Feel like you lag behind and don’t finish your tasks when you should?
You’re not alone.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s the way it should be. Quite the contrary.
So let’s take a look at some of your bad habits and how you can change them into fueling your productivity instead of holding you back.
You know, habits that are killing your productivity and focus.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
You’re overloading your brain so it short-circuits
The brain is an incredibly powerful organ.
But even the brain can only take so much. It can get overloaded and, well, short-circuit.
Your short-term focus is limited and multiple choices make you miserable.
If you overwhelm your brain, you start procrastinating. And that leads to a vicious circle. You’re overwhelmed so you start procrastinating and procrastination leads to overwhelm.
Ouch, don’t end up there (and if you already have – there’s a way out. Read on).
You’re probably making a ton of random choices every day. What to eat? What to wear? When to do what? Should you work out? Maybe you should work out tomorrow? Or not at all? What task should you start working on in the morning? When should you go for lunch? What should you eat for lunch?
Your day includes an endless stream of decisions you need to make.
Those decisions might seem unimportant, but because they add up, they take a toll.
So limit your decision-making by setting up a productivity system.
This productivity system means you make your decisions in advance. For example, you have a certain time you go to sleep and wake up – every day.
You decide on Sunday what you’ll eat throughout the week and prepare lunch boxes.
You decide on a specific lunch time. You decide when you take breaks during your work day. And so forth.
Now, of course your life might get in the way. If you have kids, you know going to sleep and waking up when you want is not an option.
But you don’t have to score perfectly on everything. Do even one of these things and you’re better off than before.
The important thing is:
Actively strive to limit your daily, mundane decision-making.
You’re not getting used to doing the uncomfortable stuff
You know that feeling when you have a task to do, but you just don’t seem to get it done? Why is that?
It’s probably uncomfortable at some level. It requires you to push outside of your comfort zone.
Phone calls, emails, reports, feedback talks… They can feel intimidating and so you put off doing them.
There’s a simple cure to this habit:
Get used to being uncomfortable.
Research shows that putting yourself in uncomfortable situations makes it easier to manage those situations.
For example, ask for a discount at a store or a coffee shop – something that makes most of us cringe.
Here’s the exact script you can use in your neighborhood coffee shop:
“Hi! I was going to go for a coffee, but I see you have some delicious-looking cakes. If I buy a coffee and a cake, could I get 20% off?”
If you’re thinking: “Ugh, that sounds horrible, I could never do it”, that’s the point.
Get used to expanding your comfort zone and you will get more productive in your everyday life.
You’re giving in to your “monkey brain”
How many times a day do you take a small break and read a news article, check your social media feeds or grab a coffee from the break room?
You tell yourself: “Oh, it’ll just take a minute. I’ll just quickly read this article…”
If the answer is “More than once”, keep reading.
You see, even a 10-minute break “here and there” will pile up. In the end, you’ll have wasted hours.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take breaks – you should. But they should be deliberate. Let me explain:
Your brain has two parts (the prefrontal cortex and the thalamus). The prefrontal cortex is the rational brain and the thalamus is your “monkey brain”. Your monkey brain compels you to do things that give you quick rewards, but that are extremely bad for your long-term productivity and goals.
Quick rewards are checking random things on the internet, reading articles, checking your social media, and so forth.
If you give in to your monkey brain, you obviously waste time. But you also use up your brain’s energy. It’s not infinite and as any organ, your brain needs rest. Your focus suffers and you end up in a procrastination spiral.
Now, the most accomplished people take a lot of breaks during their day. In fact, studies show that for every 90 minutes they work, they rest for 20 minutes.
The difference is that they’ve planned these breaks so they don’t disrupt their focus. And during their break, they do things that energize them, like sports, reading, eating a snack, meditating, or napping.
And those articles you feel you must read right this second?
Save them in your Pocket account, a tool that lets you revisit them when you’re not working.
You’re not staying hydrated throughout the day
How often do you start your day with a glass of water? Do you have a water bottle on your desk (and do you drink water regularly)?
If the answer to these questions is no, your productivity might be suffering because of a simple reason:
You’re not drinking enough water.
Already mild levels of dehydration can affect your cognitive functioning and mood.
And it’s not uncommon to be dehydrated. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 50% of adults in the United States don’t drink enough water.
Common symptoms include:
Feeling thirsty, tired, dizzy and lightheaded and having a dry mouth, lips, and eyes.
Recognize any of them?
Then it might be time to start drinking more water.
But how much is enough?
6-8 glasses of water (1.2 liters) every day is a good rule of thumb. If you live in a hotter climate, you will need even more water.
You’re not getting enough sleep
If you’re looking for a productivity “hack”, you’ll be disappointed.
No app, tool, or hack will replace the most fundamental productivity booster:
But contrary to what most people say it’s not the amount of sleep that matters most.
It’s the quality.
Most people need 7-8 hours of sleep.
If you’re getting less or more and/or your sleep quality is poor, your productivity suffers.
Sleep affects things like memory, thinking, and focus. Plus, too little sleep is linked to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes type 2.
In a study, researchers found that undersleepers and oversleepers (people who slept five hours or fewer every night or nine hours or more), were mentally two years older than people who got enough sleep.
So how do you get enough quality sleep?
- Make sure your room is as dark as possible.
- Don’t watch TV or look at screens (like your phone) before going to bed.
- Develop a bedtime routine, like taking a shower just before you call it a night.
- Exercise every day and preferably early in the morning. Before bedtime, do yoga or stretches.
- Don’t eat before you go to bed, but don’t go to bed hungry. Eat a light snack in the evening.
- Don’t drink coffee after 2pm (and limit your caffeine consumption).
- Don’t nap for longer than 20-30 minutes during the day.
Of course, you might be temporarily unable to get enough sleep. For example, if you have kids you know what it means to be tired.
And yes, your productivity might suffer because of this. There’s one thing you can do, though: try to squeeze in naps here and there during the day to make up for lost sleep.
You’re overworking yourself
Last but not least:
If you’re beating yourself up because you’re not getting things done – well, that might be the reason you’re not getting them done.
Overworking and not giving your brain a chance to rest…
…Those are some surefire ways to poor productivity.
Instead, take breaks and don’t work tired.
Sure, it’s a habit that takes some time to get right. But once you do, your productivity will soar.
Conclusion: The roadmap to a productive life
Now you have six ways to overcome those bad, productivity killing habits. Nice work! Just one more thing left to do…
Implement what you’ve learned.
- Start with one decision you can automate on a daily basis.
- Give yourself a deadline to do one uncomfortable thing.
- Start implementing one deliberate break every day.
- Keep a water bottle next to your computer and drink water regularly.
- Commit to going to bed by a specific time one night of the week. When you’ve established a routine, expand it to two nights, then three, and so forth.
- The next time you feel tired, you don’t get any work done and you just sit in front of your computer, take a break. Meditate or take a walk instead.
Once you have these things working for you, take the next step. Soon enough, you’ll have killed your unproductive habits and changed them into productive routines.