Are You Making These 7 Productivity Mistakes?

By Ali Luke

December 19, 2011   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

You want to get things done. You’re keen to be efficient and effective. “Productivity” is your favorite word – and you’re working really hard at it. The problem is, if you’re going about being productive the wrong way, you might just be setting yourself up to fail.

These are seven common mistakes that people make when they’re trying to be more productive. Do any of them sound familiar?

Mistake #1: Cutting Back on Sleep
When you need an extra hour or two in the day, it’s very tempting to simply cut back on sleep. You’ll even hear productivity gurus advising that you “get up half an hour early” in order to create some extra time.

The problem is, skimping on sleep is going to decrease your productivity. In the short-term, you’ll find yourself struggling to focus. You’ll work more slowly than usual. In the longer-term, you could end up getting ill more often.

Mistake #2: Multi-Tasking
Although multi-tasking sounds good, it rarely works. You can multi-task if you’re combining a physical task with a mental one (e.g. you listen to audio books while doing the ironing) – but you can’t multi-task by reading emails while working on your big report.

When you try to tackle several work tasks simultaneously, you’re really just switching your focus constantly from one to another. This breaks your flow, slows you down, and leaves you more susceptible to distractions.

Mistake #3: Doing Everything Yourself
Perhaps you believe that if you want a job done well, do it yourself. Instead of delegating tasks to other people (at work and at home), you simply get on with them. Some of the tasks aren’t exactly challenging – like data entry, or doing laundry – but you want them done to your high standards.

This isn’t just bad for your productivity, it’s bad for the people around you. If you try to do every little thing yourself, you’re going to be using up time that would be better spent on more high-powered activities. And if you never give your subordinates (or your kids) a chance to tackle something new, you’re stopping them from growing.

Mistake #4: Focusing Solely on Numbers
It’s often useful to track particular metrics: how many miles you ran this week, or how many new leads you got from a particular business conference. But just focusing on numbers can be counter-productive – you’ll miss all the important things that can’t be easily quantified.

There’s often not an obvious ROI to be found – especially in areas like relationship-building. You may need to invest time without any immediate results, but the network you create around yourself could be invaluable in the future.

Mistake #5: Eating at Your Desk
When you’re busy, it’s tempting to skip a lunch break in favor of carrying on with work. You grab a sandwich at your desk, munching away while reading emails. Once in a while, you might genuinely be so rushed that you have to do this – but if it’s happening every day, you need to reassess things.

Taking a proper break helps refresh you for the afternoon ahead. Even getting out of the office and walking around for 15 minutes is valuable. And if you can eat lunch somewhere other than your desk, you’ll probably enjoy the meal more – and digest it better.

Mistake #6: Checking Email Frequently
Unless your whole job is about answering emails (e.g. you’re in tech support), you almost certainly don’t need to check email every ten minutes. You don’t need to have a notification pop up on your screen with every new message, either.

All too often, we check email when we’re not too sure what we should be doing – or when we’re putting off a more important task. If you’re genuinely worried about missing an urgent message, use a service like AwayFind to make sure that you’re alerted about emails from your boss / client / child-minder.

Mistake #7: Pushing Yourself Hard
In the quest for productivity, you may find yourself trying to squeeze more and more into your days. Perhaps you’re working full time and running a business on the side – while writing a novel and redecorating the spare bedroom. If your days, evenings and weekends are all packed full, something’s eventually going to give.

In many cases, that may be your health. Mental and physical health issues can be caused by stress and overwork – and the time you’ll lose to ill health can add up to far more than the extra few hours you gained.

Of course, it’s good to be productive – to achieve things in both professional and personal life. But don’t try to be productive at the expense of all else, and don’t adopt measures for short-term gain that are going to cause problems over the long-term.

If you’ve got a productivity tip to share – or a mistake to warn us about! – then leave a comment below…

Written on 12/19/2011 by Ali Luke. Ali is a writer of fiction and non-fiction and a writing coach. She blogs about writing on her site,, and has a free ebook “How to Find Time For Your Writing” available when you join her writing newsletter here. Photo Credit: MrVJTod


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