Sometimes in order to make space in our lives for the good and productive things, we need to weed out the unproductive things–things we do habitually that don’t serve us. In this episode we’ll talk about how we can be more productive by stopping some unproductive practices.
Unproductive habits can prevent us from making a life that matters and making the most of our time
I have come up with a list of 10 unproductive things that we should stop doing, and I offer some suggestions on what we can replace them with in order to be more productive on a day-to-day basis. Some of these are practices, while others are mindsets.
1. Multitasking. Multitasking is doing more than one thing at a time, such as replying to emails and listening to a webinar or talking to someone and cooking. We think we’re being more productive, but in fact it’s likely to take longer (as our brain switches back and forth) and we are more likely to make mistakes, both of which are unproductive. This isn’t an issue if you’re doing one thing that requires attentiveness and one that’s mechanical (e.g., listening to a podcast and folding clothes), but just be aware of the impact of multitasking. It’s much better (and more effective) to do one thing at a time, focus, and be present.
2. Constantly changing your tools, systems, or routines, looking for the “magic pill” that will solve your productivity problems. There’s always a learning curve when you try something new, even if the new thing is good. One of the benefits of creating and sticking with a system or a tool is you get familiar and you develop muscle memory, so you can move more quickly, complete the task more efficiently, and thus be more effective in a shorter amount of time.
3. Dropping items somewhere “for now”. We all do this to one degree or another, and it shows up in various ways. We come in the door from work or a trip or an errand and drop our purse, keys, packages, the mail on a counter “for now”. We change for bed or get ready in the morning and leave our clothes or pajamas on the floor “for now”. We finish with a tool in the kitchen or our office or elsewhere and leave it on the counter or our desk “for now”. We put the clean laundry on the bed (or leave it in the dryer) “for now”. Once in a while it’s not a big deal, but if it’s habitual, it leads to clutter, time lost searching for items we can’t find when we need them, etc. The more productive alternative is to identify a home for everything that comes into the house and establish the habit of taking the few extra seconds and steps to put things where they belong right away. You’ll have less clutter and all the benefits that come with that, which we’ve talked about before. If you always put things where they belong, you always know where they are.
4. Overscheduling our lives–scheduling events and activities back to back with no downtime or white space between them. Doing this can create more stress because of the potential for being late if one event runs long. It also makes it more difficult to be prepared mentally or otherwise for one event if you’re going straight into it from something else (and no time to process the information from the one you just left if it’s a class or a meeting). It’s especially difficult if days are filled with meetings and events and activities and no time is blocked out for that “deep” work–the work that requires creativity or problem-solving thinking. The more productive approach: leave space in between scheduled events or activities–and not just travel time, but downtime–to make notes about the meeting that just ended and jot down your action items; to take a quick walk or stretch; to get a drink of water or use the bathroom; to return a phone call; or just to close your eyes and breathe for a couple of minutes. It’s also valuable to intentionally block out times each day or week for your “deep” work, when no meetings or calls will be scheduled.
5. Non-strategic procrastination (this is different from intentionally and strategically deferring action). It’s unproductive because you’re not moving forward. Waiting until the last minute to get things done inevitably costs us time and stress and often results in us doing a worse job than we otherwise would have. Procrastination wastes energy and attention, because that unclosed loop is always in the back of our mind, distracting us and leading us to feel bad about ourselves. And how often have you spend hours, days, or longer putting off a dreaded task, only to finally start and discover it took far less time than you imagine it would? You spent more time procrastinating than you spent actually doing the task. That’s wasted time you can’t get back. It’s more productive to put a plan in place, identify the first action, then get moving.
6. Beating yourself up for mistakes made in the past (even if the past is 5 minutes ago). I’m not saying we shouldn’t take responsibility for mistakes or try to correct them or do better. But it’s unproductive to rehash and beat up on ourselves. Instead, learn the lesson the mistake can teach you, make amends if you need to, and then forgive yourself for being human and move on.
7. Comparing yourself to others. We waste so much time, energy, and attention doing this–and it’s time, energy, and attention we can’t use to do things that actually move us toward our goals. By definition, no matter how well you know the other person, you don’t know everything, so any comparison will be at best superficial and at worst misleading. We can learn from each other and get ideas from each other, without measuring ourselves or our performance (or our homes or relationships or achievements) by what you see (or think you see) in somebody else. Learn to notice when you’re comparing yourself to someone else, acknowledge (maybe out loud) that you’re doing it, remind yourself, “Her journey is not mine,” and move forward.
8. Breaking your promises to yourself (things you put on your to-do list but don’t do; appointments with yourself for self-care, exercise, work on your heart project or personal goal).
Why is this unproductive? “You, often unconsciously, start to view yourself as unreliable, flaky, and believe the narrative that you aren’t important and worthy of this time for you. Eventually, you start to view every goal or commitment you make for your improvement as optional. Studies on cognitive dissonance show that when people’s actions and beliefs don’t line up, they usually change their beliefs to match their actions. You may be slowly but surely telling yourself you don’t matter and don’t deserve the time you’ve tried to set aside.” ~ from Why You Need to Stop Breaking Promises to Yourself
Keeping promises to yourself “boosts your confidence and reminds you that you are valuable and worthy of this self-care. Studies show that keeping a promise to yourself helps you feel strong and confident, and boosts your productivity and happiness! This is a powerful way to live.” ~ from Why You Need to Stop Breaking Promises to Yourself
Create the habit of keeping the promises you make to yourself
- Start small with something you can’t not do
- Write your promises down
- Keep them visible by posting them where you’ll see them
- Consider finding an accountability partner or coach to help hold you accountable until the habit is developed
9. Mistaking busyness for productivity. Activity isn’t the same as productivity. Productivity is about results. Even if you’re always going and doing, if you’re not achieving the results you want or need, it’s not productive. Running 100 mph in the wrong direction won’t get you where you want to go. Learn to be aware, ask yourself periodically throughout the day, “Is what I’m doing right now the best use of my time? Is this moving me toward the life I want?” Be strategic and intentional about how you use the most precious, and most finite, resources you have: your time, your energy, and your attention.
10. Worrying about what other people think. Worry–especially chronic worry–has negative effects on our health, potentially causing dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, irritability, inability to concentrate, sleep deprivation, indigestion, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, digestive disorders, immune system deficiencies, depression, and more. When we’re worrying, we’re not doing other things that actually can be productive. We’re not being creative, we’re not taking action, we’re not connecting with the people around us. As one writer put it, “Time spent worrying is time spent not living.” We can get that lost time back by replacing worry with something else. It starts by becoming more aware of when you’re doing it. When you catch yourself worrying, identify it as such: “That’s worry.” (Say it out loud.) Worrying about what other people think is particularly nefarious because you can’t know what they think, and often you’re imagining thoughts that simply don’t exist. Eleanor Roosevelt said,
You’d worry a lot less about what other people think of you if you realized how seldom they do.
You can paralyze yourself from taking action for fear of someone else’s reaction. Brené Brown suggests making a list of people whose opinion of you matters, write it on a very small sticky note, and keep it handy. When you find yourself worrying about a person’s reaction (either actual or imagined), look at that note–if the person isn’t on it, give yourself permission to disregard it. Worry in general usually is vague and nebulous. Pin it down by writing down exactly what you’re worrying about. What exactly is the reaction or thought you’re worried “they” might have–and who is “they”? Be very specific.
- What am I worried about? (What difference would it actually make if “they” think what you’re worried they’ll think?)
- Is it a realistic possibility? (Really?)
- What will I do if it happens?
- What can I do about it now?
Come up with a concrete action you can take, and then take action. Replace the worried thoughts with something else. Maybe try meditation – watch your thoughts without judgment, identify them, and then letting them pass through.
What do you think? Questions? Comments?
What unproductive practice or mindset interferes with making a life that matters as you define it? What can you do today to change it? Please share them in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email. And don’t forget to drop me a note letting me know how you create space in your day or week for deep work.
Resources and Links
- How to Stop Breaking Promises you Make To Yourself
- Why You Need to Stop Breaking Promises to Yourself
- 5 Ways to Keep Promises with Yourself – Time Management Ninja
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- TPW137-Personalizing Your Systems, with Freya Casey
- TPW201-Designing Productive Systems, with Crystal Collinson
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Seeing this as a list is a helpful reminder. I especially liked #8 & 9. Thank you!
Loved these reminders – especially about meeting commitments made to myself