to break. Even an activity that doesn’t consume much time can make it hard to get back on task.

Turn off your cellphone. Block out time in your daily schedule — for example, 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon — for answering messages and clearing your inbox. As a rule of thumb, don’t check anything until you have the time to respond.

3. Failing to Prioritize

Your daily to-do list should have a handful of meaningful tasks rather than a long list of tasks that won’t have much impact one way or another. Again, staying busy and staying productive isn’t the same thing.

C. Northcote Parkinson was a British author who satirized government bureaucracies. Parkinson’s law of triviality asserts that a chore will take as long as the time allotted to complete it. It’s just as important, then, to set deadlines as it is to set priorities.

The second part of Parkinson’s law addresses “bike-shedding,” the tendency to let a trivial issue take up a disproportionate amount of time. Parkinson used the analogy of a design team for a nuclear power plant spending most of its time planning the employee bike shed.

Don’t let bike-shedding hold up an entire project. Prioritize.

4. Thinking You Know It All and Can Do It All

Lots of people in positions of leadership overlook these habits for success:

  • Stay humble.
  • Remain teachable.
  • Be willing to delegate.
  • Be passionate about developing people.

Have you lost enthusiasm for a job you used to love? Does your workplace culture seem stale and uninspiring?

If so, attend a seminar. Research industry trends. Explore emerging technology. There’s nothing like continuing education for boosting morale and sparking productivity.

A true entrepreneurial spirit inspires teamwork and collaboration. Great leaders have a vested interest in continuing to learn, in leveraging feedback to improve, and in developing others. Not every brilliant idea has to be theirs. In workplace cultures with high-performing teams, there’s plenty of credit to go around.

Be a lifelong learner. Celebrate your successes, but embrace your failures too. Every setback is an opportunity to learn and grow.

5. Neglecting Your Personal Well-being

All the experts agree that physical and mental health have bearing on job performance and productivity. Consider these benefits:

  • Exercise triggers the release of feel-good endorphins that boost energy, improve concentration, and keep stress and depression at bay.
  • While you sleep, your brain organizes every random thought that came and went during the day. It consolidates the things you need to remember immediately, like the conference call at 9 a.m., and files away or discards the things you don’t.
  • If you’re sluggish and unfocused in the afternoon, rethink your lunch menu. Too many carbohydrates will drain your energy reserve dry.

There’s no shame in getting mental help if you need it. A case study published in Psychology Today described a bright young woman and gifted strategic thinker with nothing standing in her way. Even so, she was laid off from one job after another.

The woman and her psychologist agreed that depression was at the root of her inability to hold a job. She resolved to exercise more and get back to activities, like singing in a choir, that used to give her joy.

Of all the bad habits to track and avoid, this is the only one with life itself at stake.

Get on the Fast Track to Increased Productivity

As someone who has had bad habits to break me, I love helping people identify the tendencies that hold them back.

Reach out to me at Leonard Productivity Intelligence Institute. I’m committed to helping entrepreneurs like you be more productive on the job and in life.