7 Habits You Need to Drop to Become More Productive According to Science

When we analyze our productivity it’s common nature to look at what we can add to our routine. Whether it’s exercising more often, working on a personal project or getting more done at work, we’re always looking for more to do to increase our productivity.

That’s not what this article is about.

More often than not, what’s keeping us from being productive are the negative habits we already have in place.

Being more productive is about addition by subtraction.

Let’s say working out at 5AM is a goal of yours. For most, it would be hard to flip a switch and start immediately waking up at that hour. However, if you attack the goal with a mindset of subtraction, you’ll make the transition to 5AM workouts much easier. Getting up early is more dependent on what you did the night before than anything else. If you go out 2–3 times per week or stay up until midnight watching Netflix regularly, it’s time to trim down those activities. By cutting down (preferably out) those habits, you’re more likely to be up and at it early in the morning.

7 Habits You Need to Drop to Become More Productive

1. Not Sleeping Enough

We’re in a weird time. Being overly busy and running on 4–5 hours of sleep has become some distorted badge of achievement to society.

Unless you’re in the estimated 3% of the population that have a genetic mutation and can function on six hours of sleep, you should be getting over seven hours of sleep per night. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), started surveying Americans on average sleep times in 2009. Since then, it has been estimated that more than one-in-three Americans is sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation has adverse effects on memory, reaction time and overall cognitive function. If you’re looking to be more productive, it starts with looking at the amount of sleep you’re getting per evening.

Quick Tip: Set an alarm to go to bed, this will help you get to sleep at the same time every day.

2. Surrounding Yourself With Negative People

It’s not cliche, it’s a truism; you are the product of the people you have around you. Just like positivity, negativity is contagious. If you take a close look at your inner circle and see a lack of ambition, gossiping, people wishing the worst upon others, then it’s time to get a new circle. I can tell you first-hand, I’ve had to cut people out of my inner circle. No hard feelings or anything against them, our goals, ambitions and values just didn’t match up.

Quick Tip: Surround yourself with people you want to be like. Look for meetup groups and professional groups that align with your goals.

3. Prioritizing Other People’s Time Over Your Own

By being accessible on email, text, phone 24/7, we’re not allowing ourselves to be fully immersed and focused on any task. We’re inviting interruption. A study at the University of California Irvine found that it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds on average to get back to the focus/output you were at before being interrupted. It’s time to stop putting responding to people as a top priority, as it’s found to lead to increased stress and higher frustration. Prioritize your time over others and get back to them when you’re not in the middle of tasks – this is how you should be living.

Quick Tip: Block out time throughout the day where you block out email, text and phone to focus solely on high-priority tasks.

4. Comparing Yourself to Others

It has been suggested that it is a natural human tendency to compare ourselves to others. When you consciously recognize you’re comparing yourself to someone else, it’s important to hit pause, take a deep breath and acknowledge how good life is. Comparing yourself to others is a negative outcome game where you don’t win. In this game you’re either fostering envy  or you’re judging someone else (both are counter-productive).

Quick Tip: Look into practicing some form of mindfulness. Acts like meditating will make you live more in the present and help dissolve stress from things like comparing yourself to others.

5. Bringing Your Work Home

Letting your work infiltrate your home is a bad idea. Home should be a place for  relaxation and happiness. According to Fritz Steele, we associate certain environments with certain activities and we can reverse engineer what we want to get out of these spaces.

Let me explain.

I had a TV in my bedroom throughout university. This ultimately led to me consuming TV for a few hours before I fell asleep. This was a nightly cycle I had to break. I started by taking the TV out of my room, deciding my room was a place for sleep, and my living room was a place for TV. By doing this, I was able to reprogram my feelings associated with each physical space. I wouldn’t bring my work to the gym nor would I bring a set of dumbbells to the office because I associate those two spaces with work and exercise separately, so why would I start bringing work home?

Quick Tip: Identify the rooms where you spend 95% of your time, and assign a function to each of them like: work, sleep, relaxation. From there look at how you can optimize each room to fulfill that function.

6. Multitasking

Professor of Psychology and behavioral neuroscience at McGill University, Daniel J Levitin says when it comes to multitasking, “we think we’re doing several things at once, multitasking, this is a powerful and diabolical illusion.” With multitasking, people envision themselves like an expert juggler; however, Levitin says, “we’re more like a bad amateur plate spinner, frantically switching from one task to another, ignoring the one that is not right in front of us but worried it will come crashing down any minute.” Instead of trying to tackle a bunch of things at once, prioritize and eliminate tasks one-by-one.

Quick Tip: Make a list every day with your tasks. From there, number them in importance to your day. Don’t go on to any task until your highest priority tasks are complete.

7. Complaining

Whether it’s with a co-worker after work, or out with friends people love to complain. Trevor Blake, author of Three Simple Steps says, “the easiest way to build friendship and communicate is through something negative.” Complaining is almost contagious among groups of people, but it comes with a hefty price, causing the release of stress hormones which impair problem-solving and other brain functions.

You have to do two things (i) stop complaining and (ii) get away from chronic complainers (reread bullet 2). It’s also important to differentiate between acknowledging a problem to solve and outright complaining. Complaining looks like, “My boss sucks, they’re a condescending person who doesn’t respect anyone,” and constructive dialogue looks like, “My boss and I don’t seem to see eye-to-eye, it’s almost abrasive, do you have any suggestions on how I can improve our relationship?”

Quick Tip: Whenever you find yourself or someone else complaining, quickly navigate the conversation towards problem-solving over more complaining.