14 Bad Habits that Kill Your Productivity & Time Management Efforts

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Do you often find yourself unable to resist the allure of social media when working?

Is getting yourself psyched up for long stretches of work impossible to do?

Is staying on task when you’re working just not possible for you?

You’re not alone, both engaging and maintaining productivity is hard for most, especially with our worst distractions being just a mouse click away.

But it doesn't have to be this way, because it only takes a little awareness and some quick action to make things better again.

Your bad habits kill productivity.

Humans are creatures of habit, plain and simple. And it's these habits that define how effective – and ineffective –  we are at life.

The problems arise when we don't realize that our bad habits are interfering with our effectiveness, and a major part of our effectiveness lies within our productivity.

You haven’t figured what your bad habits are.

This makes sense when you think about it; if something’s a habit then usually it happens automatically and bypasses the thinking process (which can a gift or a curse, depending on the habit involved).

The solution is to find and eliminate those bad habits.

The first step in fixing a problem is to find out the cause, and the second step is to fix it. Unfortunately, self-examination can be a little tough for a situation like this, so instead, I gathered a list of 14 common bad habits for you to check out

Thumb through this list and find all the habits that apply to you. Sometimes we don’t realize our bad habits till others point out and describe them to us.

1. Multitasking

Of all the bad habits, multitasking is among the worst and most common.

By giving the illusion of hard work, multitasking tricks countless people into producing subpar, incomplete work on a daily basis.

When you multitask you’re not actually doing multiple tasks at the same time. Rather, your temporarily giving partial focus to a single task while giving majority focus to the act of switching tasks.

In other words, most of your energy is being devoted to switching tasks, not completing them.

In addition, the cost of constantly “switching gears” (i.e. changing thought processes to handle different tasks) is a further drain on mental resources.

But what can you do to stop this?

Watch the video below to learn about the about 7 simple habits to stay focused at work while avoiding stress and burnout.

Here are a few tips to help you out:

Be a “completionist”

Each time you start a new task, don’t stop working on it till it’s finished. This means you can’t switch tasks, no matter how much you want to. It might be hard at first, but eventually your focus and work quality will improve because of it.

Batch similar tasks

If you prefer to ease your way out of multitasking, start batching your work. Group 2-3 similar tasks together, and feel free to multitask those tasks (and only those tasks).

Since there’s a lower “mental fee” for multitasking similar tasks, you can preserve your energy better.

2. Not Removing Distractions/Time-Wasters

The worst offenders to good productivity are definitely fun websites and social media/texting, so it's important that you take steps ensuring you aren’t distracted by them.

Other distractions include:

  • Television
  • Family/friends/co-workers
  • Videogames

How can you deal with these?

Here are a few tips to help keep you on track.

Use site blockers

All the popular web browsers have a site blocker, add them to your main web browser immediately and start blacklisting the worst time-stealers.

Turn off all notifications

Social media is constantly being updated, so if you have notifications enabled then you’re setting yourself up for a stream of distractions. Turn off all notifications when working, including text messaging.

Unplug the television/video game system

Make it extra hard for the TV to be a viable distraction. I'd go so far as putting the remote control batteries somewhere annoying to reach as well. Besides, there are other productive things you can do rather than watching TV.

Work where others can't bother you

Getting away from family and friends is as simple as working at the library or coffee shop. For co-workers though, skip to bad habit #9 for advice.

3. Big-Picture Thinking

Keeping the big picture in mind is good… if you limit it to when you’re not actually working.

The reason is this: the big picture is, well, big. It’s a ton of steps into the future, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed with how much work you need to accomplish before reaching it.

Here’s a couple of ways to mediate this problem.

Limit big picture thoughts to non-work times

By doing this, you prevent the big picture from interfering with your productivity.

Focus on progress made

Focusing on the distance you’ve covered can be very motivating because it focuses on what you’ve done, rather than where you’d like to be.

Focus on the small-picture

Another good focus is on what you can do now, rather than where you'd like to be. Focusing on small steps is not overwhelming and leads to action, so this mindset is complementary to good productivity.

4. Not Having a Work Routine

If you’re in the habit of just working whenever you feel like it, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

A work routine is essential to getting your mind into productive gear. Without one, your always going into work mode cold, which makes getting in the zone that much harder.

Furthermore, doing things only when you feel like it gives too much control to your state of mind. And let’s be honest, most of the time none of us “feel” like working. Giving control of our productivity to our fickle – and lazy – emotions is a recipe for failure.

Here’s what you should do about it:

Work in the same place at the same time

This is a great habit as it sets the mind up to naturally flow into productivity mode. Of all the productivity habits you could have, this might be the best one of all.

5. Being a Perfectionist

Another common offender to productivity is perfectionism. Perfectionism can manifest itself in many ways, but the most common are:

  • Having unrealistically high work standards
  • Being thrown off balance when things don’t go exactly as you’d like

How do these ruin productivity?

First, when you have unrealistic work standards you work on your tasks to death. This leads to falling behind schedule and causes a mountain of tasks to build in its wake.

Second, it’s easy to mentally “quit” when things don’t go as well as you’d like. You might still work after that, but you’ll be half-assing it because things didn’t go “perfectly.”

productive week quotes - “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey

Here’s how you can fix this problem:

Focus on finishing, not on perfecting

Having a strong focus on simply completing your work (i.e. doing the “barebones”) will have a drastically positive effect on your productivity. Once you actually finish your work, then you can go back and start perfecting things.

Become friends with failure

Accepting your mistakes is a crucial part of defeating perfectionism. If you can do this, then you can stop being constrained by the need to over-examine every detail and finally make some progress.

6. Being Overloaded with Info/Options

Sometimes when we’re working we find ourselves bombarded with too much info and too many options.

What does this do to us? It makes us short-circuit.

Your mind goes blank and/or you become overwhelmed, killing your productivity.

What should you do about this?

Pick one thing and remove the rest from your sight

Information overload occurs because your mind is overloaded with info, but you can fix this by only allowing a single piece of info in at a time

Disconnect from the world

Just get away from it all. Get away from the internet, the emails, the phone calls, and just take a break. When you come back, pick the tiniest/easiest thing to do and do it. Once that's done, just do it again until things become manageable again.

7. Having a Giant To-Do List

When you’re planning your day, it’s easy to get overzealous and fill a to-do list with a dozen or more tasks.

Unfortunately, you’ll most likely be unable to complete them all. And when the day nears its end you see you’ve barely checked off half of them, you're going to feel overwhelmed.

And once the overwhelm starts to kick in, you’re in for some trouble.

Here’s what you should do:

Keep to-do lists between 1-5 tasks

Doing this will ensure that you don’t become overwhelmed, and will help make sure you complete your to-do list as well (which will be great for keeping productive momentum and building motivation).

8. Using Too Many Tools

Tools are extremely helpful for maintaining productivity and there’s certainly plenty to choose from.

But when you start having an excess of tools to use (more than say, 4) just to do basic work every day, you’re actually hurting yourself. By having too many tools, you’re basically just multitasking with tools instead of tasks.

Here’s what you should do:

Find tools that cover multiple bases

Consolidate your work to all-encompassing tools like Evernote.

Use tools that sync up with others easily

At the very least make sure the tools you use easily link up with each other. For instance, if you use a calendar app on your laptop then make sure it can sync up with your smartphone's calendar as well.

Too many tools are bad. Don't get tied up in dozen's, but here are a few great productivity habit tools.

9. Saying Yes All the Time

You might think saying yes to every little thing people ask of you is a good thing, but it’s not. You’re doing yourself a great disservice by doing this and are ultimately hurting yourself.

So let it be known that your time is valuable because nobody will respect it if you don't say it loud and clear.

Here's how you can do that:

Be honest and tell them no

Being honest is hard sometimes, but sometimes it's all you need to get people to respect your time.

Tell people to come back later

If you want to be nicer, just tell people to come back when you're less busy.

Watch the video below to learn why you should say no more often and the five strategies you can use to take action on this idea (including using Warren Buffett's 5-24 rule.)

10. Not Automating Recurring Tasks

A lot of the tasks we do are repeat tasks, meaning we do the same tasks pretty regularly.

Most of these recurring tasks can be automated in some way, meaning:

  • They can be done automatically
  • They can be done more quickly

But what tasks can be automated? Here's a couple of examples:

  • Sending emails
  • Brewing coffee
  • Writing articles

Lots of people send emails and brew coffee every day, while others – such as myself – write articles pretty regularly.

Instead of manually brewing your coffee when you wake up or get to work, set a timer to go off at the optimal time instead.

If you send the same types of emails all the time, make up some templates so all you have to do is fill in the blanks. That’ll save you some time and your mental resources will thank you for it.

11. Being Indecisive

Indecision can bring a good, productive work session to screeching halt if it goes on for too long.

When you don’t know what to decide on, you sift through all the information you have and mentally rehearse the pros and cons until you make a decision. It ends up eating a lot of willpower and energy in the process, derailing your work session.

For some it’s a major issue, so here’s what you can do about it:

Use the 2-minute rule

Most decisions we make don’t really warrant an extensive decision process, so it’s fine to give a short timeline.

Use a “decision” list

If it’s really an important decision, then give yourself the time to think about it. Put it on a “decision” list that you can answer later, that way it won’t interfere with your work and you can give it the attention it deserves.

12. Waiting for the “Optimal” Work Time

It’s not even funny how many of us do this, and it almost seems logical as well.

But waiting till you’re: less tired, not hungry, have more information, and so on, is a bad idea and simply amounts to procrastination.

Here’s what you should about it:

Establish a work routine

Yep, this one again. A routine like this primes the body for work, so you won’t be tricked into thinking you need to wait until the “optimum” time arrives.

13. Scheduling Too Many Tasks Into Your Calendar

Like with your task lists, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea of accomplishing a ton of work in a small amount of time.

But squeezing work into every time slot available in your calendar is certain failure.

Doing this makes it hard to be flexible. Imagine how much work it is to rearrange 10 tasks just because a new one popped up at the last second, it’s more work than it’s worth!

Here’s what you should do:

Only add essential tasks

Don’t try and fill up your calendar, just ask yourself what would actually make a difference if you did it, then add it.

14. Not Punishing Yourself for Bad Habits

Although it’s not as desirable to do as positive reinforcement, punishing yourself for bad habits can work.

You might’ve seen swear jars before, where you put any loose change you have in a jar anytime you swear.

Well, it works just as good for productivity.

Pick a punishment that you find the most motivating and use it whenever you are tempted to procrastinate.

Find yourself about to read social media? 20 squats now! About to flip on the television? $5 bucks in the jar. See what works for you, and then start applying it right away

The Power of Routine Quotes - “Habit and routine have an unbelievable power to waste and destroy.” – Henri De Lubac | love habit quotes | the power of routine quotes | quote about habits become character #quote #quotes #qotd

Final Thoughts on Bad Productivity Habits

Remember, breaking bad habits takes time and patience. Change is a process, not an event. Be gentle with yourself as you work to eliminate these habits from your life.

The first step to improvement is awareness, and you've already taken that by identifying these productivity killers. Now, you can begin to replace them with positive, productivity-boosting habits.

As you start making positive changes, you'll likely notice a significant improvement in your productivity and time management. Focus on progress, not perfection, and celebrate every small victory along the way.

Now, if you're looking for more resources to get you in the right mindset for productivity, read these articles:

Finally, if you want to level up your productivity and time management skills, then watch this free video about the 9 productivity habits you can build at work.

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21 thoughts on “14 Bad Habits that Kill Your Productivity & Time Management Efforts”

  1. Hey SJ,

    This was a fantastic article to get the week started man.

    I couldn’t avoid laughing when I saw your recommendation of placing the batteries’ remotes somewhere annoying to stop us from watching TV or playing videogames.

    Not a TV fan myself but I have been playing a lot of videogames lately and it is starting to worry me a bit.

    Anyway I can’t add much to your list as you pretty much covered everything I know about this so I shared this on my facebook page.

    Thanks again man


    PS. Maybe I can put a condition for each soccer game I want to play?

    Like 50 pushups per game… ouch, I could probably manage to play one but I don’t think I would like to play two games on the same day LOL

    • Sergio,

      Thanks for the great comment man, glad you liked it!

      I like your “condition” idea too! While you don’t want to get “caught up” in distractions, you do not want to just live for work either. HAving something like the pushups that is a little bit painful (and also has its own positive benefit) could be a great way to limit things.


  2. 1 is the business killer Steve. When I write posts, I shut all else down. When I network, I network. I visit each blog, post comments, share, engage. Focus all of your energies on doing 1 thing at a time to see optimal results. Where your attention and energy goes, grows.


    • Ryan,

      Thanks for stopping by bro!

      Yup! It is all about focus. It is amazing what (and how much) you can accomplish when you get rid of distractions and set an environment where you can really focus 100%.

  3. My worst habit that stifles productivity is checking emails.

    Whenever I’ve opened it, a minimum of 20 minutes would be used.

    Now, I used email as an opener and ender of the day. That’s it.

    If not…maybe, I need to think of a punishment for that.

    • Wan,

      Checking emails is a big one for a lot of people. That is why I wrote the book on email efficiency ;). Only checking email two times a day is perfect too. Just what I do! The only thing I do differently is checking email AFTER a morning writing burst, rather than first thing. I feel that gives emails time to arrive as people write emails in the morning AND I find I am most creative and get my best writing done if I knock it out first thing. It seems a shame to waste this “best” time on rote emails.

  4. I have a bad habit closely related to half of the list: doing what’s urgent, not what’s important. Or in other words – avoiding the hard tasks and doing the easier ones.

    With my crowded to-do list I can move the toughest down the queue almost infinitely. I realized that after setting up a weekly calls with my accountability partner.

    • Michal,

      For sure! This is human nature, but when you do tackle those tough ones first, after they are completed everything else seems easy by comparison. Like eating your veggies. Knock them out first, get it out of the way, and then you can enjoy everything else!

  5. Hey Steve,
    This list is an eye opener. Now that I am working at home and writing, I am finding it much more challenging that I thought. I am guilty of many of these and have to really get my shit together quickly. Always insightful stuff here, man!

    • I agree with you Steve I am guilty of about majority of this list,I’m too easy to get distracted,plus I try to work on everything at once,multitasking.this list is something I need to go by especially making a to-do list.so glad I’m able to read and realize what’s important to. Get through this class thanks so much for the insight.

  6. Hey, I’m guilty of many of these. The biggest one is probably having a huge to-do list that keeps growing with each month. It seems the more I accomplish, the more gets added. I call it ‘Arnie’ syndrome.

    Probably because I’m just finishing his book and it amazes me how well he coped with adding extra work and goals to his life.

  7. You are just killing it with these articles! Another great one buddy, I can’t think of anything I would add to the list! Saying no to more things is huge, and has got to be my favorite item on the list 🙂

  8. SJ,

    The biggest thing here (for me) is definitely to automate recurring tasks. It’s like Peter Drucker said: there are two problems: General and unique. General ones are the norm, and they are solved by thinking out a solution that can be used for the long-term.

    Personally, I like to do 1-3 big things per day. Then i do a chunk of small things on another day that I accumulate on lists.

  9. Hey Steve,
    Funny how I did not know about your blog lol
    Unfortunately I see myself in many of the points… it’s a challenge to change, but I have decided to do so

  10. I think the problem with some people saying that they want to change those habits is consistency. The point of a habit is that it doesn’t require thought. Variety may be the spice of life, but it doesn’t create habits. Make sure your habit is as consistent as possible and is repeated every day for thirty days. This will ensure a new habit is drilled in, instead of multiple habits loosely conditioned. I will share this http://ilivetoinspire.com/this-could-be-your-biggest-regret/ so you could be educated on what to consider if you still want to stick to your bad habits.

    • Eunice,

      I surely do not disagree. I have discussed 30 day challenges and the importance of only dealing with one single habit at a time a lot on this site, as well as the specifics of how to “generally” make habits stick. It does take a lot of work and effort to get those good habits to replace the bad ones for sure. Thanks for the comment and sharing your thoughts with us.

  11. It is beneficial.Multitasking is a major problem to many.Several people want win the world at time instead of winning one person at a time.
    It is a great piece.

  12. After reading this I am realizing that I’m doing every single one of them. Definitely an eye opener and an excellent blog post. Thank you for the sanity check!

  13. I’m guilty of having most of these habits! I really liked the ‘using too many tools’ point as many don’t recognize it. I use one, all in one tool- proofhub.com and it’s been really helping me out with my work. Very easy to adopt and efficient tool.Worth trying!

  14. I really don’t like using too many tools, I find it very overwhelming. I’m glad you pointed that out! I’ve never tried Evernote but another great tool that can serve multiple purposes is Kanban Tool ( https://kanbantool.com/ ). Have you tried it? If not, you definitely should!

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