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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 16, 2019

      Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

      Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

      Do you like making mistakes?

      I certainly don’t.

      Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

      Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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      Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

      Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

      • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
      • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
      • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
      • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

      We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

      If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

      Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

      Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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      When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

      Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

      We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

      It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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      Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

      Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

      Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

      1. Point us to something we did not know.
      2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
      3. Deepen our knowledge.
      4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
      5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
      6. Inform us more about our values.
      7. Teach us more about others.
      8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
      9. Show us when someone else has changed.
      10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
      11. Remind us of our humanity.
      12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
      13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
      14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
      15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
      16. Invite us to better choices.
      17. Can teach us how to experiment.
      18. Can reveal a new insight.
      19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
      20. Can serve as a warning.
      21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
      22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
      23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
      24. Remind us how we are like others.
      25. Make us more humble.
      26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
      27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
      28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
      29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
      30. Expose our true feelings.
      31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
      32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
      33. Point us in a more creative direction.
      34. Show us when we are not listening.
      35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
      36. Can create distance with someone else.
      37. Slow us down when we need to.
      38. Can hasten change.
      39. Reveal our blind spots.
      40. Are the invisible made visible.

      Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

      The secret to handling mistakes is to:

      • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
      • Have an experimental mindset.
      • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

      When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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      When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

      It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

      When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

      Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

      Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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      Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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