You know the feeling when you wake up with the intention to be more productive than ever. Your day is carefully scheduled, the freshly updated productivity apps in your phone are ready to give your work an epic boost, and you’re about to SMASH your #productivitygoals.
Six hours later, you suddenly realize that most of your to-dos are still untouched.
At least this is what happened to me many, many times. Running a freelance business while parenting a toddler felt so overwhelming that on some days, all I could do was lie down and weep into a pillow because I just couldn’t cope with ALL the things I had to do at once. Then I figured out that I was making four key productivity mistakes… and all of a sudden, my energy skyrocketed.
So… what are the productivity mistakes that used to undermine my life – and might be undermining yours?
You’re chasing after productivity hacks, not experimenting with simple changes
When you’re restructuring your life, engineering new habits, and seeking to boost your productivity, it’s easy to fall under the illusion that there’s This One Magic Hack that will transform your life.
Just One Magic hack.
Just one Tip That Productivity Coaches Won’t Tell You.
Just one Anti-Procrastination Course That’s Worth $6899 But You Can Get It For $39.98 If You Buy Right Now.
But the truth is…
Here’s a slightly embarrassing example. You see, when I first started freelancing, I spent more time watching copywriting courses and reading books than actually writing copy and pitching clients. I’d say to myself, “Come on, let’s finish this book because it’s so useful, and then we’ll go and look for clients.” Well, that’s how I ended up on Upwork, trying to compete with people who’d probably write you a 100-page novel for $5. But the truth is… I was simply too anxious to actually start reaching out to people, this anxiety was making me procrastinate, and then I was trying to mask my procrastination as learning.
What does this have to do with your productivity?
Don’t spend days and weeks looking for That One Hack.
Learn a few basics and start experimenting.
The most important skill for avoiding productivity mistakes is honest observation and analysis. If you have no idea why the day is over before you actually did anything, literally just track your day with Toggl Track. If you’re wondering why you can’t focus in the mornings, note down your entire morning routine.
Then use your data to introduce a systemic change like a new morning routine, a simple app blocker on your phone (don’t overthink it), or a new approach to scheduling your day.
You use more productivity apps than you need
How many productivity apps are there? Well, I can name a dozen without even googling. Some are just fancy to-do lists while others try to organize your entire life according to a philosophy like GTD.
No wonder you’re tempted to use a fancy calendar alongside a kanban app, a to-do-list, a habit tracker, and an app that tells you to drink a glass of water every few hours.
I fell into this trap once. I remember using THREE productivity apps and meticulously spending about half an hour each day… literally copying stuff from one app into the other two. I told myself that this activity helped me concentrate on every task in my to-do list once again, which can’t be a bad thing, right? Well, it was one of my worst productivity mistakes.
Then I discovered Zapier, an amazing service that syncs various apps automatically.
And then I thought, “Why am I even doing this?”
I switched to Nozbe, a powerful productivity tool that offers pretty much everything I might ever need.
One of David Allen’s key tips is keeping ALL of your to-dos and projects in one place. Otherwise, you’ll no longer know where to look and important things will start falling through the cracks.
And yet… since I find gamification extremely rewarding (yes, I can be motivated by the promise of getting a bunch of pixels titled something like Anti-Procrastination Armor), I had to stay with Habitica. It’s linked to Nozbe via Zapier now so I don’t have to waste my time copying stuff between the apps.
However, Habitica is just a fun addition to Nozbe. Both tools sync automatically so I don’t end up with two different to-do lists.
You’re comparing yourself to gurus
If you go down the “productivity hacks” rabbit hole, you discover more and more of those people who seem to live on 4 hours of sleep, tick 43 things off their to-do list before they even have breakfast, and manage to save the galaxy at least three times a week. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll discover those people who only do one thing a day and spend the rest of their time reading self-improvement books, practicing mindfulness, and taking photos of their super-minimalist apartment.
Why can’t YOU be like them?
Are you a weakling?
Well, first and foremost, you’re a human being (unless you’re a literate animal or a visitor from outer space)… and human beings have a few design constraints.
You’re not a web browser that can still function with 50 open tabs. Your short-term memory will barely hold a phone number so don’t overstretch it. You can’t mess with your sleep schedule just because some guy on Instagram told you it makes you super-productive. You can’t live on sheer willpower.
(By the way, psychologists are still arguing whether willpower is a finite resource. Let them argue and just treat it like a priceless superpower that should only be activated in extraordinary situations, like taking the One Ring to Mordor without falling to its tempting power. Don’t waste your willpower on fighting the Facebook icon on your phone.)
So there’s no point in comparing yourself to someone’s carefully crafted internet persona. You are you. Start where you are and take small steps towards your productivity goals. Don’t try to be an exhausted superhero who survives on caffeine and resentment.
Don’t compare yourself to others and simply focus on slow, steady improvement. Become 1% better every day and in just a year, you’ll be 37 times more awesome than you are now.
You’re not delegating enough
There are things you’re naturally good at. Maybe you’ve got an excellent ear for music so you can sing a song you’ve only heard once and hit every single note without even practicing. Maybe you bake the best muffins in the neighborhood without even bothering to follow an exact recipe. Maybe you naturally excel at selling your products or services to people and businesses.
And there are… other things. Things that seem insanely hard no matter how hard you try. Some people struggle with numbers, or with filling out legal forms, or even with singing along to a tune (that’s me).
There’s nothing that will make me a better dancer. I might invest thousands of hours and finally figure out which of my feet is the left one… but is it worth it?
When you’re doing something you’re not naturally good at, you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to do MORE of the work you love. Not delegating and trying to do everything yourself is a major productivity mistake that’s munching away at your precious time and energy like a hungry piranha.
Can’t figure out your taxes? Hire an accountant (seriously, those people are life-savers). Can’t organize your calendar no matter how hard you try? Stop trying and have someone else do it for you. All of a sudden, you’ll free up crazy amounts of time and mental energy.
Productivity mistakes can seriously undermine your professional success and your mental well-being. Be mindful of them and do your best to avoid them!
Are you making any of these four productivity mistakes? Do you have more valuable tips to share? Tell your story in the comment section!