Have you experienced this before?
You jump from one article to the next, download app after app, and watch videos after videos. All in the pursuit of this golden word.
Yet, it seems so elusive, always slipping out of your grasp. You tell yourself you are going to employ that productivity hack, cut off that distraction, but somehow it just doesn’t work.
Maybe… you are committing one (or more) of these productivity sins that you don’t even know.
Can I be honest with you?
Preventing these mistakes won’t immediately make you super productive. Because when it comes to productivity, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, nor is there a magic pill that can cure all your productivity problems.
However, what I can promise you is that if, and only if, you put into practice what I have advocated, and be persistent in them, you will see your productivity levels increase. Even if you already think that you are very productive, one of these mistakes may be preventing you from reaching an even higher level of productivity.
So let’s begin.
1. Not Getting Sufficient Amounts of Sleep
I know it’s kind of an ego thing.
Someone once told me that he managed to not sleep for one entire week, and he was proud of that.
He went on ranting about how he beat all his friends, who could only pull off all-nighters for one or two days, but he pulled it off for one week straight!
Sleeping little in our culture today has been glorified and praised as strong-willed and persevering.
But I hope you aren’t making that sort of mistake.
Sleep is so important for you; it is not just an “add-on”. It is a biological requirement and we will function poorly without it.
Now please don’t try to argue with me.
Just refer to the National Sleep Foundation’s article.
You may think you can survive on less than the required amounts of sleep, but unknowingly that lack of sleep is eating away your focus and concentration.
Just 1 less hour of sleep can diminish your energy significantly. Tell me, if you have more focus during the day, won’t you complete things faster, prioritize better, and save even more than 1 hour? Oh, and not mentioning that you did all those with much less pain.
The litmus test for sleep deprivation is this. Sit on a chair in a room, and do nothing.
Yes, just do nothing. Don’t look at your phone, don’t talk to people, don’t do anything. Just stare into blank space.
How long do you take to fall asleep?
If you take less than 20 minutes to doze off, chances are, you are suffering from sleep deprivation.
Have you fallen asleep in long and dreary meetings? Well, the problem may not be with the meetings, but rather with your lack of sleep.
For others who may have been sleeping enough, but still feel tired, here are some tips by the National Sleep Foundation to be sufficiently energized after sleep.
- Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual.
- If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon.
Check out their article for more tips and elaboration.
2. Not Writing Out Your Personal Mission Statement
I know what you are thinking.
What in the world has it to do with my productivity?
Well, your mission statement is like your “personal brand”, and it guides you on what is important and what is not.
We frequently forget that an essential part of productivity is not about doing tasks as fast as possible, but first saying no to tasks that don’t matter.
And how do you know which ones matter?
It goes back to your mission statement. It spells out what your values are, and what vision you have for your life.
The notion of the personal mission statement was introduced by Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. When he was writing about Habit 2 (“Begin with the end in mind”), he uses an illustration which I believe is very crucial.
He asks you to imagine your funeral, and what those closest to you will talk about you. What will they say about you? What is the kind of legacy that you want to leave behind?
I want you to know that you may be the most efficient man on earth; you may complete tasks in the fastest time possible. But if you complete tasks that ultimately don’t matter at all, would it all have been worth it?
Ask yourself, what is the life that you want to live? If you want your children to grow up to be great men and women, should you be coming home from work late at night?
Are those things you want to regret when you near the end of your life?
I know it is hard to accept this reality. These questions are deeply personal and difficult to answer. But I hope that by answering them you will undergo a paradigm shift, and only focus on things that truly matter.
3. Not Planning Your Week
Planning may seem old school to you, right?
It depends on how you are doing it. Planning for every person differs and hence I will not dwell too much into the specificity of how you should plan your week.
As to whether you should do it, I believe it is a powerful way to check-in with yourself. Have you been on-route to meeting your personal KPIs, in other words, your mission statement?
Planning your week is also a way to exert control over the many things in life that you cannot control.
Here are 3 components that you should have when you plan your week.
1. Plan Out the Amount of Time You Want to Focus on in Each Aspect of Your Life.
You may be very caught up in one aspect of your life, setting sky-high goals and going all out for them.
However, don’t lose sight of the larger picture. Remember that every decision you make has an “opportunity cost”.
When pursuing that promotion, you may be missing out on precious family time. Is that what you want?
For this point, I suggest roughly planning out the percentage of your time you want to focus on each aspect of your life (eg. Work, family). And then stick to them. Say no to things that do not fit your plan for the week.
2. Schedule Time for Potential Disruptions.
It is too idealistic to plan out every single task in your life and there will always be disruptions. When planning your week, always remember to leave extra space for unexpected things that may show up.
As for whether to work on these new things that show up, I recommend the Eisenhower Matrix. It takes into account 2 things before making a decision: importance and urgency.
It helps you decide if you should work on the task now, schedule it, delegate it, or don’t work on it.
3. Connect it to Your Larger Goals in Life.
Your weekly goals and plans should be related to your larger goals in life. When all the weeks are put together, will you be able to meet your long-term goals?
Align your weekly goals with your mission statement where necessary.
4. Not Eating the Frog
This concept is popularised by Brian Tracy in his book Eat That Frog.
It revolves around deciding the most important thing to work on the next day. This thing is usually the biggest and requires the most focus to complete.
By working on it first thing in the day, you can channel most of your fresh energy to it and complete it. This makes you feel accomplished even before half the day is over, giving you momentum throughout the rest of the day.
I have found this most helpful when you stick to it strictly.
You may not have tried this yet, hence I strongly recommend to try this in your life to see how it works out.
When implementing this in your life, you may be thinking about how you should go about doing it.
I recommend diligently writing down your “frog” every day towards the end of the day. Yes, write or type it out. Do this for one week.
Afterwards, when you have become more familiar with the process, you don’t have to write or type out what your “frog” is.
Simply go through the mental work to decide the first thing you want to work on the next day.
Let me provide you with a pro tip.
When starting, you may not be used to the habit of thinking of your “frog” for the next day. Thus, I recommend setting a repeat reminder on your phone that reminds you daily that it is time to think about your “frog”.
This helps you to be consistent in prioritizing your day-to-day activities.
5. Not Being Strict Enough Regarding Your “Time-wasters”
I used to play a lot of First Player Shooter (FPS) games.
In these games, you have to have fast reactions to shoot the enemy player on sight.
However, one of the most frequent ways I died in the game was when I was shot from behind. I mean, how can you see someone when he is behind you?
From then on, I had to learn to constantly check the mini-map to know where my enemies are.
You must be thinking, why am I telling you about my FPS experience?
Well, your “time-wasters” are like players who sneak up on you from the back.
You least notice them, but their effect can be devastating (of course it won’t kill you).
I’m pretty sure you know it’s important to cut off your “time-wasters”, but do you know just how important it is?
I think you should be spending almost equal time planning against your “time-wasters” as compared to determining your priorities!
They are so important; they can just steal your time unknowingly.
I mean, when you log on to YouTube, from there you just watch video after video and amazingly, 2 hours go by.
This is how I suggest you deal with them. List down all your distractions. Every single one of them.
After you list all of them down, write down the reasons why you don’t want to spend your time on them.
When writing down those reasons, you are essentially convincing yourself why you are not going to waste time on a certain activity. These reasons can also be used when you feel tempted to spend time on the “time-wasters” again.
One thing to bear in mind is that these reasons must be genuine. Don’t list down reasons you think why you should not do it. List down reasons why you don’t want to do it!
Another way you should be stricter on yourself is in the area of distractions.
When doing your work, do you find yourself frequently checking your phone notifications?
You may be telling yourself, “Oh it is fine, it is just once, I won’t do it again.”
And over time these standards relax and you find yourself being consistently distracted by them.
Did you know that by switching tasks, you decrease your productivity by a whopping 40%?
Maybe that is the reason why you don’t have enough sleep…
Be strict on yourself! Block out all distractions, especially in the morning when you are the freshest.
You don’t have to keep checking emails every second. Batch your tasks together and answer all the emails at a certain time each day. Doing that will increase your productivity significantly.
I know it is difficult to be disciplined in keeping to these sometimes. It may be helpful to have someone keep you accountable. Ask that person to inform you whenever he/she realizes you have not been adhering to the standards that you have set for yourself.
It could be your colleague/your good friend/your partner. Whatever. Accountability helps, especially in identifying your blind spots.
Productivity is admittedly not easy.
Commit any of these 5 productivity sins, and you may be stuck in a negative cycle of low productivity.
But if you work on it every single day, and guard against these 5 mistakes, you will see your productivity soar like never before. Don’t give up!
Are there any other productivity sins I missed out? Share in the comments section below!