3 Popular Productivity Tips That Are Actually Wasting Your Time

UPDATED: March 13, 2017
PUBLISHED: March 13, 2017

At this point, you probably think you’ve got productivity and procrastination down. You know what helps you produce your best work, and you know when you’re slacking off. But what if you could actually be working against yourself?

Some activities that seem productive are actually wasting your time, while things that seem like time-wasters can help reduce stress and boost productivity. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some of the most common strategies used to combat procrastination to see how they really help productivity.

Related: 3 Productivity Habits of Successful People

1. Avoid distracting websites.

The first thing you do when you’re trying to avoid procrastination is block time-wasting sites such as Facebook and YouTube. There are countless apps, browser extensions and other tools designed to do just that—keep you on task by blocking non-work-related sites.

And it seems like a great strategy. After all, a recent survey conducted by Paychex found that 46 percent of millennials and 45 percent of Gen Xers admit to wasting time at work every day surfing the internet.

But when survey respondents were asked which time-wasting strategies worked, website blockers were rated as the least effective strategy. Why? Because spending a few minutes on a mindless activity can actually help you refocus.

In fact, 57 percent of employers and 64 percent of employees surveyed by Staples said taking adequate breaks is a key factor to overall productivity. Think about it: When you spend your whole day endlessly staring at the same screen and working on the same task, your brain gets tired, your eyes get tired and you burn yourself out. But if you take small breaks throughout the day, it gives your mind a chance to take a breather, refresh and come back to work ready to go.


Go ahead and scroll through Facebook, watch a dog video on YouTube or even take a walk around the building.


So any time you start to feel overwhelmed, tired or frustrated, take a break. Go ahead and scroll through Facebook, watch a dog video on YouTube or even take a walk around the building. When you come back to your work, you’ll be happier and more productive.

2. Stay on top of email.

You get to your desk in the morning, coffee ready to go and what’s the first thing you do? Check your email. You spend the first part of your morning sorting through your inbox, responding to emails and reading updates from co-workers and managers. When you finally get through it all, you feel like you’ve accomplished something big—it feels great!

But you really haven’t accomplished much at all, and the rest of your day is set up for much of the same. Every time you send or read an email from someone in your office, you’re wasting time—and some professionals are starting to realize it.

In a survey released by Unify of 9,000 workers in the U.S., U.K. and Germany, 28 percent said email is the tool they would most like to see removed from the workplace. Why? Employees think it’s inefficient, distracting, takes too long and that there are better ways to communicate.

So what’s the best, most efficient and productive form of communication? Face to face. Although getting up and having a conversation might seem like it would take more time, it actually helps improve productivity. Instead of sending emails back and forth and waiting for responses, you can instantly settle any questions or problems.

3. Plan each day with a to-do list.

The No. 1 productivity tip you’ve heard over and over is to get organized, plan out your day and use a to-do list. And in theory, it sounds great. But in reality, your work day is rarely that straightforward.

You plan your day to go one way, but your manager comes to you with an urgent request, then there’s a fire you need to put out and your co-worker needs input on a project. Before you know it, the day is over and you haven’t made a dent in your to-do list.

Unfortunately, this situation is common. Among health IT professionals surveyed in The 2016 Health IT Stress Report, conducted by my employer HealthITJobs.com, 39 percent rated changing priorities as a top stressor at work.

So although your to-do list has good intentions, it doesn’t account for flexibility needed to deal with projects and problems that suddenly pop out throughout the day. So your to-do list is now just a reminder of all the things you haven’t done, and that can cause some major stress.

Instead, write a list of what you actually accomplished at the end of each day. That way you feel motivated by everything you got done and keep tabs on your actual productivity.

Battling procrastination isn’t new, but the ways we approach productivity and work are changing. Evaluate your strategies for staying on task to see which are actually helpful, and which are just another waste of time.

Related: Everything You Know About Getting Things Done Is Wrong

Tim Cannon

Tim Cannon is the vice president of product management and marketing at HealthITJobs.com, a free job search resource that provides health IT professionals access to more than 1,000 industry health IT jobs at home or on the go. Connect with Tim and HealthITJobs.com on LinkedIn.