There are obvious ways you’re sabotaging your productivity: Instagram, texting friends, watching cute goat videos on YouTube, or literally just procrastinating because maybe you’re just overwhelmed. But you most likely already know what you’re doing. However, there are other ways you could be blocking yourself from achieving your daily tasks and goals, and you might not even know it. In fact, maybe you think you’re setting yourself for success when really you’re making things harder. Here are some ways you might be low-key sabotaging your productivity.
1. You don’t prioritize your to-do list.
I will jot down literally every single thing I need to get done in my planner without actually thinking about which task is most important, and this will usually leave me in some kind of paralyzed fugue state. “Where do I even start?” is something I’ll think to myself before I’m even able to start working on anything. Then, I’ll spend the next few hours worried I won’t possibly be able to get everything done, and this naturally sets me up for a productivity disaster.
What’s helped me out lately is marking what is a P1 (priority 1), P2 (priority 2), or P3 (priority 3). Sending out an email before I know everyone I work with in New York has logged off? P1. Writing a story with a flexible deadline? P2 or P3. Walking my dog for at least 30 minutes? P1, because even though that’s not work-related, I know I need to get some steps in to stay sane and keep my pup happy (and also sane).
2. You overload your day with back-to-back meetings.
You might want to just get all the calls over with, but when you do that, you’re setting yourself up to be completely drained by the end of those calls. And when you’re tired, you’re not going to want to get as much stuff done (nor will you have the brain capacity to do so). If you’re in control of setting up the times, and if you’re able to spread calls out (even by 10-15 minutes), you should. Letting yourself rest in between meetings (and grab a snack or go to the bathroom) is super important so you can recharge.
3. You try to multitask so that you can fit more work in.
You might be in a meeting and working on a project at the same time, just so you can knock out two birds with one stone. And maybe you can pull it off! After all, if you have your camera off, who’s really going to know you’re partially listening? But for most of us, it pays to focus on a single task and channel all of your energy into it for the best results. I salute great multitaskers, but the truth is that they’re pretty rare. Even if we think we’re amazing at doing a million things at once, most of the time if you look back on what you’ve done, you’ll notice mistakes or work that’s just not as strong as it could have been.
4. You’re not getting enough sleep.
Some people can get by off 5 hours (or less) and be totally functional at work. I know I am not one of those people. If I don’t get at least 7 ½ hours, I am a groggy mess the entire day, one who can’t formulate coherent sentences or focus on anything for longer than 20 seconds. Sometimes coffee helps, but usually, it just makes me feel even more anxious and aware of the fact that I’m not being as productive as normal. Try to get enough sleep. I know that’s not a possibility for many people (especially if you have kids and multiple jobs), but if you’re able to create a routine that allows for 7-8 hours of sleep, you’ll definitely feel way more refreshed and ready to go the next day.
5. Saying “yes” to everything.
There’s a privilege to being able to say “no” to jobs, tasks, assignments, and projects — and especially when you’re freelancing, it’s up to you to create balance and understand when too much is too much. And especially these days, when the economy is so unpredictable, it’s seriously no wonder we’re raising our hands for every single opportunity that comes our way. I’m definitely a hand-raiser, because “the hustle” is how I landed my first full-time job, and it’s how I was able to bounce back into work after getting laid off this past March. I’ve said yes to everything and tried to deliver the most awesome results for every project. But saying yes has also allowed me to gauge which projects are worth it and which ones aren’t — so that I can eventually say no.
Recently, I told a client I wasn’t able to work with them anymore. Their demands were becoming too extreme, and it was clear to me that they needed an entire department for what I (and a subcontractor I hired) were doing. There was no way I could keep up, and if I kept trying to make it work, I’d fail and do a bad job, and I don’t want to do that to anyone, especially not myself. And honestly? The money wasn’t that great. I was easily able to make up for it by pulling another lever. Best of all, I’m able to better focus and put more time and energy into my other work.
6. Leaving the hardest task for last.
Everyone’s “prime time” is different. Some do better at night, some prefer mornings — but it doesn’t really matter when, for many of us, our jobs require us to be on from 9-to-5. We have to make it work. I know my “peak” brain time is earlier in the day (if I’ve gotten enough sleep and had a cup of coffee, I feel brilliant), so I try to complete my hardest tasks first, which usually requires writing. I save other tasks like data-pulling and responding to emails last, because I know I can pull those things off even if I’m tired. Try to set yourself up for success by finding your most optimal time of day that allows you to really flex those creative, problem-solving muscles. Usually, that involves doing the hard stuff first.
7. Working in a cluttered space.
It makes such a huge difference when I make the bed and make sure my office desk is clean. Otherwise, I feel like I’m surrounded by chaos, and that makes me feel anxious. Take five minutes before you start your day to make sure your workspace is clean and makes you feel happier and brighter.
Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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