Many high-performers enjoy getting things done and relish the act of crossing items off their to-do list. But it's easy to get stuck in the feeling of productivity, without actually doing anything productive. Here are seven common productivity traps to avoid:
1. Striving for inbox zero. Replying to all your emails can be a great goal, but there's no reason to do it daily. If you constantly obsess over your inbox, it's a good sign you're missing out on the actual work that needs to get done. Emails are not the best indicators of the most appropriate tasks to focus on. Every time you feel the urge to open your email, try opening your to-do list instead.
2. Too much research. These days it's easy to continually learn new knowledge, but too much information is often a roadblock to getting things done. Make sure you're not using research to replace taking action. Restricting your research on a task to a certain amount of time will ensure you don't get stuck in analysis paralysis.
3. Focusing on vanity tasks. Yes, you do need to take a vitamin every day, but putting that on your list just so that you can cross it off takes the focus off more important activities. For a true sense of accomplishment, de-clutter your to-do list and get rid of the tasks that have little meaning. If it's a task that you easily get done every day or doesn't contribute directly to a larger goal, you can probably leave it off your list.
4. Ending the week weakly. Most of us start the week strong, but teeter off by the end. Avoid regressive productivity by re-focusing mid-week on key priorities, following up on tasks completed already, and planning ahead for the following week. Creating a consistent workload throughout the week will keep you engaged, even as Friday approaches.
5. Switching task management software. One day you're using pad and paper. The next you're trying an online task management platform. And the following week, you're learning about an entirely new productivity system. If you're constantly switching task management, productivity, and organization systems, you're focusing too much on "how to do something" instead of "just doing it." Don't make it complicated; just get it done.
6. Getting lost in the Internet's black hole. You log on to Facebook for a quick break, but an hour later you look up from your computer groggy-eyed and with no sense of how much time has passed. Sound familiar? Don't get lost in a black hole of updates; install browser extensions that limit your browsing activity on unproductive sites or set your own timer to track time spent.
7. Trying to do it all at once. While it's awesome to be ambitious about your to-do list, putting too many tasks on your list for one day is overwhelming. Get realistic by tagging three to five tasks as priorities for the day, and spread the remaining tasks over the rest of the week. Don't psych yourself out by trying to get it all done at once, even if it all seems doable at first.
When you constantly strive to perform at a higher level, it's easy to find yourself searching for ways to get anything and everything done. But remember to take a step back and focus on your true priorities. Recognizing the difference between being productive and just completing tasks means you'll be more effective at your job and will get more done.
Rebecca Thorman's weekly blog Kontrary offers tips to create the career, bank account, and life you love, and is a popular destination for young professionals. Her goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it, and earn more money. She writes from Washington, D.C.