12 Habits That Destroy Your Focus and Productivity
Your ability to be highly focused and productive are two key ingredients for achieving better results and making faster progress in your career. However, there are many sneaky little productivity killers that silently sabotage your success.
Despite working hard and disciplining yourself, it might be that your results are slowed down because of these subtle little habits, without you even realizing it.
After years of optimizing my productivity, I’ve identified 12 habits that are silently destroying your focus and productivity. Identifying and removing these habits will allow for greater focus and productivity, without the need to work harder or put in more hours.
In fact, as soon as you get rid of these habits you’ll be able to get much more done by working smarter instead of harder.
Habit 1: Leaving Unnecessary Tabs Open On Your Desktop
When you’re working, make sure that you only have the tabs open that are absolutely necessary for your task at hand. One of the easiest ways to get distracted is when you see that little ‘(1)’ icon next to your Facebook, email or messaging tabs.
The pull to quickly check what the new notification is about is simply too strong to resist. It continuously pulls for your attention, and eventually, you’ll give in. Sometimes, this ‘quick check’ sucks you into an internet vortex that costs you anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes that could’ve been spent productively.
Furthermore, by reacting to these notifications, you’re essentially operating on autopilot mode where you reactively serve the agenda of other people instead of proactively protecting your own time and focus for your work at hand.
Habit 2: Checking Your Phone First Thing In The Morning
One of the worst habits that many of us share is checking our smartphone first thing in the morning. The problem is that, when we do so, we’re instantly in reactive mode. Our thoughts, ideas, and focus are immediately hijacked by the new messages, emails and notifications that we’ve received, which forces us to think about that stuff instead of on our goals.
Personally, I find it very hard to resist the urge to check my business statistics early in the morning (such as Medium views, email subscribers and sales). And although this is not as bad as checking email or social media first thing in the morning, it’s still a habit to forces me to operate reactively instead of proactively. It immediately fills my attention span with information that could’ve been spent on generating new ideas.
Habit 3: Watching Netflix or TV First Thing In The Morning
For years, I used to watch at least one hour of TV in the morning. And just like checking your smartphone first thing in the morning, this habit is not beneficial for your focus and productivity levels.
The thing is, when you watch Netflix or TV, you’re already starting your day by distracting your mind. Essentially, you’re priming it for distraction for the rest of the day. As your brain has already received a huge hit of dopamine, it only wants more.
It’ll be much harder to fight distractions throughout the day when you’ve already numbed your mind by watching TV in the morning.
Furthermore, the time spend watching TV could’ve been spent productively by following an empowering morning routine in which you meditate, plan your day, review your goals, do affirmations, visualize and read an inspiring book. By following a morning routine, you set yourself up for a highly focused and productive day — unlike watching Netflix for an hour.
Habit 4: Leaving Notifications and Alerts On
One of the simplest changes that had the highest ROI on my focus and productivity has been to put the notifications and alerts off on all my devices (and especially my smartphone).
As we’ve mentioned before, the notifications and alerts pull for your attention continuously. It puts you in reactive mode instead of proactive mode, as other people control your attention as they can disrupt you at any moment.
In fact, every notification and alert that you don’t check opens a ‘loop’ in your mind that desperately wants to be closed. This is what’s called the ‘Zeigarnik Effect’. The psychological pull of closing this loop is simply too strong to resist (especially later on in the day when our willpower muscle becomes tired).
Not only did this habit make me more focused and productive, but it also helped me get less stressed and overwhelmed. The continuous psychological pull to check my smartphone after every notification I received was simply gone — and that gave enormous peace of mind.
It takes just 3 minutes to do, but it’ll have an enormous impact on your life. Try it for yourself!
At the bare minimum, make sure your alerts and notifications are off when you’re working on your most important tasks so that you can direct all of your focus and energy towards crushing it.
Habit 5: Sleeping In
Sleeping in immediately puts you in a lousy state of mind from it’s much harder to motivate yourself to work hard. When you start your day in a lazy way, you tend to carry that mindset throughout the rest of the day — and that leads to procrastination and time-wasting.
Personally, I’m a complete sucker for sleeping in. Ironically enough, my inspiration for writing this article is that today I slept in and I’m very frustrated about it.
As I own an online business, I don’t need to be in the office by 09:00, so it does sometimes happen that I wake up later than I actually intended to. And those days are very clearly my most unproductive and unfocused days.
On the contrary, on those days where I wake up at 07:00, follow my empowering morning routine and start working by 08:30, I’m much more productive, focused and less stressed.
Habit 6: Eating Bad Foods
Another huge productivity and focus killer is eating bad foods. When you eat foods that contain a lot of sugar and trans-fat, your energy levels will crash hard — leaving you unable to work with focus and intensity.
Rather, make sure you eat enough fruits, veggies and healthy fats in order to fuel your body and brain with the right vitamins and minerals to perform at peak levels.
Furthermore, go easy on the caffeine. Personally, I love my coffee. But I had to learn how to consume it in moderation so that I would experience the benefits but not the nasty downsides.
According to Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus, consuming caffeine strategically can give your productivity and focus a serious boost. If you consume up to 200 milligrams of caffeine (about 2 cups of coffee), it has been proven that you can focus more intensely, work for longer without giving up, and even have improved short-term memory.
However (and this is a very strong however), after consuming more than 200 milligrams of caffeine the effects start to diminish. Amounts of more than 400 milligrams should be avoided as this leads to increased anxiety and decreased focus.
Therefore, aim to consume caffeine strategically. Drink a cup of coffee right before you want to enter hyperfocus mode. Preferably, don’t drink more than 2 cups per day and don’t consume after 17:00, as this will impact the quality of your sleep!
Habit 7: Not Drinking Enough Water
One of the simplest but most overlooked ways to improve the performance of your brain (and thereby work with more focus and intensity) is to drink enough water.
The brain consists of 75% of water, so it’s no wonder that you start to experience immediate effects when you don’t drink enough water. I always ask people who feel sluggish, unfocused and low on energy if they drank enough water and the answer is almost always no.
In short, drinking enough water makes sure the energy production of the brain is functioning well, while not drinking enough leads to lower energy production, leaving you to feel foggy, fatigued and not sharp. All of which leads to heavily decreased productivity levels and make it harder to reach flow state.
Habit 8: Being Busy vs Being Productive
Not distinguishing the important tasks from the non-important tasks is one of the surest ways to destroy your productivity. Remember, not all tasks are created equal and being busy is not the same as being productive. Some tasks are much more valuable than other tasks. They require unique skills and therefore lead to much more impactful results.
If you merely focus on the number of tasks (quantity) you’ve completed throughout the day instead of focusing on the value you actually created (quality), you’re looking at productivity through the wrong lens. Being highly productive can only be attained by creating a lot of value — and not by the number of tasks you accomplish.
“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
— Peter Drucker
That’s why some people are much more productive by working only for a few hours on one or two tasks, compared to another who works for 8 or 10 hours and crushes 25 different tasks.
Instead of focusing on how much you’ve done, focus on how much value you’ve created. That’s true productivity.
Habit 9: Not Planning Your Days & Weeks
I clearly notice how my most unproductive days are the ones that I didn’t schedule or didn’t schedule well enough.
If you don’t schedule your days and weeks, you’ll just wander around. You kind of know what to do, so you’ll have a kind of work ethic. You need to protect your time for those most valuable tasks or else it’ll fall prey to distractions or other people’s agenda.
“Productivity isn’t about being a workhorse, keeping busy or burning the midnight oil… It’s more about priorities, planning and fiercely protecting your time.”
— Margarita Tartakovsky
Therefore, create a solid battle-plan for your days and weeks. One that you can simply follow and execute. This will help you save valuable decision-making energy (which is proven to be a limited resource) during the day — and work with more determination and focus.
No longer do you have those moments in which you need to decide what to do next, which is usually the moment where procrastination finds its way in. Instead, you know exactly what to do and when to do it. This clarity helps you to work with more ease.
Habit 10: Keeping Your To-Do List In Your Mind
Storing all your tasks and to-do’s for the day in your mind is a terrible habit that absolutely destroys your productivity and focus. Instead, take one minute of your time to externalize your to-do list.
Your brain is not made to be a storage place for ideas or tasks. Rather, it’s made to focus, problem-solve, think critically and to generate new ideas.
However, when you store all of your to-do’s in your mind, your attentional space is filled to the brim. This way, there’s literally no space to generate new ideas or to focus intensely on your work. It’s like a computer that has no more space on the hard drive.
When you store many things in your mind, you’ll experience a lot of anxiety and stress as you have many mental loops that want to be closed (remember the Zeigarnik Effect from habit 4?).
The solution is simple: put your to-do’s onto paper.
Bonus Tip: This is also why journalling is such a powerful habit. When your mind is filled with lots of thoughts, worries, ideas or to-do’s, it has no attentional space left for generating new ideas and solving difficult problems. However, as soon as you do a ‘brain dump’ in which you write down everything that’s on your mind, you’ll experience more clarity, peace of mind and better thinking.
Habit 11: Multi-Tasking
According to research, once we get distracted or try to shift from task to task, it takes on average 25(!) minutes to regain our full focus on our task at hand.
This is a phenomenon called ‘attention residue’, which implies that some of your attention is ‘left behind’ at the previous task (or distraction) your brain was dealing with. Your brain can’t simply shift from task to task effectively, as its capability to focus has literally decreased.
“Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time.”
— Steve Uzzell
Furthermore, shifting your attention back and forth between tasks and distractions drains energy from the brain — as it uses glucose — making us feel tired, less motivated and less productive.
This is why so many people are completely worn out by a day of work, even though it’s physically not that demanding. Therefore, avoid multi-tasking and instead focus on one task with your full attention. This way you have more energy and focus left to really crush it.
Habit 12: Procrastinating
Procrastination is the #1 enemy of your success. It has already taken the goals and dreams of many ambitious people to the grave.
Practically all the previously mentioned habits lead to procrastination. So, when you aim to remove these habits out of your life, you’ll already find it easier to stop procrastinating and to start crushing it.
However, if you continue to struggle with procrastination, I recommend you do the following:
Make the ‘pain’ of procrastinating bigger than the ‘pleasure’ of procrastinating by making the long-term effects immediate.
When you find yourself procrastinating, ask yourself ‘How will this affect my life if I continue to procrastinate on this task/project/goal?’
Really think about it…
How will your finances suffer? Your self-esteem? Your health? Your relationships? Or your career?
Clearly visualize how you’ll feel and what you’ll miss out on if you wouldn’t achieve your goals because you continue to procrastinate. This is how you make the pain of procrastinating bigger than the pleasure, which helps you overcome it much more easily.
Now Do It
Knowing which habits destroy your productivity isn’t enough. Taking action upon what you know is the key to change.
Therefore, as an action point for this article, pick out at least 3 of these habits and resolve to remove them out of your life. This way, you’ll become much more focused, productive and, ultimately, successful.
To Your Personal Growth,
Founder Personal Growth Lab