There’s no shortage of articles online detailing various ways of enhancing your productivity and overall joy. The problem is, in a world fit to bursting with things to do, even thinking about the steps outlined in these pieces for better business results, is just one more task to add to an already horribly lengthy list.
When you find yourself swimming in a sea of overdue tasks and looming project deadlines, a simple shortcut to rebooting your productivity and sense of purpose is to discover the power of negative goals.
For most people, reducing the list of already damaging working habits they’ve built up will be a far more productive use of their time than trying to add in habits. Avoidance, rather than action, is the way forward short-term.
With that in mind, let’s look at seven nasty habits to slash in order to bring some focus and calm back into your working life.
1. Reading rather than processing emails
Emails are not there to be repeatedly read. They are there to be processed.
This means they get read once, the relevant information contained within is parsed and you make a decision about what happens next.
This could be an instant action, scheduling a task, delegating a task or simply deleting the mail as not relevant.
The important thing is that after you’ve read the email once, the next steps are clear and do not require you opening it again.
Fail to do this and you land yourself in an endless loop of opening and closing your email while you get more and more distracted from the actual tasks at hand.
2. Attending avoidable meetings
The world is slowly starting to realise that meetings are not a good thing in and of themselves.
The key point to bear in mind with them is that they are not simply taking up the time allotted for the meeting itself. They are taking up the time allotted multiplied by the number of attendees.
For example, let’s say you’re a small software dev firm and you contract out members of your dev team at $150 per hour on projects. You have a Friday meeting that lasts two hours with all ten dev team members present. Congratulations, you’ve just spent $3000 on a meeting!
Always make sure meetings are actually necessary and keep a close eye on who actually needs to be there.
3. Agenda less meetings
Following on from the previous point – never attend a meeting without a pre-written agenda.
If the reason for the meeting is not defined in writing in advance, there is absolutely no point in having it and it will likely be a total waste of your time. It’s really that simple.
4. Sisyphean struggling
You and your team may or may not be familiar with the tale of Sisyphus from ancient antiquity but you will almost certainly be familiar with that haunting feeling of making the same set of mistakes over and over again.
Mistakes will inevitably happen of course. That’s just a simple fact of life. But they should not be repeated.
Make it your personal mission to only make mistakes once and – after some potentially tricky initial implementation steps – your long-term chances of success will skyrocket.
Keep repeating the same mistakes and you are effectively deepening a rut of your own devising that will grow ever more difficult to escape over time.
5. Bringing it into the bedroom
We’re not quite yet at Star Trek tricorder levels of sophistication with our mobile devices but it’s getting increasingly close.
Modern phones and tablets have enabled a huge range of productivity options via the app revolution but there is a price to be paid in their always-on ubiquity.
It’s disturbingly easy to waste time checking emails and reports from the comfort of your couch when you should be unwinding from work matters entirely. Even worse is the habit of having devices lying around in the bedroom.
Establishing good sleep patterns should be at the top of your list for boosting overall productivity and having access to email and the web in the bedroom is a recipe for disaster in that regard. Park the devices at the door.
6. Waiting for the bell to ring
This point follows naturally on from several of our previous ones: turn off all notifications on apps and devices.
Yes, the ability to receive notifications is impressive and yes they can contain important information but you have to ask yourself a very important question: who is in control of your attention, you or your devices?
Having a suite of notifications enabled forces you into a default reactive mode where you are struggling to keep up with a stream of incoming input rather than working on systems that enable you to drive results.
This last point is a tricky one as everyone likes to be liked. There is a limit to how far you should go with this though. People-pleasing is an insidious trap to fall into as it robs you of your own agency without necessarily delivering concrete results of any kind.
Be aware also that not all people in the world are well-intentioned and there is a worryingly large group of people out there who know all too well how to prey on those with an outsize need to be liked.
The early stages may not be easy but if you can muster the internal discipline to work the seven anti-habits we’ve discussed into your weekly routine, you’ll find your working environment becoming substantially simpler and easier to manage over time.