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5 Deceptive Habits that are Actually Making You Less Productive

5 Deceptive Habits that are Actually Making You Less Productive

Habits make up 40% of what we do every day. We regularly go through certain processes, actions, even thoughts and phrases without thinking about it. Part of being a ‘productive’ person is developing productive habits–the more productive your habits are, the more naturally productive a person you can be.

But sometimes we think we have a productive habit that’s actually hurting us. Here are 5 of the most common deceptive habits that are holding you back.

1. Email

The Trap

We tend to think we’re ‘getting work done’ when we’re responding to emails. We’re communicating with team members, responding to important requests, adding new things we need to do, it’s a vital part of work life. But productive? No way.

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The Reality

Email requires you, usually, to put someone else’s priorities above your own. Send them a document, respond to a request, think about some new info, and it turns into quicksand very quickly. You get sucked into it, responding at length to everything, and if you’re lucky enough to get through it all, you may have lost an hour of time. And did you produce anything? Probably not, and something’s hardly ‘productive’ if it doesn’t lead to any production.

How to Fix It

There are a few very easy ways to avoid death by email. The first is one you’ve probably heard a hundred times now: only check email a few times a day. I generally only check it 3 times, rarely before noon, and the world has never ended. In addition, it’s useful to use an offline client (like Gmail offline) to check it. This way if you reply to someone and they respond immediately it doesn’t turn into a long chain of emails–it does require though that you are complete enough in your responses to not necessitate a long exchange. Finally, keep your emails below 5 sentences. Anything longer than that warrants a phone call.

2. Notifications

The Trap

Technology is really cool. We can communicate with anyone instantly, and anyone can communicate with us. In order to use that to its greatest advantage, we need to know as soon as someone contacts us. That means notifications for texts, emails, facebook, twitter, and anything else you’re a part of… right?

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The Reality

Notifications are destroying your productivity. They demand your immediate attention, which means whatever important work you were doing before is now interrupted. A state of ‘flow’ where you’re at your utmost productivity requires at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted focus to get into, and if you’re being interrupted by pings every 2 minutes you never get there. It leaves you stuck in an endless string of task-switching and you never really get anything done, even though you feel exceptionally “busy.” Also, responding to every notification tells everyone else that you’re always available to be bothered by them–not something you want when you need to focus on more important things.

How to Fix It

Turn them all off. Seriously, every single one. The world won’t end, I promise. The only sound your phone should make is to ring when someone calls you, because that’s the only communication that truly demands immediate attention. As we’ve developed all of this communications tech, we’ve forgotten something important: tech is for your convenience, not for everyone else. So don’t let other people use it to ruin your productivity

3. Soda/Coffee/Caffeine in General

The Trap

Caffeine gives you energy clearly, since you’re hyped up after taking it. More energy equals more productivity, so if I imbibe coffee on a daily basis I’m bound to be the next Bill Gates.

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The Reality

There are no free lunches. Milton Friedman applied it to economics, but really it applies to everything, including your mind. Anything you do that results in a sudden surge of energy comes with a cost later, and that cost usually has interest. This is why there’s a strong correlation between the effects of a drug and the side effects, it can only give you so much by taking other things away. In the case of caffeine, you’re taking an energy surge now for a deficit later, and that deficit will come with sluggish productivity and significantly decreased willpower.

How to Fix It

This isn’t hard to figure out–just quit the caffeine. I used to drink 6-8 cups of coffee a day and quit cold turkey and everything was fine. Sure I had a headache for a day but it was worth it. Instead you might try decaf coffee, tea, or even just water… It’s actually quite good.

4. The News

The Trap

Someone probably told you at one point “you should read the news.” It’s what any good informed citizen does, right? When you imagine a “business-person,” they’re someone who sits at home in the morning, has a cup of coffee and reads the news, so if you want to be successful like them, you should read it too.

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The Reality

It’s pretty much a huge waste of your time; only slightly better than television or video games. Taking the time to sit and read through a full news story is akin to reading an entire book instead of the summary on Wikipedia–you’re doing it for the experience. And that’s fine! If you enjoy reading the news, by all means go for it, but if you’re doing it as a means to the end of being informed, being conversational, having some idea what’s going on, there are better ways that take up much less of your time.

The Solution

You have a couple of options here. If you want to keep doing the curation yourself, you can use a news aggregator and summarizer to help you. This would be an online source that provides you with daily snippets of what’s going on to give you just enough to be conversational (a very easy solution is the top ~20 stories in ‘World News’ on reddit, or the headers and excerpts on Feedly.) You can also just ask people. Others will feel smart when they tell you about what’s going on in the world, and you’re getting a quick digest instead of having to do the research yourself.

5. Eating at Your Desk

The Trap

Being seen is really important. The boss won’t promote you if they can’t tell that you’re dedicated to your work, and what better way to show that than to be in your office all of the time. Taking a lunch break is a sign of weakness–you’d do better to take bites between email responses.

The Reality

We all suck at multitasking, but we all rock at lying to ourselves about it. The fact of the matter is that no one can multitask, they can only task-switch, and the same problem with notifications applies to eating and working. Trying to get work done while eating slows down the amount of time the lunch ends up taking, and only results in getting a minimal amount of work done. The only reason we think it helps is because it makes us feel busy.

The Solution

Simply take the break. As it turns out, breaks are really important, and if we don’t take them on at least a semi-regular basis we burn out much quicker and start being a lot less efficient. If you take the 20-30 minutes to go outside the office to eat (even if it’s just in a lounge) you’ll come back much more refreshed and ready to get back to business.

More by this author

Nat Eliason

Writer and Host of Nat Chat

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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