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09 Sep

A handful of common productivity mistakes and how to avoid them

Datum: 2009-09-09 23:29

Many peo­ple that I meet in my pro­fes­sion, says I real­ly would need that!” when they hear me say that I work with mak­ing orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als more struc­tured in their every­day life. 

Often, they seem deject­ed when they say that, almost like they feel that cre­at­ing a good per­son­al struc­ture is far too hard for them. 

As I see it, it is just as easy to cre­ate a great struc­ture as it is to keep a defec­tive struc­ture. It is just a mat­ter of habits and sim­ple tools. 

Here are nine com­mon mis­takes that pre­vents good per­son­al struc­ture and tips on how to avoid them. I have made sev­er­al of the mis­takes myself, so I do know what I am talk­ing about here.


We gath­er doc­u­ments, leaflets, print­outs and oth­er stuff in high piles on our desk instead of stor­ing them in a well thought-out and easy sys­tem for ref­er­ence mate­r­i­al. For exam­ple, set up a file fold­er sys­tem in alpha­bet­i­cal order and you will find what you need just as easy as you swift­ly store it away.

Scat­tered notes, post-its and odd bits of paper

We write to-do-tasks on odd bits of paper instead of list­ing them in a sta­ble and secure sys­tem (on paper or by using the com­put­er) which would make it pos­si­ble to get a lucid view over all our tasks and that would let us relax eas­i­ly, know­ing that every­thing is tak­en care of.

Fussy tasks

Writ­ing a to-do-task, we often define it far too gen­er­al and unspe­cif­ic when it instead is sup­posed to be as con­crete and detailed that it can be com­plet­ed with­in one, sin­gle coher­ent activ­i­ty. Instead of writ­ing Recruit Acme as a cus­tomer” write Call Steve at Acme and sug­gest a meet­ing in two weeks”.

I do not have time to improve my pro­duc­tiv­i­ty right now”

We think that we need more time to start work­ing more effec­tive­ly and there­by get more time at our dis­pos­al for oth­er things. A bet­ter way of think­ing is to start with a sin­gle small change in the right direc­tion, that do not take more than fif­teen min­utes. Then do anoth­er small change and yet anoth­er, nev­er stop tak­ing small, small steps in the right direction. 

I got into per­son­al pro­duc­tiv­i­ty ten years ago or so and I am still refin­ing my way of work­ing, and enjoy every new trick I come up with.

We keep every­thing in our heads

We make to-do-lists but do not add new urgent tasks; instead we try to keep them in our heads. The to-do-list there­by gets out of date and unim­por­tant (and unused). Instead, let the to-do-list be the only place where you keep track of your tasks. As soon as you notice that you are keep­ing a task in your head, add it to your to-do-list, unless you com­plete the task immediately.

We read e‑mails but act lat­er (some oth­er time)

We quick­ly read through e‑mails with­out decid­ing what they mean to us, such as if they con­tain a yet unde­fined task, and we keep them in our inbox to be processed at some­time lat­er. Instead, let us make a quick deci­sion the very first time we read the e‑mail. Can we delete it or should we save it? Does it mean that I have to do some­thing? Will I ask some­one else to do something?

Stor­ing doc­u­ments in mul­ti­ple places

We save e‑mails in cus­tomer fold­ers in our mail­box and oth­er doc­u­ments regard­ing the same cus­tomer on the local hard dri­ve or on the department’s file serv­er instead of col­lect­ing all doc­u­ments regard­ing a spe­cif­ic cus­tomer or project in one, sin­gle place irre­spec­tive of the for­mat they are cre­at­ed in.

Reminders when we need them the least

We let doc­u­ments requir­ing a task that we must not for­get lie on our desk so that we won’t for­get them (long before we need them), for exam­ple invites for sem­i­nars, agen­das for meet­ings, offers that we need to reply to before a cer­tain date, instead of send­ing them to our­selves in the future, using a tick­ler file (a con­cept that I will describe in a future edi­tion of Done!).

Crowd­ed com­put­er desktop

We fill the com­put­er desk­top with icons for short­cuts and doc­u­ments instead of cre­at­ing a fold­er on the desk­top where we place the short­cuts and doc­u­ments, so that we can eas­i­ly reach all we need from the desk­top as well as, with a sin­gle mouse click, clos­ing the fold­er and clear­ing the desk­top com­plete­ly (apart from the fold­er). Hav­ing a crowd­ed com­put­er desk­top makes it hard to find what you need when you need it and when you don’t need it, you still get remind­ed of it.

What is your best tip?

Have you done any oth­er mis­takes and found a smart way to avoid them in the future? E‑mail me at {encode=“” title=“”} and tell me. I am eager to learn more tips on struc­ture and I might share your expe­ri­ence with others. 

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