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5 Deceptive Habits that are Actually Making You Less Productive

5 Deceptive Habits that are Actually Making You Less Productive
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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.

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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

Nat is the founder of the marketing agency Growth Machine. He shares lifetyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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