11 things productive people don't do to get ahead

By Robert Half on 9 July 2021
Estimated Read Time: 3 minutes

Everyone juggles a busy schedule, but some people make it look so easy.

What's their secret?

For starters, they're happier. According to HICA, happiness makes people up to 12 per cent more productive. But it also turns out that highly productive people have very unique habits.

Highly productive people are generally more organised than others, but their approach goes much deeper than a tidy desk and systemised schedule. They understand how to eliminate wasted time.

Most importantly, they avoid the work productivity pitfalls that causes the rest of us work stress and complete disorganisation.

So what are the things that productive people don't do? Here are 11 things that you can avoid to be more productive.

1. Procrastinate

This is probably the hardest bad habit to break because it is so pervasive. But what you don’t do today will likely fall off your to-do list entirely. Stop procrastinating and do it now.

2. Go to every meeting

By the time most meetings are over, you've spent an hour or more on what ended up as actually 15 minutes of useful collaboration. Some meetings are unavoidable, but skip the unnecessary ones – or encourage them to get to the point.

3. Be a slave to smartphones

Just because you have push notifications doesn’t mean you need to respond to every message immediately. Set up SMS alerts for urgent matters and schedule specific times throughout the day to process the rest.

4. Be a perfectionist

Good enough means just that: good enough. At some point you have to sign off on the final draft of a project or proposal. Work can always be better, but after a while there's negligible improvement for your continued efforts.

5. Count time in hours

As your lawyer or accountant will tell you (or bill you), every minute counts. Time is the most valuable thing we have – you can't store it and you can’t reclaim it if you waste it. Learn some time management tips to help you value every minute.

6. Fail to be accountable

Productive people not only know what and when they’re deadlines are, but they take ownership and responsibility of their projects. Don’t promise the world and fail to deliver. More often, you end up with even more work to do. Instead, be accountable for your work.

7. Always say yes

Start pushing back. It's easy to look like the most reliable person and say yes to everything. But you shouldn't accept something that comes across your desk if you can't manage it in a timely manner. Productive people know when to say no and reach out for support.

8. Stretch their focus

Highly productive people give their full attention to a single task instead of stretching themselves across various projects. One single task should be your top priority at any one time – the most important thing you need to do. Let your focus drift and you might lose sight of what’s important.

9. Memorise everything

The brain can be a leaky pitcher. Instead of relying on the human brain to remember what is on your priority list, write it down or type it up so it's clear and easy to find.

10. Put stuff in a pile

That pile of documents you glanced at and filed away for ‘later’ will stay there and grow. You’ll never reduce it. Keep on top of it and recycle unnecessary paper. If it’s an electronic correspondence, action every piece the moment you read it, whether that means sending a quick reply or scheduling a task.

11. Never let go

Productive people know when to quit. They recognise when a task, conversation or project becomes a waste of time and effort, and are able to end things before they drain resources.

The secret of productive people

The key secret is actually working smarter and maintaining good work-life balance.

According to research by DeskTime, the most productive people don’t necessarily work the longest hours. In fact, they take regular breaks – working for 52 minutes then breaking for 17 minutes.

There are many ways you can maximise your time and effort to make your daily routine easier. Avoid these pitfalls and transform your life at work and home.

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