5 Productivity Hacks That Do More Harm Than Good
#2 Heavy dependency on To-Do lists
Productivity is a hot topic today. If you see/hear about a hack that will help you improve your productivity, the chances are high that you will try that.
I’ve experimented with most hacks out there and found that a vast majority of them didn’t work for me. Instead of helping me improve my performance, some of them, in fact, made it worse. I ended up prioritizing and focusing on the wrong things and missed important ones.
I have realized that productivity and focus are quite personal and contextual. What works for you may not necessarily work for me. In fact, at times, they may work against me. Yes, there are some universal fundamental truths and best practices, but most of the things you see and read aren’t those.
Let’s look at some of these productivity hacks that may work against you.
#1 Getting to Inbox Zero
Your inbox is others’ to-do list for you.
It is very easy for me to send a note to my colleague with a request and then follow it up with another request. An almost seamless way of moving tasks (and ownership)around. However, for the receiver, this task adds up to an existing mountain of tasks that they may have.
When you aim for Inbox Zero, you imply that you will, no matter the importance, give time to all these tasks. Even if that means just looking at those and ignoring them. It isn’t easy to look at a trivial email and ignore it without thinking about responding. So you unknowingly or unwillingly end up spending time on these emails.
If you look at my work inbox today, I have more than 1750 unread emails. On my personal Gmail, that number exceeds 30,000. I will not spend even a second on an email that doesn’t need to be there in the first place. Trust me, if it is important, it will find its way to me.
#2 Heavy Dependency on To-Do lists
Before you think I am crazy, let me explain.
To-do lists are great. In fact, I use them quite often. I am referring to plain vanilla to-do lists that lack any context or reference whatsoever. You get a task, add it to your list, get it done, checked off, and tackle the next task. This cycle continues forever.
The problem with this approach is that it treats most tasks as equal, which can be a huge issue. For example, sending a critical follow-up reminder to a client has the same importance as RSVP’ing to a company weekend outing. Your brain gets an equal amount of dopamine hit while checking off either from the list. So technically, you are productive but just with the wrong stuff.
A framework that is prioritized and contextual works way better.
#3 Hyperscheduling your day
Does your calendar look like a world cup final football (soccer) stadium?
If yes, trust me, you’re doing it wrong. Hyperscheduling your day leaves you exasperated and can create some interesting consequences. Calendar impingement is real and happens when you have back-to-back meetings that stretch and creep into the next one. You will end up compromising on the quality of meetings and, more importantly, the sanctity of your calendar.
Keep open spaces between your meetings. To ensure that others don’t block that time, you can place a busy block. Treat this as your free time, which you can utilize to complete your other tasks. If not, maybe just take a break or go for a walk.
Give your calendar some breathing space and avoid calendar impingement.
#4 Blindly copying some influencer
Productivity is highly personal and contextual.
What works for your favorite influencer may not work for you, and what works for you may not work for someone else.
It is important to internalize that and create your own system. Understand some basics and core principles and build on top of that (e.g., avoid multitasking, distractions, etc.)
The influencer you follow has themselves gone through a journey to reach where they’ve come. Remember that they’ve struggled as much (or even more than) you have when they got started.
#5 Getting a digital tool for everything
Tools are great and can be of great help in your productivity journey. They can be the support that you need and not your productivity system.
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is thinking of tools as a panacea. Instead, they are designed to solve specific issues and help with a particular part of your execution.
Whenever you hear about a new tool, before rushing to download it, take a step back. Evaluate whether you’ve downloaded a similar tool in the past and how it worked out for you, figure out if it makes execution more complex than it needs to be, and more importantly, how it will fit into your system. You may still decide to download and try it out. Not a problem at all, but make sure that you reflect on it before doing that.
Before you know it, the tool that was supposed to simplify your productivity ends up derailing it.
- Let go of Inbox Zero and focus on relevance and priority.
- Create to-do lists that are contextualized and prioritized.
- Add some breathing space to your calendar.
- Create a system and execution methodology specific to you and your context. Avoid blind copying.
- Think twice before downloading the latest productivity tool.