84 Productivity Killers and How to Avoid Them

Adopt the right micro-habits to unlock huge time savings

Danny Forest, VNP
Jun 26 · 14 min read
Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

Productivity isn’t about big, sweeping declarations and step rate changes. It’s about avoiding small time wasters and learning to do that at scale.

You can accomplish this with many micro-habits which compound over time. In the end, they add up to huge time savings, thanks to avoiding many small mistakes.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a lot of these, and they help me create a lot of output. To help you do the same, I’ve decided to create a complete list of them. Here are all the productivity thieves I know and how to avoid them.

To make this post easier to navigate, here’s a clickable table of contents with the seven categories we’ll tackle:

1. Using a computer
2. At work
3. Going somewhere
4. While Shopping
5. At home
6. In school / Learning
7. In life

Let’s get to work!

Note: Implementing all of these will drive you mad. Some may not even apply to you. So take the ones that do, ignore the ones that don’t, and enjoy all the extra time you’ve created for yourself!


Using a Computer

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1. Using menus when you can use keyboard shortcuts

The less you use your mouse, the better. People not familiar with keyboard shortcuts see me use a computer and think it’s wizardry. It’s not. Learn keyboard shortcuts for everything you do. I’m likely 4–5x more productive than the average computer user.

2. Not setting your mouse at max speed

When you do need to use the mouse, make sure it’s at max speed. Lower than that, you’re wasting valuable time going from one icon to the next. It doesn’t take more than 1–2 days to get used to it.

3. Not watching instructional videos at 2x

Add subtitles. You’re welcome.

4. Searching for files and apps with your eyes instead of the search function

Use the “Windows” key on PC and “Cmd + Spacebar” on mac to start searching. You can find and open files and apps A LOT faster that way. No need to even touch your mouse!

5. Typing with 2 fingers

Nothing to say here…

6. Typing while looking at your keyboard

Just learn the proper technique. You’ll lose productivity for the first two weeks, but you’ll get it back really fast in the coming weeks. Use this tool to practice.

7. Not taking advantage of auto-suggestions

Many software now shows you smart suggestions of things to type. I found Gmail does a great job at that. I save a few seconds per email, allowing me to reply to more in less time.

8. Working for software instead of making it work for you

If using software makes you curse, find an alternative that doesn’t. Using the right software for you can save you a lot of wasted time!

9. A slow internet connection

Why insisting on saving a few dollars to wait 200x more? My mom has 5mbps internet and pays $50 (CAD) for it. I pay $70 (CAD) for it and it’s 1000mbps. Literally 200x faster. These extra $20 pay for themselves in less than a day by not waiting on pages to load!

10. Buying a subpar computer to save money

Same principle as above. People save money by getting slower CPUs (Core Processing Unit), lesser memory (RAM), and a Hard Disk Drive instead of a Solid State Drive. My computer is always zippy. I save at least 45 minutes a day compared to someone using a slow computer. That’s 5.25 hours per week (assuming I use it on weekends). I pay for the difference in less than a month.

11. Waiting on a loading screen

Open a new tab; do something else.

12. Typing on your cellphone when you can type on your computer

I can’t stand using Messenger or Whatsapp on my phone. Some people can type fast-ish on mobile, but they can’t match my typing speed. I’m at least 2x faster on a computer. If I reply to 20 messages a day with a length of 1 minute each (on the computer), I save 10 minutes right there.


At Work

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1. Spending too much time at the water cooler or coffee machine

You really don’t need the extra 5–10 minutes there.

2. Going to meetings that have nothing to do with you

Can’t provide your input during a meeting? Skip it.

3. Going to meetings that don’t have an agenda

The organizer doesn’t know what they’re going to talk about? Skip it.

4. Not standing up and stretching your legs

Get some blood flowing through your body. Stand up and stretch frequently. Cheat by drinking tons of water, you’ll be forced to stand up and go to the bathroom!

5. Working on your hardest problems when you’re sleepy

Wasting hours trying to solve a problem and just can’t figure it out? Sleep on it, or come back to it when your mind is sharper.

6. Working for a company that frowns upon taking naps

Power naps are about the most productive 15–20 minutes you can ask for. If your boss doesn’t recognize that, change their mind ASAP or change jobs.

7. Starting the day without knowing what you’re going to do

Having a mental plan of what you’re going to do during the day gives you a sense of direction, saving time figuring it out before starting it.

8. Allowing tap-on-the-shoulder interruptions

This is the most costly interruption of them all. Have strict rules to prevent those.

9. Not taking the time to adjust your chair and posture properly

You’ll need serious physiotherapy or chiropractic at one point because of it. Save yourself valuable time by making it right from the start.

10. Eating out every day

Wait to order. Wait to receive the food. Wait to pay for the food. If you do that, at least ask for the bill right away and pay while eating.

11. Living really far from where you work

Reduce commute time. It’s one of the biggest time gains you can make, but I know it’s not that simple. Don’t dismiss it. Think outside-the-box.

12. Over-snacking

It makes you gain extra weight, prevents you from typing fast, and makes your keyboard dirty. Once in a while is fine. All day isn’t healthy. This one is a tough one for me personally.


Going Somewhere

Photo by Amos Bar-Zeev on Unsplash

1. Walking slowly

Why walk in slow-motion when you need to get somewhere? Speed up! When I was working from an office, I would save 20 minutes per day walking faster than everyone else.

2. Waiting at traffic lights when you can take an alternative route

If your route is geographically diagonal, use the “stairs” technique. When blocked by a traffic light, simply go the other way.

3. Not Jay-walking

I know it’s illegal in some countries. But if I have to wait 15 minutes for 10 traffic lights every day, that’s 105 minutes per week. If the fine is the equivalent of 1 hour’s worth of work and I get to pay it every week (I certainly don’t), I just saved a ton of time and money by jay-walking.

4. Not finding and taking diagonals on your path

Walk through parks or parking lots. Even if Google shows you a path that’s different, sometimes diagonals can save you more time, even if it seems like a detour at first. Thank you, Pythagoras!

5. Going in circles when looking for things

Take a breath and think strategically. Panicking and rushing around every corner of where you are will not make you find what you’re looking for!

6. Waiting in line when you don’t need to

Some apps allow you to pre-order and pick up when ready. Just skip the line! It’s a cheat that not enough people use. Most coffee chains have that feature in their app, take advantage of it!

7. Waiting 10 minutes for your Uber or cab when it takes you 10 minutes to walk it anyway

If you’re 10 minutes away by walking distance of anywhere, just walk it.

8. Waiting at the drive-through

I don’t get this one. Is going out of your car really that painful? I see massive queues at drive-throughs. I just get off my butt, go inside, order, and I’m out within 1–2 minutes. I just saved 10–15 minutes right there. I don’t even know how the people in their cars are not mad at me. I literally skipped the line!

9. Driving during rush hour

Create a win-win with your boss and ask them to start earlier or past rush hour. You save time and are less stressed, making your boss happy.

10. Commuting during rush hour

While buses, trams, and subways do run more frequently, they stop for a lot longer. And buses get stuck in traffic. I experimented taking half the metro line here before rush hour. I arrived a whole 20 minutes earlier than normally!

11. Waiting for the elevator when you’re just going up or down the third floor

Sometimes, I even have time to brew coffee by the time my wife gets to our apartment. I went up the stairs, and I’m on the 7th floor.

12. Not doing something during your commute

When not driving, read a book, write in your journal, go deep in productive thought. Just don’t stare in the void and look like a zombie. When driving, listen to a podcast on a topic that matters to you and fills you with good information.


While Shopping

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash

1. Not using self-checkout

Normally, they have 4–6 machines for one line. While the line may look big and clients seem slower than employees, it’s almost always faster because more clients can go at the same time. Plus, you rarely find people counting pennies there.

2. Going to the store without a plan or list

When you know what you want, you don’t need to go through all the aisles and visit 20 different stores.

3. Going to the groceries when you’re hungry

We all buy way more stuff when we’re hungry.

4. Going in person when you can buy online and get it delivered to you

Amazon and groceries stores that deliver are massive time savers. I’ve repaid my Amazon Prime membership within a few days only by saving so much time.

5. Not using contactless payment

It’s just so much faster than any other method of payment.

6. Wait in the shortest line, not realizing that people in front have massive shopping carts

It’s like going on the highway in the lane with the least amount of cars, but the cars in that lane all drive slowly. Shorter lines do not always equate to faster checkout.

7. Not using express checkout lines when you can

Lines at express checkout tend to be longer. It doesn’t matter. It’s much faster per client. It has rarely not been worth it to use them for me.

8. Going to a further away store to save pennies

My mom runs after sales, driving 20 minutes further to save $2 on detergent. That’s 40 minutes when you count the time to come back. Plus the price of the gas. She’s losing both time AND money.

9. Going in line with people you know will count their pennies at the checkout

There are stereotypes. You can spot them with minimal practice, trust me.

10. Finding the absolute closest parking spot

Going in circles to find the closest spot wastes you a lot of time. Pick a decent spot and walk (unless you have a disability, in which case, disregard this).

11. Not using the divide-and-conquer method when going with someone

Shopping with a purpose and you’re with someone? Split up and regroup. After checkout, you have more time to do more fun stuff together.

12. Waiting for someone to move away from the middle of the aisle

Ask them to move (politely) or just go around from another aisle. Some people really don’t notice they’ve been blocking the way for 10 minutes while deciding which brand of mustard to get.


At Home

Photo by Nathan Fertig on Unsplash

1. Taking long showers just because it feels good

Showers are great for washing yourself and for stimulating your subconscious mind. There are moments for long showers, just not every day.

2. Placing things in illogical places

Place things in the order in which they are being used. Take 5 minutes to re-organize things and save countless time over the coming weeks.

3. Having a TV in front of a couch

That’s too comfortable and inviting. Netflix has to be the biggest productivity killer of all times.

4. Cooking bad food

Might as well just order it. If you’re going to shave off some time of your life by eating bad food, might as well save it back by not cooking it and getting it at your front door.

5. Snoozing

Just set your alarm at the time you really need to wake up. No one’s judging you from not waking up stupid early.

6. Not getting the kid next door to mow the lawn

Mowing the lawn is boring and takes time. Find someone more than happy to do it. The kid next door could learn important values from doing it.

7. Not getting the kid next door to shovel the snow

Same as above. Change for brooming dust or anything else that’s more relevant to where you currently reside.

8. Not cooking extras for leftovers

For most meals, it takes (almost) zero effort and time to make more. Do it and bring it to work or eat it the next day. I save at least 30 minutes every day doing that.

9. Not using tools to make your cooking faster

You can chop an onion in 3 seconds with the right tool. You can make smoothies in less than 1 minute with the right tool. Use them. How much time do you spend chopping veggies every meal?

10. Waiting next to the coffee machine while it brews

It takes more than 2 minutes. Just preemptively chop your veggies for dinner. Read a book or a newspaper. Just don’t stand there doing nothing!

11. Cleaning too frequently

You don’t see any dust? Maybe it’s not that dirty! My wife apologizes for the “mess” when we get visitors. Our visitors are always puzzled. If you’re a clean freak, control yourself.

12. Taking the trash out when it’s not full (unless it smells…)

Probably not the biggest time waster, but when you do that on a daily basis, that’s 7 times 5 minutes wasted. I’d rather spend those extra 35 minutes doing other things.


In School/Learning

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1. Going to school for a piece of paper

Go to school to learn.

2. Studying for tests

Study for knowledge and experience.

3. Studying by yourself

Studying in groups is 75% more effective.

4. Not changing your studying environment

Your brain associates the knowledge you acquire with the environment it was acquired in. “Trick” it by re-learning the same concepts in different environments.

5. Not recalling what you previously learned

Connections are rarely made in your brain on the first try. Use spaced repetition to let anything “sink in”.

6. Not implementing what you learned

Knowledge not put in practice is useless. True learning is when you use your acquired knowledge.

7. Not seeking a tutor or mentor when you don’t understand

You can waste time re-reading the same material, or you can seek advice from someone with experience. Guess which is more productive?

8. Taking elective classes because they are easy

Good for you. You just wasted 6 hours of your life per week for 4 months. That’s about 100 hours right there.

9. Doing a master’s when you have no clue what you want to do in life

You know you can always go back to school later, right? It doesn’t have to be a straight path.

10. Doing what you went to school for even if you lost your “passion”

You’re an engineer but prefer writing? When you do things you enjoy, you are more productive. It’s never too late to switch.

11. Going back to school because you are bored

Schools are time-consuming. Reflect on your “why” and decide if schooling is the right option.

12. Going to school because it’s what society tells you to

There are many ways to educate yourself. Just because society tells you to go to school doesn’t mean it’s the best option for you or your kid. Education is the process of learning new skills. School is rarely the best way to make that happen.


In Life

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1. Not learning something new every day

The more you know, the more efficient you can be about executing things.

2. Not knowing your why

Being more self-aware is one of the most productive things you can do.

3. Not revisiting your self-awareness regularly

You change more regularly than you think you do. Revisit your self-awareness at least once a month.

4. Doing something efficiently that shouldn’t be done at all

Peter Drucker said it right. Evaluate priorities and don’t plan things you shouldn’t be doing anyway.

5. Not acting on things you read

You actually don’t learn much from simply reading. Your brain makes connections through action. Experiment with what you read and save time by not “relearning” every time you use the knowledge you’ve previously “acquired”.

6. Not delegating things other people would do faster and better

Use Fiverr and Upwork. Ask someone around you. Trade tasks for optimal results.

7. Not taking a damn break

You know the most productive way to grow muscles? Rest. That’s when they grow. Learn to rest your brain, even though it is an organ, it behaves like a muscle.

8. Not connecting with other people

Your network is your net worth. When I don’t know the answer to something and can’t find it on Google, I ask someone from my network. The bigger my network, the faster and better my answers.

9. Not listening to other people’s constructive feedback

You don’t know you suck until you ask someone for their brutal honesty. That’s why you see kids on talent shows being really bad and wasting years of their lives thinking they have “talent” when they really don’t. Invite people to tell you how you can improve, and act on it.

10. Not taking care of your health

Losing 10 years of your life through unhealthy habits is not productive.

11. Only thinking about yourself

The more you give, the more you get. But don’t do it for the reward. Do it for them. When you think of others, you tend to be happier, leading to higher motivation and less procrastination. And the opposite of procrastinating? Acting! That’s what I call productive!

12. Reading this article and doing nothing about it

Seriously, there have to be a few of the above micro-habits you are doing on a regular basis. On a weekly basis, I probably have an extra 8–10 hours people don’t have. So if you ask me how I manage to spend 2 hours a day on learning new skills and still get to accomplish at least as much as you, you’ll find the solution in the above killers of productivity.


Conclusion

Whatever your plan of action is after reading this article, I challenge you to reflect on how you are wasting time. Make your own list of things to start or stop doing. Here’s an AirTable to record and track them in. You can start with these questions:

  • Do you already implement any of these?
  • Which ones do you want to start working on?
  • Which ones do you not agree with?
  • What would you add to the list?

When people tell me they don’t have time to practice learning new skills with their busy day, I always think about the above time wasters. Everyone is guilty of doing at least of few of them.

So change your self-talk. Instead of saying “I don’t have time for…”, say “How can I find time for…?” Then, you’ll be able to come up with a list like mine. Use these tips and skyrocket your productivity once and for all!

You can do this!

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Danny Forest, VNP

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Viking Ninja Polymath writing for today’s knowledge economy, building a more skillful tomorrow. skillup-academy.com

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies