3 Common Productivity Traps (And How to Outsmart Them)
Here’s a riddle: How can someone be busy and industrious but get next to nothing accomplished?
Answer: By falling into productivity traps.
Productivity traps are those little actions that feel like work but don’t actually bring you any closer to accomplishing your goals.
Avoiding these pitfalls takes self-awareness and effort, but, armed with the right tools, you’ll become a master escape artist.
1. The Fishing Lure (aka Attractive Distractions)
Flashy, colorful, and enticing, fishing lures are created to attract their targets into a dangerous situation. These shiny baubles are no different from the daily distractions that threaten your work schedule.
Maybe you volunteer for each new project that interests you, or you have a tendency to abandon certain tasks when you hit a roadblock and move on to something less daunting. In either case, you quickly end up feeling overwhelmed.
Don’t get me wrong; ambition is a good thing. It’s important to push yourself and take on difficult tasks. However, make sure that you aren’t neglecting necessary work to chase an attractive distraction.
How to Break Free
Make a schedule, and stick to it. Make a commitment, and keep it. Everyone gets distracted once in a while, but if you develop a calendar and effective habits in tackling your tasks, you’ll be able to recover quickly if you get sidetracked.
There are countless task management tools that can help you organize your schedule, but I’ve found that a simple calendar, like the standard app on your smartphone, is one of the most effective scheduling tools. Of course, there are tons of other applications that can offer you better customization, but sometimes the best solution is the simplest.
2. The Glue Trap (aka Sticking to Ineffective Routines)
Imagine this: Your garden hose develops a hole, so you patch it with tape. The hose doesn’t produce the same water pressure anymore, and you often have to replace the tape. However, it still works, so you never bother to look for a more permanent and effective solution.
The same thing often happens at work. People often get stuck in a regular routine that’s worked for them in the past but isn’t an effective use of time. Maybe it’s a habit from when they just started a job and hadn’t yet learned the shortcuts. Maybe it’s a so-called “temporary” solution that is always pushed to the back burner. Whatever the case may be, sticking to ineffective routines can be a massive waste of time and effort.
How to Break Free
Will this be a time intensive process? Yes, but think of it as an investment. Spend time now. Save time later.
Set aside some time to audit your productivity. You can create a spreadsheet to track how long it takes you to complete your day’s tasks, or you could use an app to help you analyze your time management. Timely, for example, lets you estimate the time you think it will take to complete a task, then compare your prediction to the actual length of time you spent. RescueTime is another option that tracks your online activity to give you a detailed report of where you spend your time. Once you have an idea of how your time is spent, you’ll be able to tweak your routine and eliminate useless activities.
3. The Pitfall (aka Social Media Spiral)
What’s the first thing you do when you sit down at your computer to work? You probably log into your email or maybe even check social media to catch up on the latest gossip.
Around 64% of American workers use a computer to do their job, and while technology can help increase productivity, it’s also incredibly distracting. Emails, Facebook, YouTube. What started as an innocent, or even productive, look at a social media page can quickly turn into a journey down the rabbit hole. Before you know it, you’ve watched five YouTube videos, spent 15 minutes playing with the new Snapchat filter, and scrolled through countless Reddit posts.
How to Break Free
Practicing self-awareness and self-control is the key to kicking any addiction, but that’s often easier said than done. Thankfully, there are tons of helpful programs that’ll keep you from being tempted, even when your self-control waivers.
Apps and browser extensions like Freedom and Cold Turkey allow you to set limits on your use of the internet and certain websites. You can still reward yourself by checking in on your favorite social media platform once your block is lifted, but you’ll avoid the trap of mindless scrolling.
Productivity traps dominate a large portion of our time. In fact, they say that 20% of your efforts will drive 80% of your results. So, escape the traps by identifying those activities that are driving your results, doubling down on them, and doing away with the things that don’t produce results. That’s how you work smarter.