5 mistakes that make you unproductive, and ways to deal with them

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We all have the same amount of time in the day as everyone else. The people who miss sleep in order to get more done are shooting themselves in the foot because they are making themselves less efficient.

If increasing your working hours is not the key, then the trick is to optimize what you do with your work hours. Change your mindset in a way that changes the way you live. It’s all about working smarter not harder. Read this article and consider the conclusion–it may surprise you.

Read this article and consider the conclusion – it may surprise you.


A lack of sleep will make you less efficient. It is sometimes hard for people to understand the logic, but think about it this way, would you prefer 5 hours of productive work or 12 hours of non-productive work. Missing sleep may help you increase the number of hours you have to work with, but it dramatically affects your productivity.

The power of habit has been known for centuries. Napoleon Hill mentioned it frequently in his work from 1928, but even he was standing on the shoulders of giants in this respect. Get into the habit of going to bed at the same time, and eventually, your body will teach itself how to get to sleep and sleep through the night.

Get into the habit of going to bed at the same time, and eventually, your body will teach itself how to get to sleep and sleep through the night.

Personal example:

First deciding to go to bed at 11pm at night was incredibly difficult for me, as I was used to going to bed at 3am and waking up at 8am. It was even harder given that my girlfriend thought my early nights were a way of saying I wanted to smush body parts. For the first three months, I went to bed at 11pm, but would not nod off until around 2-3am. After three months, I started to nod off earlier, but getting to bed on time was becoming increasingly difficult. It was over a year before my “habit” of going to bed at 11pm paid off and I could get to sleep. Now I am more productive, and I have lost over 3 stone of weight (I was a chubber).

Actionable tips:

[+] Exercise may help you sleep, but do it before 8pm so you are cooled down and showered up by bedtime.

[+] If you are having trouble getting to sleep, have sex, it releases endorphins that help you sleep.

[+] Do not try to eat yourself to sleep. You may feel sleepy after eating, but a full stomach will result in an unsettled night’s sleep.


We all know what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to exercise, eat a healthy breakfast and plan your tasks for the today. However, to steal from Napoleon Hill again, maybe you shouldn’t plan in the morning. Planning in the morning often drains vitally productive time, and it often stalls your productivity. It is better to plan at the end of the day, and then to adjust your plan in the morning when new situations and problems arise.

Exercising, getting plenty of fluid and eating a healthy breakfast is simply a way of counteracting the effects of sleep. Exercise helps to kickstart your body’s daytime metabolism/homeostatic functions, fluid helps replace the moisture you sweated out during the night and the fluid that your bladder collected. Eating a healthy breakfast gives you the fuel needed for the next few hours.

The writers at EduGeeksClubwere part of the team that wrote about the study, “The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health.” The study proved that people who miss breakfast are less physically active in a morning, which suggests that missing breakfast does make people more lethargic.

Personal example:

Drinking a liter of store-brand orange juice in a morning seems to wake me up better than my cup of coffee. I do miss breakfast more times than I care to admit, but I am working on that habit by trying to force down a few grapes of a chocolate biscuit with my morning coffee.

Actionable tips:

[+] Try to get into the habit of moving your bowels after waking up and/or before going to bed because it helps you avoid toilet trips during your productive working hours.

[+] How you start your day will determine how your day goes. For example, if you eat an unhealthy breakfast, you are likely to continue the unhealthy trend through the day.

[+] Can you sneak more sleep? If you are still tired, consider stealing a little more sleep to help improve your productivity during the day.


Work around your energy levels instead of through them. Energy drinks and pills are not the answer. The biggest problem is psychological. If you do not feel motivated and/or you feel tired, you may dislike the idea of taking a break because it is often difficult to get started again afterward.

Understand that your difficulty is all in your head, you have convinced yourself you are under motivated. Take a break, and try splitting tasks into small pieces and undertaking them in sections. Taking a break is not the same as procrastinating if your break has an end time/time limit.

Personal example:

I was in the habit of taking pep pills (store brand pro-plus pills), but I used to find myself crashing at around 4pm and falling asleep. I find that splitting up tasks is a great way of getting me started. Even at home, if a room needs cleaning, I start with at one corner of the room and work outwards in sections and it seems to help me get more done (otherwise I would procrastinate about the job in hand).

Actionable tips:

[+] Do not underestimate the power of your own belief. If you honestly believe you will have a good and productive day…you will.

[+] If you have serious motivation problems, then concentrate your efforts on how to start tasks rather than how to complete them. Procrastination is an under motivated person’s biggest foe.

[+] Take a few moments to remind yourself how lucky you are. Either thank god for reminding you of all the good things you have, or spend five minutes per day reflecting on just how lucky you are to have all you have.


Most people approach tasks haphazardly and lose focus quickly; multitasking is not for everyone. This is where the Pomodoro technique comes in the picture.

Many self-employed people in creative fields have created a similar technique themselves, which is why the Pomodoro technique is nothing new or revolutionary, but it sometimes pays to be reminded of simple but effective techniques.

  1. Set a task that you must complete
  2. Set a timer for between 10 and 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings
  4. If you are distracted during that time, then write it down
  5. Write a checkmark on scrap paper
  6. Take a 3-5 minute break if you have less than four checkmarks
  7. If you have four checkmarks, take a break of between 15 and 30 minutes
  8. Restart from point one


Picture credit: Teamwork blog

Personal example:

As a writer, I actually work in ten-minute slots with a five-minute break after the timer goes off. It is especially effective if I am feeling under-motivated because I tell myself, “Okay, just ten minutes” and get on with it. Usually, after six or seven sessions, I can increase my working time to 15 and 20 minutes before needing a break.


The term Ultradian actually comes from sleep research, and it references the 90–120-minute cycling of sleep stages during human sleep. The Ultradian rhythm motivational technique suggests that people have certain times of the day when they are more productive than others do.

Ultradian rhythm

Photo credit Fastcompany

There is no legitimate evidence that people are more productive at one time of the day rather than others. Everybody is different and works in a different way with commonalities appearing due to circumstance, such as how some women are less productive at the end of the month because they share the same menstrual cycle, or how people that go to bed at 3am and woke up at 8am are less productive after 2pm. Nevertheless, the idea of taking a 20-minute break after 90 minutes of work is not a bad idea. There is only so much a body can withstand without becoming overly tired and less productive.

52-minute sprints

With this technique, you work for 52 minutes and take a 17-minute break. Some people claim that this is the most ideal amount of time to work and rest, but there is no objective and/or verified evidence of this. You may notice that the 52-minute sprint, the Ultradian Rhythm idea and the Pomodoro technique all have one thing in common–they all demand that you take frequent breaks. In the study by the Draugiem Group, the key finding was that the most productive people were great at taking breaks, which means it is possible that one of these techniques will suit you and the type of work you are doing.

Nighttime routine

Take the time to reflect on your day. As Nelson Mandela said, you should celebrate your milestones and triumphs. However, you should also consider your failures and setbacks and ask yourself what lessons you can learn from them. Set goals for the next day and write your plan for the next day so that you may get on with it straight away. Do whatever it takes to get a good night’s sleep with the exception of using alcohol or medication.

Personal Example:

I am a worrier by nature, but I decided at the age of 14 to forget every worry I had as soon as my head hits the pillow. It is the one time of the day when my frustrations and worries are not allowed to affect me. No matter how bad things are, I do not allow myself to think about them when my head hits the pillow. When I was 14, I used to lie in bed and imagine I was Blade being backed up by my trusty sidekick Angelina Jolie. These days I have matured a little more; (I now imagine I am Captain America on the Starship Enterprise with my trusty sidekick the Scarlet J as the Black Widow).

Actionable tips:

[+] If you have trouble getting to sleep at night, then stop focusing on productivity for now and start focusing your efforts on finding ways to induce natural sleep. It is a bigger priority for you at the moment.

[+] A good nighttime routine has no shortcuts. It takes a lot of dedication to build a positive sleep habit.

[+] If you dream or nightmare a lot, then stop having fluids after 6pm. You will be surprised how quickly your nightmares and dreams stop occurring, especially in a morning.


The truth is that there is nothing in this article that you do not already know. The problem is that knowing something is rarely enough to change your actions or opinions. People criticize Dennis Prager for preaching republican values to republicans. People say he is preaching to the choir, to which he replies, “Yes, because the choir has forgotten the tune.” The same could be said for yourself. You know you are supposed to eat right, get enough sleep and take regular breaks…but you don’t, so what happens now?

The next time you are struggling, you are under motivated, or unproductive, instead of reaching for energy drinks or looking up quick-fix techniques, consider changing the way you live your life by living by rules you already know! The answer to your problem is here, you simply need the will to use it.

Joan Selby
Joan Selby is a former ESL teacher and a content marketer. She also runs her own blog about social media and writing tips. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.