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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 July 29, 2020

      19 Best Mac Apps for Productivity You Need in 2020

      19 Best Mac Apps for Productivity You Need in 2020

      Whether you use your Mac for work or just for your personal projects, you’ve likely found yourself wondering how to improve your productivity. There are only so many hours in a day, and so much mental stamina you can muster before you run out.

      There are dozens of tricks you can use to improve your own productivity and outlook, but if you’re looking for a more objective, comprehensive fix, the best thing to do is equip your Mac with productivity apps designed to help you do more in less time.

      This Lifehack-exclusive list has some of the best productivity apps to help you feel less tired, improve your energy, and ultimately help you get more done every day:

      1. Todoist

        Available for all iOS devices, Todoist is a note-taking and organization app that can keep you on top of all your projects—both personal and professional.

        Its best features are all free to use, including browser extensions, task creation, and interactive boards you can use to organize all your notes.

        If you want to pay the optional $29 yearly fee, you can get even more advanced features like backups and automatic reminders. Even with the free version, you’ll stay far more organized.

        Download: Todoist

        2. 1Password

          You may not realize it, but you probably spend a ton of time recalling your passwords, especially if and when you forget one to an app you use on a regular basis.

          1Password is an app for Mac that saves and remembers all your passwords for you in one place, so you can access all your favorite sites with a single click.

          You’ll save time and keep all your accounts secure simultaneously. A personal plan is $2.99 per month.

          Download: 1Password

          3. Bear

            Bear is a unique kind of note-taking app designed to make it easier for Mac users to jot down notes on the go. With it, you can create to-do lists, give yourself reminders, and outline concepts for future brainstorming sessions.

            It comes with many different inline styles so you can customize your notes to your personal preferences, and remember the context in which you wrote them. The core version is free, with a $14.99 per year version available as well.

            Download: Bear

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            4. Hazel

              Hazel by noodlesoft is an automated organization tool designed for Mac that will help you automatically organize your files based on any custom rules you want to create.

              For example, you can set it to move untouched items from one folder into another folder labeled “action items” if they haven’t been addressed within a week. It can save you hours of organization over the course of a few weeks. A single license is a flat $32.

              Download: noodlesoft

              5. Alfred

                Alfred is an all-in-one app designed to save you time with Mac shortcuts and convenient custom actions. You can use it in a variety of ways.

                For example, you can access Alfred’s clipboard memory so you don’t copy and paste the same material over and over, or set up custom workflows to automate some of your most repetitive tasks.

                It’s a paid app, with multiple price points based on the features you desire.

                Download: Alfred

                6. TextExpander

                  TextExpander does exactly what the name suggests; it allows you to type a short snippet of text, and expand that text automatically.

                  For example, you can create a custom expansion that allows you to conjure a full paragraph you type repeatedly by simply typing a unique abbreviation. Once you get used to your custom combinations, you’ll spare your fingers from typing thousands of words.

                  An individual account is $3.33 per month.

                  Download: TextExpander

                  7. Backblaze

                    If you’ve ever experienced a crash, or theft of your Mac, you know how much time a system restore can cost you. You’ll spend hours replacing the files you lost, and lose thousands of files that are irreplaceable.

                    Backblaze is an automated, inexpensive way to back up your entire Mac for just $5 a month.

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                    Download: Backblaze

                    8. Keyboard Maestro

                      Keyboard Maestro is an older app that still has the power to make your life easier. With it, you can automate any number of tasks based on a certain trigger (such as a hotkey combination, or an event like connecting to a wireless network). A single license only costs $36.

                      Download: Keyboard Maestro

                      9. Snagit

                        There are many applications for a good screen-capture app, whether you’re trying to illustrate a tech problem you have or just want to make an interesting meme. Snagit makes it easy, with built-in editing for both still images and video. A single license covers two machines, and costs $49.95.

                        Download: TechSmith/Snagit

                        10. Bartender

                          Bartender is the cleverly-named app that helps you clean up and organize all your menu bar icons. You can also access them quickly with keyboard shortcuts.

                          If you’re like most Mac users, those icons get cluttered quickly and stop you from working efficiently. It’s free to try for 4 weeks, after which you’ll need a $15 license.

                          Download: Bartender

                          11. Otter

                          Otter is the Mac app for the note taker who hates typing. It’s an intelligent voice-recognition system and note-taking app that will help you transcribe your conversations, keep notes during meetings, and even take contextual notes to yourself in your own time.

                          Best of all, it’s free to get started!

                          Download: Otter

                          12. Flux

                            Do you often find yourself feeling tired throughout the day, or feeling unable to get to sleep after a day of staring at your computer? That could be because of the unnatural blue light that radiates from your Mac.

                            Flux naturally adapts your display to emit light that matches the time of day, so you can sleep better and feel less tired. It’s also free!

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                            Download: Flux

                            13. PDFpen

                            If you deal with PDFs on a regular basis, you probably find yourself wishing for some kind of tool that can let you mark up those PDFs however you want. Without a dedicated app like PDFpen, this can be difficult.

                            PDFpen lets you edit PDFs in almost any conceivable way, giving you more power and saving you time. A single license is $74.95.

                            Download: Smile Software/PDFpen

                            14. OmniFocus

                              OmniFocus is all about task management. It has a clean interface that allows you to tag your tasks, schedule events, and even automate certain features.

                              It’s one of the most comprehensive solutions on the market, so there’s a bit of a learning curve to get the most out of it.

                              A standard license is $39.99, while the pro version is $79.99.

                              Download: OmniFocus

                              15. Franz

                                It’s tiring to switch between dozens of different chat programs like Facebook Messenger, Slack, and WhatsApp, whenever you want to have a conversation with a different contact.

                                Franz’s solution is simple; offer access to all these apps in one convenient package. And best of all, it’s completely open source.

                                Download: Franz

                                16. MindNode

                                  If you’re the brainstorming type, you need an app like MindNode to help you efficiently organize your thoughts. There are dozens of tools you can use to connect ideas in a mind map, or simply jot down notes for future reference.

                                  The core app is free, with in-app purchases available.

                                  Download: MindNode

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                                  17. Focus

                                    The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can be awfully distracting. And if you’re like the majority of us, you’ve interrupted work on a project because of some attention-grabbing site or bad online habit. That’s where Focus comes in.

                                    This app allows you to block the worst offenders with custom time limits and other constraints, so you can focus on the task at hand. A single license is $19.99.

                                    Download: Focus

                                    18. CleanMyMac

                                      Chances are, your Mac isn’t working as fast as it could, thanks to gigabytes of clutter and unnecessary files on your system. CleanMyMac helps you scan your Mac, monitor its health, and ultimately clean it up—so you can handle all your tasks that extra bit faster. A single license is $39.95.

                                      Download: CleanMyMac

                                      19. Grammarly

                                        A spelling error or grammatical mistake can cost you big time. It could be the source of a worse grade on a big paper, or compromise your credibility in the workplace. Thankfully, Grammarly can help you.

                                        This Mac-integrated writing assistant monitors all your writing and makes live corrections, so you’re alerted to your potential mistakes before they become permanent.

                                        A free version exists, but the premium version will cost you between $11 and $30 a month, depending on how you pay.

                                        Download: Grammarly

                                        The Bottom Line

                                        These productivity apps should help you squeeze more productive hours out of every day, but they aren’t the only tools you’ll have to help you find success.

                                        Make the time to learn about and experiment with all the life hacks that can make you more productive. By improving your devices as well as your outlook and focus, you’ll be able to get far more done in a day, and feel better doing it.

                                        More to Boost Productivity

                                        Featured photo credit: Patrick Ward via unsplash.com

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