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Productivity 101: 7 Sneaky Traps Killing Your Productivity

What are your top roadblocks to productivity?

Woman sleeping at her disorganized desk
Dreaming up success, one snooze at a time.

Traps On The Road To Productivity

It can be frustrating to feel unproductive. We might sit down to work on a goal and then hours later realize we have gotten nowhere. Instead of a list of completed goals you are left with the question, “What gets in the way of my being productive? What is killing my productivity?”

(Hint: It was you the whole time)

Okay, it might not feel like you at first. Maybe it's handling emails you left unread, or you forgot to walk your dog today, or just one more motivational TikTok to get started, etc. Whatever it is, It's these tiny little productivity traps we set for ourselves that tend to catch us. Yet, when we start identifying those “traps”, then we can also begin to disarm them. That’s why this time on CLCI Live, Jen Long (ACC), Jerome LeDuff (MCPC), Lisa Finck (PCC), and Misha Safran (PCC) identify seven common, sneaky causes for sapped productivity.

The list is not extensive, and individual differences could add or take away from the traps listed here. But without further ado, here are the seven sneaky traps that can disrupt productivity.

Trap #1: Perfectionism

Perfectionism causes roadblocks for productivity and is itself a form of procrastination; it drains people’s creativity and ability to start on a task, impacts their ability to work through comparisons and a black and white, ‘all or nothing’ mentality…or simply leads to avoiding challenges altogether. 

In her 2013 book Lean In, business executive Sheryl Sandberg writes that “Done is better than perfect.” But a perfectionist would do their best to argue against that. Shouldn't we all aim for perfection?

No matter what deadlines, duties, or even fun might be involved, perfectionists can delay getting started and then finished on a task no matter the difficulty or importance. They will waste time on those small and really unimportant tasks, all while the more pressing goals grow further and further out of reach. Thinking about it that way, it’s your turn to answer: is getting a job done better than perfection? 

To let productivity grow, perfectionism needs to stop strangling your success. 

Trap #2: Busyness

Busyness, sounds like business and that's what we are trying to start, right?

While the idea of being busy might sound like productivity, they’re not synonymous. Busyness can actually keep us from feeling or being productive. 

How? Busyness for its own sake can be overwhelming. Having too many tasks on your plate weighs anyone down. It’s a state of stress, which will only grow. As a result, busyness can lead to other problems, such as burnout. There are tricks to try to balance out a desire to be busy while still remaining healthy, pulling back before becoming overwhelmed, knowing your limits, and avoiding burnout. But just remember this old idiom: quantity doesn’t equal quality. Being overwhelmed with involvement in activities does not equate to being productive.

Remember, busy people let their tasks control them, not the other way around.

Trap #3: Not Taking Breaks

Whether it’s needing a break from work or one at home, stepping away is useful in all realms of life. It might seem counterintuitive for productivity to stop working towards a goal, but research consistently supports taking breaks, for your wellbeing and potentially for better work performance

If you want more ideas on how to “unplug” and take these breaks, there are many options outside of improvising. These could include the Pomodoro technique, setting timers to start breaks and return to work, and “resting your eyes” by giving them a break from the blue light of technological screens. 

There’s also interleaving, which is taking a break from one task and switching to another for a little while to clear your mind and shake off fatigue for the original, prioritized task. It’s important not to take this as a recommendation to multitask often (avoiding busyness in the process), but instead to use interleaving as you would use the more contemporary forms of “breaks” to reset and recharge.  

The length of time spent on a break can vary. What’s most important is getting them at all: even “micro-breaks” could have a positive impact on wellbeing and work.

Trap #4: Never Saying "No"

It’s small. Innocuous. It’s a simple two-letter word yet carries a heavy finality to it. It's also a complete sentence and can feel incredibly daunting to say, especially to coworkers, friends, and family. Don't say no to NO, never saying no is one of the most common traps for productivity. 

And when we don't say No, some people (well-intentioned or not) may take that as an implicit YES. Even innocuous requests can pile up. So while there is no reason to be mean or selfish, a part of prioritizing comes down to just saying no to trivial questions or tasks asked of us. It can be hard to turn down someone’s request, especially when they mean well or need something, But you can always phrase the No as, "Yes, but not right now", "Yes, but later", or "No, please **** off 😃" But maybe confrontation is hard, can we be proactive with saying no? Yes! Put the phone on silent, turn off those computer notifications, block off time to work quietly out of the house. Find some way where people cannot access you for a set amount of time so you don't have to say no.

Trap #5: Distractions

Trap #4 involves distractions that come in the form of people asking for your attention, favors, or immediate time. But there are so many other avenues that a distraction can come in. Let's see if we can list some of the worst offenders:

  1. Phones

  2. Coworkers

  3. Children

  4. Meetings

  5. The Internet

  6. "Research" (Binging your favorite social media)

  7. News

  8. Video Games

  9. Boredom

Dealing with distractions can be an entire blog post in and of itself, but for now we will leave you with this. Find a way to make your work both engaging and rewarding, more so than these distractions. Turn your task into a game, make it a competition, set smaller and manageable goals. Essentially make the work more distracting than the distractions.

Trap #6: Disorganization

Do you ever notice your work going slower when you’re sitting at a cluttered desk? Studying on a couch in a messy room? Does it feel like you can’t find things in your space when you are looking for them? Sometimes, there’s a method to the madness. One person might see another’s space and think it is chaotically messy, when, to its owner, the placement of everything is logical and easy to find. But when it isn’t…When it’s your arms bumping into paper stacks, books, and a flurry of sticky notes that are missing too many of their fellows to make sense put together…

Disorganized spaces can impact productivity, as well as wellbeing. Disorganization can occur in a physical spot, as well as virtually (as this 2020 Forbes article gives examples on) and even mentally, and for any of these realms, it’s likely to create chaos. This isn’t just an idea based on anecdotes. In one study, unhealthy diurnal and intercept cortisol levels were associated with someone’s feelings of home clutter levels, unfinished products, and other variations of disorganization. Another study found a causal link between seeing disorganized pictures and increased frontal negativity (measured with an EEG). While there is currently less research on virtual/digital disorganization, digital hoarding has been associated with higher risks of cybersecurity vulnerability, and cyberattacks are just the dramatic end of virtual disorganization’s effects on productivity. Anyone who has lost track of passwords would know that the time spent on recovering or changing them is time stolen from potential productivity. The same goes for searching for the right files, managing storage in multiple devices, distractions in hundreds to thousands of unread emails, and more. 

Disorganization can hurt our focus, feel overwhelming, and lead to stress that might also lead into burnout or poorer results should we push through. Cleaning up clutter could be the key to greater productivity in the long run.

Trap #7: Lack of Sleep

It’s no news by now that the human brain needs sleep to function properly. But let’s do a brief breakdown of what that ‘sleep’ should look like and why we need it so badly. 

The specific amount of sleep that adults need is not an objective, universal absolute. However, on average, 7 hours of daily sleep has been supported as the necessary minimum, specifically for cognitive and behavioral function.

Overall, andything less than 7 hours is considered a lack of sleep and will impact many parts of the brain and it does so independently of each other. Neurons aren’t able to rest or regenerate, because they require sleep for the production of enzymes that repair their cell damage; lasting sleep deprivation leads to their degeneration. The temporal lobe, where language processing occurs, won’t be as capable without enough sleep. Lack of sleep decreases the natural effectiveness and sensitivity of norepinephrine, serotonin, and histamine neurotransmitter receptors. Through affecting parts of the brain like this, sleep deprivation will impact behavior, mood, and cognitive performance. It also negatively impacts our motor function, making us clumsier, slower, and exhausted, which will sap away our chances to be productive as well. 

Lack of sleep also significantly harms memory (long term and working) in the cerebral cortex, attention, higher order executive function, and decision making processes.

If there is one thing to take from this list, it is that getting a proper amount of sleep is going to set the baseline for how well we can even begin to approach avoiding the other traps that kill our productivity. Resting through breaks and sleeping at least seven consecutive hours in the night so that we can repeat the 5-stage cycle multiple times might feel frustrating or counterintuitive to getting work done. We have to be awake for that, and so resting can feel like a waste of time. Rest assured: the time spent sleeping instead of working is going to be some of the best hours invested into your productivity in the end.


Thank you,

Jen Long (ACC), Jerome LeDuff (MCPC), Lisa Finck (PCC), and Misha Safran (PCC) !

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1 Comment

Like Uno, the gameplay of Four Colors is quite similar but it is not yet widely popular.

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