Habits to Avoid that Hinder Productivity
By Deanna deBara | Published April 20, 2021
Author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy once said, “successful people are simply those with successful habits.”
And that’s true. But if you want to be successful, you need to do more than just cultivate positive habits; you also need to eliminate any habits that hinder your success—including habits that are causing your productivity to take a nosedive.
But some habits are so...well, habitual that it can be hard to see how and where they’re holding you back. So, the question is, what are some of the most common productivity-killing habits you’ll want to avoid if you want to be your most successful, productive self?
You might think that the key to getting more done is doing more things at once. But the truth is, few habits hurt productivity more than multitasking.
According to research from Stanford University, people who “media multitask” and expose themselves to multiple streams of electronic information (for example, emailing and talking on the phone at the same time) struggle with a number of cognitive processes related to productivity, including attention, memory, and task switching. And the impact on overall productivity isn’t insignificant; research highlighted by the American Psychological Association estimates that multitasking can cause productivity to drop by up to 40 percent.
Now, if you’re reading this and saying to yourself, “But I’m great at multitasking! I do it all the time!” you may want to rethink your strategy of tackling multiple tasks at once. Research from the University of Utah found that only 2 percent of people are able to multitask effectively—and interestingly that the people who multitask the most are actually the least effective at multitasking.
Bottom line? If you want to keep productivity high, you need to break that multitasking habit—so make it a rule to focus on one task (and one screen) at a time.
Staying up too late
According to data from SHRM, people are putting in more hours at work today than ever before. Since going remote during the COVID-19 pandemic, 45 percent of workers say they regularly work more hours during the workweek—and almost 70 percent of workers say they’re now working on weekends. And working later in the day has caused many people to push back their bedtimes in order to squeeze more personal time into the day.
But it doesn’t matter how much time you put in at work; if you’re not getting enough high-quality sleep, you’re going to struggle to get things done during that time—and the quality of your work is going to take a hit.
Research shows that lack of sleep can cause cognitive issues, including focus, attention, and reaction time. A 2010 study found that employees who didn’t get enough sleep were less productive (and had significantly worse performance metrics) than their well-rested counterparts.
So, if you want to be productive during the workday, you need to break that late-night Netflix habit—and make sleep a priority.
Working through lunch
Are you in the habit of grinding through work from the moment you start your day until the moment you clock out—including straight through lunch? If so, it’s time to break that habit—because forcing yourself to work for 8, 9, or 10 hours straight isn’t doing your productivity any favors.
According to a 2011 study from researchers at the University of Illinois, your attentional resources decline when you perform a single task for an extended period of time. Essentially, the longer you work on a task without giving yourself a break, the harder it is to focus on that task—and harder to check that task off your to-do list.
Instead of forcing yourself to work, work, work all day long, make sure to take regular breaks, including an extended break at lunch, making it easier to focus and get things done. (And if you want to up the productivity-boosting benefits of your lunch break, take your lunch outside; a recent study found that spending just 29 minutes outdoors translated to a 45 percent increase in productivity.)
Constantly checking your phone
If you’re in the habit of constantly checking your phone, you’re not alone. According to recent research from Asurion, the average person checks their phone 96 times per day. Assuming you get eight hours of sleep per night, that’s six times per hour—or once every 10 minutes.
But every time you stop what you’re doing to answer a text, check your email, or scroll through social media, you’re breaking your focus—and making it more challenging to get things done. According to a study from researchers at UC Irvine, it takes over 23 minutes to refocus after a distraction. So, every time you check your phone, it takes almost a half hour to get back to the level of focus you were at before your phone distracted you (which means, if you’re like the average person and checking your phone every 10 minutes, you’ll never get back to your original level of focus).
Clearly, letting go of your compulsive phone-checking is an absolute must if you want to be more productive. But you don’t even need to be checking your phone for it to hinder your productivity; research from the University of Texas found that just having your phone nearby, even if it’s turned off, can impair cognitive function (and tank productivity in the process).
So, if you really want to support your productivity? Get into the habit of keeping your phone off, away, and out of sight while you’re at work.
Get rid of these habits to be your most productive self
You are a product of your habits. And now that you’re clear on the most significant productivity-draining habits, you can determine which apply to you and which habits you need to eliminate from your daily routine—and become your most productive self in the process.
Deanna deBara is an entrepreneur, speaker, and freelance writer who specializes in business and productivity topics. When she's not busy writing, she enjoys hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dog. See more of her work and learn more about her services at deannadebara.com.