The 5 Most Common Mistakes Productive People Make

Photo by Nana B Agyei

If you’re reading these words right now, you pride yourself on being productive.

But by being productive, you become susceptible to common mistakes that make us actually less productive. The reason you’re susceptible is because these mistakes actually make you look more productive.

A great way to prevent yourself from making these mistakes is to be aware of them and to recognize when you are doing them. For each of these mistakes, I’ll explain 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 a productivity system to get through out huge To-Do lists.

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?

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…


The person who is talking on the phone while typing an email on their blackberry all the while checking out the latest news on 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 how you process those tasks.

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.

Ask Yourself: Do I multitask? Am I really doing my tasks in parallel or am I switching between tasks at short intervals?

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 confess…

… I like bright, shiny objects.

When there is a new time management or productivity system, tool or app, I want to learn about it. What’s great is that they usually all have value. The problem is the learning curve for each one and you spending 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…

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?

You may want to consider at most 3 main projects or goals that you are working on at any given time. If it is a big project, you may want to keep it to one. These mistakes are not easy to avoid and that’s why I keep 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. People even boast about sleeping less than 4 hours each night.

I should know. I used 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 awake doesn’t mean we’re using it in the best way. I’m not even going to get into the health benefits of sleep.

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 what other mistakes you’ve seen productive people make.

As an added bonus, check out the Top 20 Productivity Lists (if you do so right away, you’re at risk of committing mistake #3).

Robert Chen helps high-performers overcome invisible barriers to pursue their passion and get to the next level. He writes at Top of Mind and Embrace Possibility, where he shares practical insights and reminders for gaining success professionally and personally. The first step to a successful career is to know what you’re meant and created to do, if you’re not sure, check out Robert’s Know What You Want email course.

Originally published at Lifehack.

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