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The 5 Most Common Mistakes Productive People Make

The 5 Most Common Mistakes Productive People Make


    We all pride ourselves on being productive. That’s why you are reading these words right now.

    But by being productive, we become susceptible to some common mistakes that make us actually less productive. What’s tricky is that these mistakes actually make us look more productive so it is easy to commit them without noticing.

    A great way to prevent yourself from making these mistakes is to become aware of them and to be able to recognize when you are doing them. For each of these mistakes, I will briefly touch upon WHY they are counterproductive despite how they may seem.

    The first of these common mistakes is…

    Not Having a Clear Vision

    As productivity junkies, it is easy to become focused on doing things faster and better so we sometimes forget the point of what we are doing. We use excellent time management tools to fill our schedules with activities and we use a system to get through our huge To Do lists we create for ourselves.

    The problem that arises when you constantly focus on HOW to do things more efficiently is that we forget WHY we’re doing what we’re doing. If what we’re doing is not meaningful or worthwhile, does it matter that we can do so much of it efficiently?

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    Ask yourself: Do I want to be only efficient or efficient AND effective?

    If you chose the latter, make sure you’re clear that what you’re doing is worthwhile. If you’re not sure where to start, Scott H. Young might be able to help you with his article How to Find a Meaningful Life – Without Quitting Your Job

    The next mistake we often make is…

    Multitasking

    The person who is talking on the phone while typing an email on their blackberry all the while checking out the latest news on the TV has become the poster child for productivity. Everyone wants to be able to process many things at once and being able to multitask well seems to imply intelligence.

    This is one of the most tempting mistakes productive people make. Much research has shown that the human brain actually processes one thing at a time. If you are reading a report while talking with your friends and surfing the Internet, you are actually doing each of those activities one after another and not in parallel. If you don’t believe me, try to multitask and observe what your thoughts are.

    Multitasking is counterproductive because every time you switch back and forth, you need to stop and review what you did the last time. Try reading something while doing anything else. You end up reading passages over and over again. For more information on multitasking and how to be less distracted, check out The Ability to Multitask Isn’t What It’s Cracked Up to Be.

    Ask Yourself: Do I multitask? Am I really doing my tasks in parallel or am I switching between tasks at short intervals?

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    I recommend focusing on doing one thing at a time. The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to do this. Speaking of Pomodoro, this brings me to the next mistake…

    Using Too Many Systems and Tools

    I have to admit it: I like bright, shiny objects.

    When there is a new time management or productivity system, tool or app, I want to learn about it. The great thing is that they usually all have value. The problem is that there is a learning curve for each one and you spend a bulk of your time learning productivity techniques as opposed to actually doing what you want to do.

    Another counterproductive behavior associated with this mistake is tracking too many things.

    I get it. What gets measured gets done but it is easy to fall into the trap of tracking data for the sake of tracking data and spending a bulk of your time updating your data sheets and not analyzing them to improve your behavior.

    Ask Yourself: How many productivity systems and tools do I use? Am I overextended? How much time do I spend each day on tracking my progress and productivity? Are all the things I’m tracking relevant?

    Stick to a few techniques that work for you and continue to refine them for your situation. For those of you who successfully stick to one productivity technique that works, you might be inclined to make the next mistake on this list…

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    Taking on Too Many Projects

    We get things done. That’s what we’re known for.

    Unfortunately, the more efficient we become, the more things we try to do. Maybe it’s because we like the challenge or maybe it’s our confidence that we can handle it.

    What ends up happening is that we do get it done. Just not within the time frame we wanted to. Although I’m improving, I still make this mistake. When I get excited about something, I just add it to my project list. The problem is when we start too many activities, we inevitably delay everything else we are working on.

    Ask Yourself: How many projects am I working on now? Were any of them new projects that were added last minute? Do I have ample time to finish my projects by their deadlines? (Note: If you’re still not sure, check out the 15 Signs You’re Working Too Much and Burning Out.)

    I recommend having at most 3 main projects or goals that you are working on at any given time. Sometimes if it is a big project, I keep it to one. This is not easy and that’s why I end up making the last mistake on this list…

    Not Sleeping Enough

    Productive people like to do a lot. As I just mentioned, they also tend to take on too many projects. When they get busy, the first thing to be sacrificed for a productive person is sleep because it doesn’t seem like a priority. There are even people who boast about sleeping less than 4 hours each night. I should know. I use to be one of them.

    I’ve come to realize that this is one of the biggest mistakes to make because when we don’t rest our bodies, we cannot do our best work. Just because we have more time doesn’t mean we’re using it in the best way. I’m not even going to get into the health benefits of sleep.

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    Ask Yourself: How much sleep do I get every day? Is sleep a high priority? How often do I sacrifice sleep to get things done?

    The best way to get more sleep is to treat it like any other big project, schedule it in and do it.

    I hope this list will help you avoid making these common mistakes. I’m interested to hear if there are any other mistakes we are susceptible to in the comments section.

    As an added bonus, check out 31 Tips from the Pros for a Successful, Satisfying and Insanely Profitable 2012 where you can find some great advice from productive people doing something meaningful with their lives.

    (Photo credit: Oops via Shutterstock)

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      Robert Chen

      Executive Coach

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      Last Updated on October 15, 2018

      How to Calm Down When You Are Overwhelmed: 7 Quick Ways to Try

      How to Calm Down When You Are Overwhelmed: 7 Quick Ways to Try

      Do you sometimes feel that you add items to your to-do list faster than you tick them off? Do you spend most of your day worrying about your lack of time?

      The truth is, no matter how much we love our job, or how productive we believe we are under stress, there comes a moment when the pressure rises above boiling point. The sheer number of urgent tasks multiplies in a geometric progression. New possibilities no longer sound inspiring, they sound overwhelming and equal more work.

      If that’s where you are right now – keep reading! If not, it doesn’t mean you should wait until you get there to learn how to cope with a demanding work schedule and how to calm yourself down quickly when you feel overwhelmed.

      Here are 7 quick and easy tips on how to calm down when you are overwhelmed:

      1. Let go of a few activities

      Yes, it’s that easy! Take a look at your to-do list and ask yourself, “If I don’t do it today, will it matter a month from now?”

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      Not every urgent task is important. Just like not every important, high pay-off task is urgent. The best way to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed and to manage your time is to know the difference between the two and learn to simplify your life by getting your to-do list down to three big tasks.

      2. Take deep breaths to calm down

      This advice sounds so simple it’s often overlooked. But it works better (and faster) than any other relaxation technique out there.

      There is a direct connection between our emotional state and breathing. An anxious, frustrated or overwhelmed person breathes as if they have just finished running a marathon. A calm person breathes differently. Their breathing is deep, slow and steady. So when you have a panic attack, the best way to bring your heart rate down and to regain your cool is to change your breathing.

      Try this now:

      Take a slow, long deep breath in, filling your lungs with air and expanding your diaphragm. Hold your breath for four counts and then slowly release the air through your mouth. Repeat four times and notice frustration and the feeling of being overwhelmed dissolve with each long exhale of these calming breaths.

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      3. Make “Just one thing” your mantra

      When we feel overwhelmed by the amount of tasks on our to-do list, it’s easy to enter the ‘deer in the headlights’ state. You see deadlines approaching directly towards you, and you know that something has to be done about them, but you just don’t know where to start.

      The best way to get your mind out of an ‘inactivity trance’ is to create momentum. This is what makes the “Just one thing” mantra so powerful. It helps to change our expectation that everything has to be completed right now, “or else.”

      Next time you feel overwhelmed make grabbing a cup of coffee your “Just one thing.” You can do it, right? Then come back, pick one of the smallest tasks on your to-do list and tell yourself you’ll do just that one task. This is your next “Just one thing” that you will concentrate on until it’s complete. After that you can move on to the next task and so on.

      It’s not “One thing at a time.” Saying this implies that there is a huge line of other tasks waiting to get done and that’s not the message you want to keep repeating to yourself. Learn how to focus here and stop getting overwhelmed.

      4. Reduce the multi-tasking and multi-thinking

      It’s been proven that multi-tasking is very inefficient, to the point of dumbing us down (more than smoking marijuana does). The same is true for multi-thinking, when your mind frantically jumps from one thought to another, trying to focus on and analyze several things all at once.

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      Fortunately, there is help. A few minutes of meditation or brainwave music is all it takes to start feeling more relaxed, more creative and less overwhelmed.

      5. Get moving

      Any exercise you engage in – be it walking or dancing to your favorite beat – helps to release endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ hormones, through your body and to clear your mind.

      Staying active also increases your productivity, enhances your ability to combat stress and anxiety. It also helps you to release the tension, boosting your mood and changing the thoughts that induce the sense of being overwhelmed.

      The best part is you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to get the mind-soothing benefits of exercise. Even as little as 15 minutes of dancing or jogging can go a long way towards making you feel better and staying calmer.

      6. Change your surroundings

      We all need and deserve to take vacations from work woes and family responsibilities. Unfortunately, spending two weeks lazing on a beach, toes in the sand and a Mojito in hand, is not always an option. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t take short ‘vacations’ from work stress and the technology buzz.

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      Go outside for a few minutes and enjoy the sunshine. Stop at a park instead of driving straight home from work. Sometimes changing your surroundings and ‘spicing up your routine’ is all it takes to change your perspective on things and find creative solutions to seemingly complex and overwhelming problems.

      7. Get some pet therapy

      Studies have shown what most of us already guessed – our pets can be a great help during stressful moments. Simple actions such as petting or playing with your dog or cat can lower high blood pressure, boost your immune system and boost your mood.

      Besides, pets can make the best conversation partners to share your frustrations with. They listen, they love you unconditionally and they never talk back or say, “I told you so.”

      Final thoughts

      Don’t wait for stress to hit you to start practicing these quick ways to calm down when you are overwhelmed. The best way to enjoy a worry-free life is not to push yourself to the limit of being overwhelmed and frustrated.

      Featured photo credit: Dardan via unsplash.com

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