Personal Productivity: What NOT To Do To Be Productive

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Do you sometimes try to do as much work in 24 hours as humanly possible, only to realize in the end that you didn’t get much done?

Why is that? Why do you keep being busy, but end up not being productive?

Distractions, loss of concentration and focus, fatigue, misplaced priorities – are the usual suspects that get in the way of your work productivity.

So, how can we optimize the way we work, individually and as a team, and achieve more? How do we avoid distractions and what are the most efficient ways to get to the final result?

There’s a lot to think about. And, being super busy, we don’t have time for that, right?

But, let’s start from the very beginning.

What is productivity?

Traditionally, “productivity” has been associated with how much value a person can produce in a certain amount of time while using the resources available. Just like an industrial conveyor belt: the more you do quicker – the better.

Nowadays, “productivity” has acquired a narrower, more individualistic meaning, as we have become more acceptant of people’s varying behaviors, such as style of work, motivation, levels of training, personality traits, technological competence levels, etc.

The new way of understanding productivity has a more personal overtone. It is based on what makes the individual “tick” to become more productive, not how to make an individual work more.

Here’s an example:

If you’re working hard to accomplish many tasks during an interval of time, aka being busy, your goal is to do more in less time - quantity. If you’re being productive, your goal is to create more value in what you do - quality.

In other words, productivity today is not about the number of tasks you tackle during a day, it’s about how much value you create to come closer to the desired outcome.

The formula for personal productivity

There’s no such thing as a universal formula for personal productivity. It all depends on what kind of person you are. However, there are common observations that prove to boost productivity for most people.

To start calculating your personal productivity formula, you need to start with defining your own values, not trying to meet someone else’s expectations.

Think about what makes you happy when you work - what brings you joy? What are the key professional standards you have? But most importantly – what is the purpose behind what you’re trying to accomplish?

Make sure your life values are the driving force behind your work productivity. This will help you mobilize your inner resources and naturally produce more with less stress.

Yet, there are some common behaviors that seem to universally kill productivity.

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9 behaviors that negatively affect personal productivity

1. Chasing quantity

Let’s talk about the “conveyor belt” syndrome. It means focusing on doing more in less time, with the aim to produce a high volume of output.

If you suffer from this syndrome, you’re - plain and simple - harming yourself. Such negative spin-offs of overworking as stress, fatigue, declining concentration are sure to affect your health and performance over time.

According to a report by Health Advocate, stress-related illnesses cost businesses $200 to $300 BILLION a year in lost productivity, with 60% of workers losing productivity due to stress.

As we said already, productivity is not how much more you can do, but what you can do less of. One of the most simple ways to practice the “less is more” philosophy is to analyze your personal interference patterns. How often and because of what are you usually interrupted? Once you know what steals your time, you know how to get rid of it.

2. Not being yourself

Productivity varies from person to person. So, instead of adopting other people’s “best practices” when it comes to being productive, it’s a good idea to look within yourself.

What makes you tick and want to work more? What’s your work style? When do you feel inspired?

Personal quirks can be utilized to create an individual formula for productivity at work. Again, defining your values and describing what work ethics means to you can help tremendously.

Doing something that goes against your nature can hardly be productive as you will always struggle.

For example, if you’re an introvert you will avoid public speeches and presentations at all costs; if you’re more comfortable working solo, you will hate being dependent on the team; and if you’re the one who needs more training or guidance, you will find difficult to improve your results on your own - no matter how hard you try.

Know thyself & turn your idiosyncrasies into your strengths!

3. Multitasking

Concentrating on one or two things instead of many is a proven way to boost productivity.

Research proved that frequent switching from one task to another affects the brain, diminishing focus and concentration.

It takes about 25 minutes to regain concentration once you’re interrupted or distracted by another task. And given that our attention span when working on a computer is a mere 40 seconds, going back to a high productivity level is going to be hard after you’ve been distracted.

Doing many things at the same time also causes people to misplace priorities. If you want to get it all done at the same time, you may not spend enough time on what matters most and diminish the value of your work.

Finally, multitasking just wears you out. Even if your job is not physically demanding, by the end of a multitasking-filled day you will feel drained.

Ask yourself - what one or two tasks contribute most to my success and generate most revenue? Then, focus on just these tasks and stick to them until they are completed.

4. Setting too ambitious goals

Many people are too preoccupied with big, ambitious, long-term goals and projects, instead of focusing on attainable, smaller tasks.

In other words, they try to run a marathon, instead of doing sprints.

The decision to tackle large projects most of the time leads to avoidance and procrastination. Being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work in front of them, people tend to get lost in the process, and in the end - simply give up.

Instead, it’s better to work strategically by segmenting your work into smaller, doable pieces. This eases the mind, relaxes the nervous system, and concentrates mental energy, because the brain understands that such small sprints can be done in short bursts of activity.

More so, once you get a small task under your belt, you feel positively reinforced, alert and motivated by the accomplishment. Later on, when you get into the rhythm, you can increase your workload.

5. Inability to say NO to others

Being polite and helpful is great, by all means!

But… Aren’t you doing somebody else’s work, instead of your own?

You need to learn to say NO, when it affects your productivity and steals your time. Even though motivation to be useful and needed is quite strong, in the end of the day it prevents you from reaching your full productive capacity, because … you simply don’t have time to focus on what matters to you!

Learn how to protect your own time like your life depends on it.

6. Accepting distractions

Distractions are real productivity killers.

Even though some of them are unavoidable, most destructions can be eliminated.

Incessantly checking your phone, scrolling up and down social media, having multiple tabs open, taking care of household chores, notifications, reminders, phone calls, chats with co-workers - you name it - distractions are everywhere.

Instead of accepting distractions as inevitable evil, you should focus on proactively eliminating them. Of course - it takes willpower to resist the distractions of modern life. But you can put a lid on watching TV and checking social media, close unnecessary websites, put your chat status on “Busy” or “Do not disturb”, and maybe do the “unthinkable” - and even switch off your phone.

7. Working long hours without breaks

Working long hours inevitably results in a steady decline of focus. You start to work slower, make more mistakes, miss important details, re-do things. All of this is a polar opposite to what productivity is.

And don’t forget about the most important asset of your life – your health! A study published in The Lancet, revealed that employees who work long hours have a higher risk of stroke (33%) and coronary heart disease (13%) than those working standard 9-5 working hours.

Stick to the normal working hours and make sure you take regular breaks to refresh and recharge. Short breaks are proven to ease the tension, replenish your mental capability, reduce stress and fatigue, and prevent you from burning out.

8. Maintaining “bootcamp” mentality

Most of us have been raised with a belief that the harder you work the better your life is. Usually this axiom is accompanied by “You must be hard on yourself to achieve anything in life”.

Discipline, restraint, hard work, resilience - these are the words that support such “bootcamp” mentality.

When we’re hard on ourselves, when we self-criticize or engage in negative self-talk, we actually do nothing to boost our productivity. On the contrary - we increase stress levels, we feel shame and fear, and, in end, we’re more likely to just give up.

Calling yourself an idiot or a slacker, getting angry and beating yourself up won’t help you get back on the productivity track. It’s a negative program that keeps you locked in an unhappy cycle.

If something is not going well, get easy on yourself, be kind, start anew or switch to other tasks, finally - simply let go. Being under less stress and in a good mood will certainly help you regain your concentration and give your more energy to tackle even the most difficult task.

9. Not incorporating time-saving technology

Finally, what do you do to ease your work routine and reduce workload?

Cutting down on the number of tasks is a great start. But how about using modern technology (programs, systems, apps, smart devices, etc.)? A wealth of technology available these days can radically improve the efficiency of your daily work.

In a study by Ultimate Software, researchers found out that 92% of employees claimed that having technology that helped them do their job efficiently and positively affected their work satisfaction.

From automating time-consuming, repetitive tasks, to keeping all information in one centralized system and quickly accessing data on-the-go – modern technology can help you save your time and use resources in a more productive way.

You’re not a machine

Getting things done is a good thing, but getting the things done right is much better!

To really improve your personal productivity you need to start doing things differently. And one of those things is putting yourself first. In our constant quest for perfection, we often forget to pay attention to the inside: our own values, priorities, and needs.

After all, you’re not a machine. But you certainly can use one to help increase productivity.

Another lesson is stop being a firefighter! When you’re busy and overwhelmed, what you do is putting out fires. And even though you may be productive in the number of fires you extinguish, busyness certainly won’t keep your work fire-free.

The final conclusion for today is: value is better than quantity, and efficiency matters more than productivity.

This is how Jason Fried, the CEO of Basecamp, whose motto is “It doesn’t have to be crazy at work”, explains it: 

"Productivity is for machines, not for people. There’s nothing meaningful about packing some number of work units into some amount of time, or squeezing more into less. Think about how effective you’re being, not how productive you’re being."

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