20 Things Productive People Don’t Do

20 Things Productive People Don’t Do

Productivity isn’t just about what you do. It’s also about what you don’t do. Today I’ll give you 20 things that productive people don’t do.

Back in 2007, I wrote an article called Stop Doing These Things For Better Productivity It was based on another blog’s article, and I followed it up in 2008. As I looked at the articles, though, I realized that a lot has changed in 10 years, and it was time for another look at the topic.

20 Things Productive People Don’t Do

It wasn’t hard to come up with 20 things productive people don’t do. But I decided to limit it to a reasonably-sized article, since one of the things (not listed) productive people don’t do is read too-long blog articles. These topics are in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of importance.

1. Browsing social media for updates

Social media is designed to prey upon two weaknesses in the human psyche: the need for validation and the need to belong. (Tristan Harris: TED Talk, Adam Alter: Irresistible) Does the time you spend on social media give you a good return on your time? What, exactly, do you get out of social media? Probably not enough to justify the time spent. Productive people understand the ROI on social media and either connect in person, or use tools to limit their time.

2. Carrying around chargers/power cords

Chargers and power cords are inexpensive. Rather than digging around under a desk or table, carry spares with you. Keeping a spare laptop power cord in your laptop bag means that you never have to worry about not having one. Keeping a phone charger cord in there as well means you never have to worry about running out of juice. In fact, put phone chargers wherever you spend significant amounts of time: desks, kitchen, bedroom. Productive people always have chargers so they can rejuice without worry.

3. Complaining

It’s one thing to vent. But if you vent too long, you lose sight of the fact you should be doing something. Plus venting longer doesn’t necessarily make you feel any better. Complaining gives us something or we wouldn’t do it. But what is at the root of your complaints? (If you really want to deep dive into this, check out “A Complaint-Free World“*) Productive people vent and then look for a solution.

4. Getting too little sleep

There is no merit badge for surviving on too-little sleep. Sleep is vital to brain function, emotional stability, repair of blood vessels, and weight management (NIH) All of those can impact your productivity. Go to bed and get quality sleep. (Want to know how? check out 20 Tips for Better Sleep from WebMD) Productive people recognize the value of sleep and ensure they get enough.

5. Going to the bank

This wasn’t even an option when I wrote the initial articles 10 years ago, but now most banks offer apps that take care of most banking needs for you. Need to deposit a check? You can probably do it from your smart phone. Need to transfer money? Check balances? Same. Productive people handle their banking from home.

6. Going to the post office

If you live in the US, you don’t have to go to the Post Office to do most mail things. You can order stamps and put your mail on hold through the website. You can even have them deliver free shipping boxes, print out postage at home, and schedule your mail carrier to pick up the package, all from the website. Skip the lines and let them do the lifting. Literally. Productive people let the post office come to them.

7. Have multiple tabs open

How many browser tabs do you have open right now? I’ll bet it’s more than one. But the problem with multiple browser tabs is they fracture your attention. They beckon to you when you are looking up something else. Focus on one thing at a time, and when you’re done, close them. Productive people work from a single tab and close it when they’re done.

8. Having no down time

As I mentioned above, there’s no merit badge for surviving on too-little sleep. There’s also no merit badge for being chronically over-extended. Down time is when you process the things that are happening to you. It’s also the time when you can be creative, have ideas and take a break! (Check out The Scientific American article on downtime) Productive people schedule in down time so that they have time to process what is going on and be creative.

9. Looking for keys or cell phone

This is another technology that wasn’t available 10 years ago. Oh, how much time it would have saved me! My husband constantly loses his cell phone and keys in the house. One Christmas I bought him tags he could put on both and use a remote to find the objects. He promptly lost the package. (Sigh) A survey by Pixie (disclosure: they make finder tags) shows that average Americans lose 2.5 days per year looking for lost items. (see the survey). It is now possible to have tags on your key chain and other items that allows you to track them from your phone – or to find your phone if you have one of the tags. Get those days back, and know where your stuff is! Productive people may not always know where their keys and phone are, but they can find them quickly.

10. Losing appointment cards

Missed appointments can cost you money and time. It’s nice that services like doctors, dentists and hair stylists give you appointment cards to remind you of your next appointment, but that doesn’t do you any good if you lose them. Either put the appointment in your calendar as you are making it, or take a photo of the card and email it to yourself so that you get it into your calendar. Productive people get that information into their calendar the day they make the appointment.

11. Losing telephone numbers

With cell phones in just about every pocket, there is no reason to not save phone numbers. Instead of trying to write it down, enter it directly into your phone. If it is a social contact, give the other person your phone number and have them call you, right then and there. That way you both have the number and can make note of the name and save it. Productive people have the phone numbers they need in their phones. And I might add, back them up regularly.

12. Making multiple trips

Productive people are organized enough that they make a single trip to knock out errands. This means visiting the grocery store weekly instead of daily; running the errands to the same geographic area on a single day; and making the most of commuting by working in stops like the library. Productive people plan out their errands so that they aren’t doubling back and knock them all out at once.

13. Multitask

It has now been shown (Standford Study, APA Summary) that not only are we really bad at multitasking, but it is actually harmful to us. Productive people recognize that multitasking is actually attention splitting – where we rapidly cycle through a bunch of tasks. Focus on what you are doing. If you need help, I have an article with steps here. Productive people focus on one thing at a time.

14. Not backing up your computer

You never know how much you need a backup until you need a backup. Backing up your computer may seem like a waste of time, but having to rebuild one is far more time. There are services now that will do it for you. For a long time I used Mozy, but poor service and unreliability of the backups caused me to switch to iDrive. It backs up my computer after hours to the cloud, and getting things back is a breeze. (No affiliation, just a happy customer) Productive people know that their critical systems are backed up automatically.

15. Not having a daily plan

Not having a daily plan is like going to the airport without a ticket. You may expect to go somewhere, but you won’t. Productive people always have a play of what they want to do that day – even if they don’t stick to it 100%. Productive people make a daily plan so that they know what is coming at them.

16. Picking up your phone

Back when I wrote the first set of articles, smart phones weren’t so much of a thing. The iPhone had just been introduced, and the app store was just on the horizon. As such, it was easy for most of us to ignore our phones. (They called them crackberries for a reason, I might add) These days it is harder, as the devices have trained us to respond to the buzzes, chirps and beeps. Productive people either don’t respond to those cues or turn the phone off or manage them in a way that doesn’t require constant checking. If you don’t think you check your phone often, install Moment (iOS) or Quality Time (Android). Go ahead. Shock yourself. Productive people minimize how many times they pick up their phone as a first step to limit the distraction of the device.

17. Remembering passwords

One of the tenets of David Allen’s Getting Things Done* is to get things out of your head and into a trusted system. Why spend your time remembering passwords? Using a secure password manager that is available on your browsers and phone can save a whole lot of time and is more secure than using “password123”. Productive people let a secure password service generate and remember their passwords.

18. Shopping for commonly-used items

With so many online choices and so many order-and-pick-up services, today’s productive person doesn’t waste time shopping for commonly used items. Order your groceries and drive up and have them put in your car. Order toiletries and office supplies from a department store and either pick them up or have them shipped. Amazon Prime Pantry and subscription services can help with this and even get you a break on the price. I personally use my local Kroger’s click-and-pick for groceries – I haven’t actually been in the store in months. It saves me at least an hour each week. I also use the drive up shopping of Target for things like soap, shampoo and other toiletries. That saves me two hours a month. One other hidden benefit – I don’t spend as much because there is no opportunity for impulse purchases. Productive people don’t waste time shopping when they don’t have to.

19. Subscribing to newsletters and magazines you don’t read

Why wade through an email inbox stuffed with information you are just going to delete without reading? Why walk around a pile of magazines that is months old? Cancel subscriptions – both electronic and physical – to things that you aren’t going to read. Productive people eliminate the information overload and low-level guilt of unread information by getting rid of the subscriptions.

20. Surfing the web mindlessly

It is so easy to go down a rabbit hole while on the web. We’re looking for one piece of information and the next thing we know it’s two hours later and you have followed a train of “where are they now” articles. Productive people use the web with tactical precision. Know what you want, go in, get it from the best source, and get out.


20 things productive people don’t do. How many of them are you still doing?

Tim Evans