To some degree, everyone feels the pressure to be productive. But in the age of social media, remote work and constant entertainment, it’s harder than ever to avoid distractions and stay on task.
While productivity isn’t everything or the sum of your worth as a person, it’s important to develop productivity skills and keep up with your responsibilities. It may not be possible to get every task done every day. But, chances are, you can be more productive than you currently are. You’ve probably got more than one bad habit standing in the way of your productivity, and getting in the right mindset can make all the difference in how you approach — and accomplish — your tasks.
7 habits that are hurting your productivity
Ultimately, productivity is the simple act of getting things done. It may be at work or at home, for yourself or someone else, but the basic idea is the same: Being productive means you’re able to complete the tasks on your to-do list.
Different people have different standards for how productive they should be, and that’s OK. What matters most is your mindset — do your expectations line up with your ability to follow through? And, in that sense, learning how to be more productive is as much a mental health exercise as it is a logistical challenge. Here are seven bad habits that might be hurting your productivity, not to mention your overall well-being.
Let’s cut straight to the chase: Multitasking isn’t real. When you tackle multiple projects at once, you may feel like you’re getting more done, but it’s an illusion. You’re really just rapidly switching between tasks, something your brain isn’t designed to do. Ultimately, it means you do both tasks less efficiently. Some research shows that multitasking can reduce your overall productivity by as much as 40%.
Multitasking doesn’t just hurt your productivity in terms of immediate results. It can lead to chronic problems like stress, anxiety and depression, further harming your productivity in the long run.
What to do instead: Rather than trying to do everything at once, set yourself up to focus on one thing at a time. Even if you start in short, 15-minute bursts, you can build toward longer periods of focus and establish a better foundation for productivity.
2. Being a perfectionist
It may be a cliché, but it’s true: Perfect is the enemy of good. When you can’t accept imperfection, it will slow you down and inevitably lead to fewer tasks getting done. That’s not to say you shouldn’t strive to do things well — but it’s an important reminder that you have a limited amount of time and finite resources. Often, “good” is just fine.
At its worst, perfectionism can completely derail your productivity because it harms your mental health. Perfectionists can become paralyzed with indecision and anxiety, unable to complete anything for fear it won’t be good enough.
What to do instead: Like multitasking, perfectionism is based on an illusion. When you obsess over it, you aim for something you can never attain. Instead, embrace a growth mindset. Ask yourself how you’re improving and how you can do better, not how you can achieve perfection.
3. Forgetting to prioritize tasks
Distractions are relentless in today’s workplaces. Emails, social media, messaging software and myriad other channels vie for our attention, and it’s challenging to tune out the noise and know where to focus first. That’s why self-management and the ability to prioritize are among the top skills sought by today’s employers.
This is no less true outside of work. When you give in to every impulse to respond to a ding from your phone or default to easy tasks all the time, you may check a lot of boxes without accomplishing much of anything. As research shows, people quite often succumb to the tyranny of the urgent at the expense of more important tasks. And, just as with multitasking, this can lead to a constant cycle of anxiety, coupled with depression that you feel like you’re not doing anything worthwhile.
Read More: How to Have a Better Work-Life Balance
What to do instead: Effective prioritization requires a proactive mindset. Instead of reacting to everything in your inbox, review your priorities each week and every day. Make a plan for what’s most important and set distraction-free time in your schedule to get it done — regardless of what seemingly urgent tasks come calling.
4. Being self-critical
This habit is closely related to perfectionism, which we discussed above. Here, you allow your negative inner voice far too much room to speak its mind.
When you constantly criticize yourself, it leads to all sorts of cognitive distortions. The longer you listen to things like, “You’re no good at this,” or “If you were smarter, you’d be better at this,” the more you believe it. And the more you believe it, the more it becomes reality — you won’t accomplish as much when you think you can’t do it. After all, research shows that negative feedback rarely results in better outcomes.
Conversely, other research shows that people with high self-esteem tend to have better results over the long term – in work, relationships and mental health. In other words, a positive view of yourself is more productive.
Read More: How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
What to do instead: Self-compassion is the opposite of self-criticism. Instead of simply listening to your default internal critiques, start talking to yourself. Take a positive, encouraging approach. When you fall short, look for things you did well and consider how you can reward those efforts and create positive motivation for improvement.
5. Having no boundaries
Are you someone who says yes to everything? When you fail to set boundaries, it’s worse than forgetting to prioritize your own tasks — it lets other people set your priorities for you.
This can play out in countless ways. At work, maybe you have an open-door policy, allowing coworkers to interrupt you at any time, regardless of what you’re working on. In your personal life, it may mean that you always take a call from that draining friend or never hesitate to add one more activity to your kids’ lists.
Whatever it is for you, it’s ultimately counterproductive. As we’ve explored above, the more you have on your list — and the more you see all of those things as urgent — the less you’ll actually accomplish. Without boundaries, others will always give you more to do.
What to do instead: If you’re not used to setting boundaries, this may take some practice. Of course, it starts with setting priorities, so be sure you take a step back to determine what’s most important. From there, try a few simple limits — maybe a closed door for an hour at work or not responding to that nagging friend’s text right away. As you get used to these boundaries, you can gradually add more.
6. Scrolling through social media
Perhaps nothing has created more distractions in recent times than social media. The instant, endless feedback loop of social media is addicting — it actually causes a dopamine release in your brain — so it’s an easy distraction when you’d rather not focus on the task at hand. Before you know it, you’ve been doom-scrolling for 20 minutes, and now you have to refocus on what you were doing.
You might think that those brief excursions on social media are harmless, but research suggests otherwise. Besides many other mental health concerns, social media hampers productivity. One study, in particular, showed that addictive social media behaviors can hurt work-life balance and job performance.
It’s worth noting that social media has its place, even at work. When used in moderation and with appropriate boundaries, it can improve work relationships and even be a tool for productivity. But this requires a disciplined approach.
What to do instead: Social media is so alluring because it’s always on and always urgent. There’s constantly something new to see or respond to. Rather than letting it dictate your time, put social media in its place. Designate times at work and at home when you’ll check it, and consider turning off push notifications for social media apps on your phone. That way, you can engage with it on more productive terms.
7. Snacking on the wrong things
Like social media, junk food is another distraction that provides an easy hit. That candy bar or carb-filled bag of chips gives you a quick spike of energy, but it’s followed by a hard crash when your body tries to rebalance your blood sugar. Many people ride these waves daily, trying to be productive on those short bursts of energy.
These ups and downs aren’t truly helpful for increasing your productivity, though. You’ll spend more time crashing than riding high, and excess junk food can even lead to moodiness and other health problems. In the long run, this won’t help you sustain a productive lifestyle.
What to do instead: Eating a balanced diet will do far more to increase your productivity level than junk food will. A healthy mix of protein, healthy fats, fiber and complex carbohydrates gives your body and mind a more steady source of energy so you won’t be subject to so many ups and downs.
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If you’re looking for ways to increase your productivity, start with your mindset. More than anything else, being productive is about how you think about yourself and your responsibilities, not about finding the perfect system for getting things done. When you start with your mental health, a productive lifestyle naturally flows from there.