5 min read

5 things to avoid if you want to be productive

Here’s a simple-to-follow tip: Instead of adding things to be more productive, start with subtracting things that kill your productivity. You’ll get more things done, decrease your mental load, and enjoy your work.

Do you often find yourself wanting to be productive, but falling short of it?

You start your day with so much to get done. But, soon get stuck in doing meaningless tasks, losing focus, and procrastinating. You’ve tried every productivity hack. But, somehow, it’s not working.

Here’s a simple-to-follow tip: Instead of adding things to be more productive, start with subtracting things that kill your productivity. You’ll get more things done, decrease your mental load, and enjoy your work.

But, how to do that? That’s what this post is about.

Here are 5 things you should avoid if you want to be productive:

1. Working on things you dislike

The biggest threat to productivity is working on things you dislike. You won't get things done if you don't like or care about the work. It doesn't matter what productivity hacks and tools you use. You'll find ways to procrastinate. You'll feel burnout.

What to do instead: The key is to work on something that interests you. That you enjoy. That doesn't feel like work. For this to happen, observe yourself.

Introspect what you like and what you don't. Decide for yourself what's not worth doing. Cut on things that drain your energy and mental load.

Align your life to deal with work that you like. That is enjoyable. But, I get you. There are tasks you can't abandon even if you don't want to do them.

The trick is to reduce your interaction with those tasks. Delegate or automate it. But, make sure the person you're giving the work to likes doing it too.

Pro Tip: Finding what you love to do takes time. So don't stress if you can't find it within a few months. Keep experimenting. Read books. Surround yourself with people who have already reached where you want to be.

2. Failing to plan

Imagine you're driving a car. You know the destination, but don't know the path to it. So no matter how fast you drive, you'll end up at the wrong place. You first need to know the map to the destination.

Planning your work is the map to productivity. If you want to be productive, you should have a clear idea of your tasks. Don't start your day thinking about what you should do.

What to do instead:

a) Marc Andreessen advises preparing 3 lists:

i) a To-do list: This list contains all the work you must do - work that is important and urgent. You can divide the tasks into different timeframes (today, this week, next week, next month)

ii) a Watch list: This list contains the work you have to follow up on. It's a reminder of the work you have to do in the future.

iii) a Later list: This list contains all the work you might want to do or wish to do if you have time.

If a particular task doesn't fit into any of these 3 lists, delete it.

b) Make a To-do list

Every night before going to bed, prepare a list of 3-5 tasks you'll do. These are the important tasks you will do no matter what. Rank the tasks in order of importance.

Fix the schedule of each task (starting the day with the important tasks) to get a sense of how long each task will take. When you fix a time to do the task, you’ll find ways to complete it before the deadline (Parkinson’s law).

c) Create a Not-To-do list: Create a list of tasks you won't do. Stick it on the wall near your workplace. It will remind you every time you work that these tasks are distractions you should stay away from.

3. Ignoring energy management

People aren't at their peak energy levels throughout the day. Despite this, many focus on time management and ignore energy management. This leads to inefficient work and a lack of work satisfaction.

What to do instead:

a) Pay attention to when you feel the most energized during a day. Some people feel peak energy levels in the morning. For some people, it's nighttime. Plan your tasks accordingly. Schedule your creative and important tasks during your peak energy levels.

b) Avoid multitasking. You think you can do multiple tasks at the same time and save energy. But, research shows multitasking leads to a 40% decrease in productivity. Plus, multitaskers take 50% more time to complete the task and make 50% more errors compared to non-multitaskers.

Resist the urge to hop between tasks. Do one task at a time.

c) You don't have to do all the tasks yourself. Save your energy for important work. Delegate or automate the rest. Use Zapier to automate repetitive tasks.

d) Your environment, too, dictates your energy levels. So design your working environment.

Here's how:

i) Don't have a sofa near your workplace. Use a table. So that you don't work lying around. This leads to laziness, and eventually, procrastination.
ii) Remove distraction triggers. Use Freedom to block social media, YouTube, and other distracting websites and apps. Use Mailman to block emails when you work. You can schedule all the emails to receive during a specific time of the day.
iii) Turn off your phone when you work.

4. Saying 'Yes' every time

People say yes too often. They agree to unnecessary meetings and volunteer to do someone else's trivial tasks. Because they don't want to sound rude or look unhelpful.

But, remember, when you say "yes" to everything, you're saying "no" to your important work. You've limited time and energy. Agreeing to everything will exhaust you. You then won't have the energy to complete your work. You'll do everyone's task except yours.

What to do instead:

a) Think before saying yes. Economist Tim Harford advises asking yourself, "If I had to do this today, would I agree to it?" before committing to the work. If the work is exciting enough to drop your current task, then you can say "yes." Else, say "no."

b) When you say “no,” explain the value trade-offs to the other person. Explain your priority. People will listen to you if you reason your “no”. That said, you shouldn’t give 10 minutes of explanations to everyone.

A polite “no” with a one-sentence of why you’re saying it should suffice for the majority asks.

5. Not resting

It's tempting to work countless hours to feel productive. To squeeze every minute off your schedule. Taking rest feels counterintuitive.

But, in the end, you start losing interest in your work. You lose focus. Procrastination sets in. You rob yourself of creativity. So don't fall for the 'busyness' illusion.

What to do instead:

Use Pomodoro technique:

Plan your tasks. For example, say you have to do 5 tasks the next day. Divide them into 25-30 minutes batches. Each batch is a Pomodoro.

Be focused during that 25-30 minutes. No distractions. Only work. Take a break of 10 minutes after each task. And after completing 4 pomodoros, take a longer break of 20-30 mins.

The goal of this break time is to rest your brain. To re-energize it.

Rest doesn’t mean you sit idle. You can practice your hobby. Take a walk. Sit with your thoughts. Read books. Or do something fun. Just calm your mind. Recharge yourself.

Once the break is over, repeat the Pomodoro technique.

Get rid of these 5 things to boost your productivity

Productivity is best solved if you address it backward. Look for things you should avoid that kill your productivity. Identify the common potholes. Get rid of them - use the above guide to get started.