7 surprising worst practices sucking your productivity

You’ve read the productivity hacks: only check your email twice per day. Turn off your smartphone notifications. Set focus time dedicated to specific projects. They’re all great tips to get more done each day, but they aren’t as effective as they could be.

Those tips and tricks only do so much to boost your productivity, because you’re also actively fighting against them throughout the day. Don’t believe me? It’s easy to miss these harmful habits, because they’re hiding in plain sight. You don’t think about them, or you might even think they’re helpful. But they’re sapping your effectiveness in meetings as well as at work every day.

Here are seven hidden productivity wasters that keep you from getting more done at work—and tips to eliminate them.

1. Going to work

Yep, simply commuting to work can rob you of your effectiveness before you even start the day. Not only does it take time away from work, but commuting can lead to decreased overall health, which will only further decrease productivity. Longer commutes lead to:

  • Feeling drained before you even start working
  • Negative impact on your sleep
  • You come to work less happy

So what do you do about it? Some people move closer to work. Others change jobs. You can also try some of these hacks to get more work done:

  • Adopt a flexible schedule. Commute to work in the off-hours, when traffic is lighter.
  • Share a ride. Carpooling and public transportation can cut down on the stress of the commute, which means you’ll be a happier camper when you arrive at work.
  • Make your commute fun. Listen to a mood-boosting podcast or an audiobook on the way to work.
  • Make the most of your time. If you’re taking the train to the office, use your travel time to knock a few low-level tasks off your to-do list: check emails or organize your day. Getting those items out of the way lets you hit the ground running.

2. Being thirsty

If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already dehydrated—and that’s bad news if you’re trying to get your work done. Even a little dehydration has a measurable impact on your effectiveness at work. If you’re just three to four percent dehydrated, your work performance tanks significantly! At just one percent dehydration, your cognitive abilities drop and you’ll have trouble maintaining concentration and alertness. What’s more, most of us go through our day dehydrated.

Stay hydrated by keeping a bottle of water or a sports drink within easy reach throughout the day. And avoid consuming too much coffee, soft drinks and so-called energy drinks.

3. Counting sheep

Poor sleep is another self-care no-no. Nobody will be surprised to learn that if you’re sleep-deprived you won’t get much work done. But it’s not just how much (or how little) sleep you’re getting—it’s also factors like inconsistent sleep and low-quality sleep.

Some tips for getting better sleep:

  • Find the best sleep schedule, and stick to it
  • Eliminate electronics from your bedroom
  • Turn off your screens (phone, tablet, laptop) an hour before bedtime
  • Need a power nap? Take it!
  • Get some sunshine during the day
  • Exercise and eat well

4. Making Decisions

If you’ve made a lot of decisions, you must have had a productive day, right? Think again. Studies show that the more decisions you make, the less effective you’ll be. That’s true even when you make lots of little decisions, like what clothes to wear today and what cereal to buy and what playlist to listen to.

Eventually decision fatigue sets in. Once your decision-making energy is depleted, you have a hard time knowing what work is most important. So you end up doing such valuable tasks as surfing cat videos and looking for that perfect gif for your Slack reply. Or you simply enter a mental fog and, um…get kind of…you know.

You can avoid decision fatigue by cutting down on the amount of decisions you make each day—especially the ones that don’t count for much. Maybe you set a rotation for your wardrobe or organize your to-do list in a more concise way. The fewer small decisions you make, the more energy you’ll have for high-value work.

5. Cluttered desk=cluttered mind

A cluttered desk really is a sign of a cluttered mind. Studies show that clutter competes for your attention and adds stress. That limits your brain’s ability to process information. Your thinking becomes as cluttered as your environment, and your work becomes as disorganized as your desk. Or your office. Or your officemate’s desk.

It’s incredible the difference a tidy desk can make to your daily productivity at work. Take a few minutes right now to put it in order. Actually, not yet. Wait till you’ve finished this article, because there’s more great tips below!

6. Cranking it up to 11

If visual clutter is distracting to your brain, it makes sense that auditory clutter would do the same. Noise causes stress, and stress negatively impacts our work. Noise is distracting, creating unwanted interruptions in our flow. And noise can be oh so tempting! That office gossip is just too juicy to pass up…and before you know it, you’ve just sunk half an hour of your day into The Bachelor.

Open office layouts don’t make this any easier. When you’re all together in one room, your ears are bombarded with small talk at the water cooler, a quick question two desks over, Bob’s playlist of 80s summer hits and Abby clacking away on her keyboard. Finding a quiet spot to hunker down and get stuff done can be impossible.

But you can still escape the noise. Here are a few tips:

  • Create dedicated quiet spaces. Provide your team with a noise-free zone like a conference room or an “study room” office. Make this space a full-time quiet spot, so people can get away to crank out their work.
  • Use white noise. If you can’t make your work environment less noisy, you may be able to mask it. White noise is less distracting because it doesn’t pull your attention.
  • Invest in noise-canceling headphones. These things do wonders to drown out distractions! They can be a little pricey, but they’re often worth it.
  • Be gracious. Sometimes, you just gotta ask others to tone it down a bit with all the chatter. Make the request politely—and receive the request from others graciously.

7. Getting it off your chest

Simply complaining about something—anything—saps your productivity. So, if you’re complaining that you can’t get more work done, guess what? Now you’re REALLY not getting more work done!

For most of us, it is incredibly difficult not to flip into Complain Mode when things don’t go exactly how we like. In fact, during a typical conversation, we complain at the impressive rate of once a minute. A lot of the time, we’re not even aware that we’re complaining.

And if you think that venting gets things off your chest so you can move on and get more work done, think again. Venting just begets more venting. And it does several other things, too:

  • Sets your focus on the negative
  • Interferes with problem-solving
  • Triggers stress hormones
  • Makes you more miserable

Complaining can be a tough habit to break, but it can be done. Here are a few ideas:

  • Practice being solution-oriented rather than problem-focused.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt a bit more.
  • Ask friends and coworkers to gently indicate when you start venting.
  • Review your words and attitudes at the end of the day, and ask yourself how you handled frustrations.
  • Reserve complaints for the right people and the right times. Don’t air your grievances simply to get them off your chest, but talk to your supervisor or—better yet—to the person who’s ticking you off.

Boost your team’s effectiveness

If you really want to get more stuff done at work, eliminate the hidden habits that sap your effectiveness each day. Look through this list and tackle one item each week. Before you know it, you’ll be getting stuff done left and right!