Just Say No: 5 Mistakes That Are Shattering Your Productivity

In today’s work world, we’re constantly expected to take on more projects and to deliver results regardless of how many things we have on our plates.

As the expectations increase, stress levels rise and we risk becoming even less productive. Having been in this situation, I took a look at my own situation and made some adjustments which have paid off in terms of much higher productivity.

Here are the five mistakes I fixed in my own work life that have allowed me to get much more done. Are you making these mistakes yourself?

Related Article: 5 Productivity Myths, Busted by Data 

Mistake #1: Adding More to Your To-do Lists (But Never Taking Anything Away)

The first mistake is often triggered by our good intentions. We strive to be superhuman and to take on all of the various challenges that life throws at us. We are also hesitant to say “no” to requests from co-workers, bosses and even family and friends. This results in a constantly growing to-do list. All of these new tasks get added to our previously planned ones – a crazy situation of task proliferation. 

So how do we solve this? 

One way is to learn to say “no” more often or to defer or delegate new requests where possible. This way we slow down the growth of new tasks. The other thing to do is to question some of the work we’re already doing.

Has something proven to be less valuable than originally thought? Has something become less of a priority? Have we achieved the majority of the benefits of a project so it can be stopped and replaced with something with more upside? Inspect your current to-do list and look for valid and reasonable things to remove.

Mistake #2: Focusing On Your Own Work (And Forgetting That Your Team Needs Input, Too)

In order to get more done in the same amount of time we sometimes shut out all distractions – including people who we work with. Sounds like a recipe for higher productivity, right?

Well… don’t forget that many of your projects require input, deliverables or participation from other people. Shutting them out slows down their work and could ultimately lead to delays in things you were counting on. Don’t think productivity is “all about you”. Remember that there are other people who help you get your work done. Don’t focus only on your tasks and ignore the needs of your collaborators, employees or co-workers.

Mistake #3: Trying to Manage Work in Too Many Platforms

Are you managing some projects mainly by email? Others by spreadsheet? Some via notes taken in your mobile phone? And still others by jotting down plans, notes or to-do lists in a notebook? 

David Allen (of GTD fame) recommends that you put everything (ideas, tasks, requests, etc.) in one place. As they come in, you decide how to handle each item. This clears your mind to focus on the things you’re actively working on and stops you from using your mind as an imperfect filing system.

So the lesson here is to put all of your inputs (tasks, to-do’s, projects, ideas, etc.) into one system, like a project management or to-do list application.

Related Article: Is Coffee Roasting Your Productivity?

Mistake #4: Allowing Your Schedule to be Dictated by Others

Do you feel like your day is controlled by the mobs of people who plop meetings onto your schedule? Are you always trying to find windows of time to do “your own work”? Do you find that responding to email requests eats up a serious chunk of your workday? Do you feel like you’re bouncing from meeting to email request to text message to Skype request to phone call and back again.

If so, your life is like a ping pong game and you’re the ball. 

You have to find a way to get more control over your time. Some ways to do this include:

  • Blocking off times in your calendar for your work (I do this in the mornings) so people can’t hijack that slot
  • Deciding what you don’t need to respond to at all (e.g. someone trying to sell you something)
  • Delaying working on tasks – you can respond that you’ll work on it soon, and then put it into your project management tool for later
  • Eliminating the expectation that you’ll attend certain meetings (where you don’t find you’re adding or getting any value)

Mistake #5: Trying to Do Everything by Committee

Whether you’re assigning work to people or working with a team to get things done, it’s always hard to decide things as a committee. Which segment should we focus on? If five people need to get together to hash this out for your company, then this can become a long, long process. People won’t be available to discuss when you want to have a meeting. People will disagree and hold up progress. People will not work on it because they expect someone else to drive the discussion.

Solution? Pick one person who’s accountable to get to the answer. It can involve the same group – the only difference is that one person is the driver and he/she can determine the timing and process to get to the conclusion. So if you’re on a committee, speed it up by suggesting that one reliable person should be on point to get the team to a conclusion (or volunteer to be this “driver”). If you delegate a task to a team of people, pick one of them to be the lead.

So which of these things is holding up your productivity and what will you do about it? 

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