Most people don’t even realize when they’re being unproductive.
In fact, most people go to bed on Sunday night making all these grand plans of how they’re going to make their Monday the most productive Monday of all time only to immediately side-step into the wrong activity and find themselves down the rabbit hole of wasted time.
If you’re ever feeling unproductive, it’s most likely because you’ve accidentally made the wrong decision.
You’ve said yes to the wrong meeting.
You’ve opened an email that could have waited until later.
These are everyday accidents, and yet they end up costing you more time than you might realize.
Your Mondays could be so much more productive — if you could only steer clear of these 9 mistakes.
1. Unproductive people “accidentally” sleep in.
“I didn’t mean to stay in bed. My alarm went off and I just …”
How you choose to embrace the day immediately sets the tone for how productive you’re going to be for the hours to follow. If you wake up on the first alarm, you’re off to the races. It’s a subconscious “win” and immediately you feel a sense of accomplishment — inspiration, even.
Unproductive people are the ones who hit the snooze (once, twice, 12 times), leap out of bed late, chug down a thermos of iced coffee, and barrel into the office seven minutes after 9.
2. Unproductive people “accidentally” check their email, first.
Checking your email is a reactive habit. Message comes in, you open it to respond.
Productive people, on the other hand, know that email checking is a reactive process and they save their reactive tasks for after they’ve already spent their morning doing something proactive — like making progress on a difficult project, for example.
The first few hours of the day is when you are most likely to be clear headed. If you spend those hours responding to people’s coffee requests, you’re going to get a poor return on your time investment.
3. Unproductive people “accidentally” attend meetings they don’t need to attend.
If you’ve ever worked at any sort of office, you’ve probably seen this happen on a daily basis.
Someone walks in and says, “Nine a.m. brainstorm, let’s meet in the conference room.” A brainstorm sounds like so much more fun than whatever it is you’re doing. Someone walks past you and says, “Want to join?” You know that’s a poor use of your time, but you say yes anyway.
That’s a mistake.
Productive people are very aware of where and how they spend their time — even if it means declining a more fun option for the sake of getting done what needs to get done.
4. Unproductive people “accidentally” avoid their hardest tasks.
Making to-do lists is easy. Responding to emails is easy. Taking calls (no matter how unnecessary) is easy.
What’s difficult is thinking through how you’re going to solve a specific problem you’re currently facing.
What’s difficult is creating that custom proposal for that one client whose industry you know nothing about.
Unproductive people find every reason in the world to prioritize making another to-do list over digging into their hardest tasks.
Productive people do the opposite.
5. Unproductive people “accidentally” drag conversations on for longer than they need to.
I’m not saying you need to walk around snapping in people’s faces saying “talk faster.”
But there is something to be said for having a comprehensive conversation in a reasonable amount of time.
Some people don’t mean to make this mistake. Others have made it their art to drag conversations on right up to the point where, oh, would you look at that, it’s time to go.
Don’t be one of those people.
6. Unproductive people “accidentally” choose what is easy over what is difficult.
Scrolling through social media is pretty much the perfect example.
No matter how much people know their time (and head space) is better spent reading something interesting, or even just taking a moment to look out the window and relax for a moment, unproductive people still fall continuously into the bad habit of opening Facebook or Instagram and scrolling — even when they’ve already seen all the content there.
This happens by accident, because it’s a habit.
And habits are hard to break.
7. Unproductive people “accidentally” listen to pop music over classical music.
I’m a musician. I love all different kinds of music. Every genre has its own flair.
But have you ever witnessed the difference between how you feel after listening to very basic chord progressions and heavy engineering versus how you feel after listening to mathematically and dynamically brilliant compositions?
There’s a reason science says to listen to classical music while you study.
Productive people know the difference between choosing music that helps them focus and choosing music as a distraction.
Which is why unproductive people “accidentally” turn on the wrong playlist during the hours they should be focused on getting things done.
8. Unproductive people “accidentally” keep their phone off silent.
Things take 10x longer when your phone is by your side, on, facing up.
Productive people know how distracting notifications can be, which is why they deliberately put their phones on silent while they’re working. When they take a break (after progress has been made), they check their phone for five or 10 minutes and then go right back to working — with their phone back on silent.
Unproductive people, quite literally, do the opposite.
They get started on their work, and then 37 seconds later see their phone light up.
They grab it and respond. Hit send. Put their phone back down again and go back to their work.
Twenty-three seconds later, their phone lights up again.
And this goes on and on for hours and hours — until the day is done and they say to themselves, “Today has been so unproductive.”
9. Unproductive people “accidentally” fill their evenings with all the wrong things.
If you want to make progress on something — whether it’s related to your work, or that startup idea you’ve got on the side — you have to be prepared to say no to certain social activities.
Most unproductive people fall into the bad habit of saying yes to anything and everything that comes up.
Friends getting together for dinner? Sure.
Bowling night? Why not.
Movies in the park? Absolutely.
All these things are great, and there is certainly a time and place for relaxation time. What’s important is you audit how often you choose to do these kinds of things, and whether or not you’re compromising too much of your precious productivity time.