Being more productive is about working smarter, not harder, and making the most of each day.
While this is no easy feat, getting more done in less time is a much more attainable goal if you’re not sabotaging yourself with bad habits.
Below are 18 things you should stop doing right now to become more productive.
Hitting the snooze button
- Phalinn Ooi/flickr
It might feel as though pressing the snooze button in the morning gives you a little bit of extra rest to start your day, but the truth is that it does more harm than good.
That’s because when you wake up, your endocrine system begins to release alertness hormones to get you ready for the day. By going back to sleep, you’re slowing down this process. Plus, nine minutes doesn’t give your body time to get the restorative, deep sleep it needs.
Prioritizing work over sleep
- Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock.com
This isn’t to say you should cut back on sleep.
As Arianna Huffington discusses in her sleep manifesto, “The Sleep Revolution,” a good night’s sleep has the power to increase productivity and happiness, lead to smarter decision-making, and unlock bigger ideas.
As Huffington explained to Business Insider, a McKinsey study showed a direct correlation between getting less sleep and workplace inefficiency. The prefrontal cortex, where the problem-solving functions of the brain are housed, is degraded if we don’t get enough sleep. Working 24/7, “we now know, is the cognitive equivalent of coming to work drunk,” she said.
The trick to getting enough sleep is planning ahead and powering down at a reasonable time.
Keeping your phone next to your bed
Another key to getting better sleep is not letting outside influencers impair your sleep.
The LED screens of our smartphones, tablets, and laptops, for example, give off what is called blue light, which studies have shown can damage vision and suppress production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate the sleep cycle.
Research also suggests that people with lower melatonin levels are more prone to be depressed.
Our minds and our bodies are connected in a number of important ways, and getting the fuel we need doesn’t just mean resting up.
By the time you wake up, you likely haven’t eaten for 10 or 12 hours, which is where breakfast got its name – it means “breaking the fast,” DeFazio said.
Your first meal of the day is what kick-starts your metabolism and replenishes blood-sugar levels so you can focus and be productive throughout the day. When blood sugar levels are low, DeFazio says, it’s much harder to focus and you’re more likely to feel tired, irritable, and impatient.
Starting your day on the right foot is all about balancing high-fiber carbohydrates with lean protein, DeFazio says. While all carbohydrates raise your blood sugar levels, high-fiber carbs like fruits and whole-grain products do so at a steadier pace than sugar and low-fiber carbs like processed grain.
Putting off your most important work until later in the day
- Hero Images/Getty Images
People often start off their day by completing easy tasks to get themselves rolling, and leave their more difficult work for later. This is a bad idea, and one that frequently leads to the important work not getting done at all.
As researchers have found, people have a limited amount of willpower that decreases throughout the day, so it’s best to get your hardest, most important tasks done at the beginning of the day.
Checking email throughout the day
- Flickr/Laura D’Alessandro
Constant internet access can also lead people to check email throughout the day. Sadly, each time you do this, you lose up to 25 minutes of work time. What’s more, the constant checking of email makes you dumber.
Instead, strategy consultant Ron Friedman suggests closing email tabs and turning off your phone for 30-minute chunks of deep-diving work.
Eating junk food for lunch
Maintaining energy levels requires eating a balanced lunch.
High-fat, high-sugar lunches make us sleepy and have low energy by 3 p.m., DeFazio says, so it’s important to go heavy on the protein and healthy fats and easy on the carbs when choosing what you eat for lunch.
Luckily, plenty of fast-food chains offer healthy meal options that won’t make you pass out at your desk.
- Flickr/Adam Lehman
One of the most difficult things about forming a new habit – whether it’s a new diet, workout routine, or work schedule – is the urge to cheat as a reward for sticking to a routine for a while.
This idea that we “deserve” to splurge on fancy meal after being thrifty for a week is called “moral licensing,” and it undermines a lot of people’s plans for self-improvement.
Instead, try making your goal part of your identity, such that you think of yourself as the kind of person who saves money or works out regularly, rather than as someone who is working against their own will to do something new.
Failing to prioritize
Some people think having lots of goals is the best way to ensure success – if one idea fails, at least there are plenty more in reserve to turn to. Unfortunately, this sort of wavering can be extremely unproductive.
Warren Buffett has the perfect antidote. He saw that his personal pilot was not accomplishing his life goals, so Buffett asked him to make a list of 25 things he wanted to get done before he died. But rather than advising him to take little steps toward completing every one of them, Buffett told the pilot to pick five things he thought were most important and ignore the rest.
Sitting all day
- Oli Scarff / Getty Images
Nilofer Merchant, a business consultant and the author of “The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy,” shared with TED audiences how she’s helped several major companies develop successful new ideas: walking meetings.
She recommends foregoing coffee or meetings under the fluorescent lights of conference rooms in favor of walking and talking for 20 to 30 miles a week.
“You’ll be surprised at how fresh air drives fresh thinking, and in the way that you do, you’ll bring into your life an entirely new set of ideas,” she said.
- Flickr/David Goehring
While many people believe they’re great at doing two things at once, scientific research has found that only about 2% of the population is capable of effectively multitasking.
Skipping your workout
- De Visu / Shutterstock
Studies have shown that morning and afternoon workouts can increase a person’s amount and quality of sleep – one study found that exercise adds around 45 minutes of extra sleep – and better sleep leads to a more productive day.
In an article for Harvard Business Review, Friedman argues that adding exercise to your regimen can directly contribute to your work productivity.
He points to certain cognitive benefits of incorporating regular exercise into your routine, including improved concentration, sharper memory, prolonged mental stamina, lower stress, and elevated mood, all of which have “serious implications for workplace performance,” he said.
Impulsive web browsing
Since most of us have access to the internet at work, it’s easy to get sidetracked looking up the answer to a random question that just popped into your head.
That’s why Quora user Suresh Rathinam recommends writing down these thoughts or questions on a notepad so you can look up the information you want later, when you’re not trying to get work done.
Many ambitious and organized people try to maximize their productivity by meticulously planning out every hour of their day. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned, and a sick child or unexpected assignment can throw a wrench into a person’s entire day.
Instead, you might want to try planning just four or five hours of real work each day. That way, you can be flexible later on.
- Sebastiaan ter Burg/Flickr
That being said, you should take time to strategize before attempting to achieve any long-term goals. Trying to come up with the endgame of a project midway through the process can be extremely frustrating and waste a huge amount of time.
Robert Pozen, a lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, recommends that you first determine what you want your final outcome to be, then lay out a series of steps for yourself. Once you’re halfway through, you can review your work to make sure you’re on track and adjust accordingly.
Taking too many meetings
- Flickr/Kevin Dooley
Nothing disrupts the flow of productivity like an unnecessary meeting. And with tools like email, instant messenger, and video chat at your fingertips, it’s best to use meetings for introductions and serious discussions that should only be held in person.
BlueGrace Logistics founder Bobby Harris recommends that people don’t accept a meeting unless the person who requested it has put forth a clear agenda and stated exactly how much time they will need. And even then, Harris recommends giving the person half the time they initially requested.
More often than laziness, the root of procrastination is the fear of not doing a good job, according to the website The Book of Life, an offshoot of a company founded by the British philosopher and author Alain de Botton.
“We begin to work only when the fear of doing nothing at all exceeds the fear of not doing it very well,” the website states. “And that can take time.”
The only way to overcome procrastination is to abandon perfectionism and not fuss over details as you move forward. Pretending the task doesn’t matter and that it’s OK to mess up could help you get started faster.
Thinking in terms of daily or hourly tasks
- David Moir/Reuters
Laura Vanderkam, a productivity and time management expert and author of “I Know How She Does It,” calls this the “24-hour trap” and suggests that we instead think about the time we have to get things done in terms of 168 hours, or full weeks.
“People always say there aren’t enough hours in the day, and I totally agree with you – there are not enough hours in the day,” Vanderkam told Business Insider. “But fortunately, we don’t live our lives in days – we live our lives in weeks.”
If you look at it this way, this gives you far more time – seven days – to get done everything you want and need to do, which will make you happier and less afraid to start.
Aaron Taube contributed to an earlier version of this article.