5 Things Highly Productive People Never Do

Alyssa Atkinson

Avoid these mistakes to become your most efficient self.


Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

When I was in college, I used to stare at my homework for hours. Whether I was coding a cash register program in C++ or calculating double integrals, I always seemed to make one critical error — I wasn’t productive with my time.

I worked to the point of exhaustion, didn’t cope well with stress, and gave too much of my time and attention to problems I really needed additional help to understand.

Luckily, by the end of my senior year, I had learned a number of key tips and tricks which helped me be more productive and efficient with my time. I was able to juggle my final college class, a three hour round-trip commute, and my online reselling business (which I started the summer before my final semester of college).

However, it wasn’t easy to reach that point. I made many mistakes along the way, but I learned from each one, which helped me build upon my strategies for overall efficiency and productivity.

The following are five things highly productive people don’t do. Many of them are mistakes I made in the past that made my work load immensely tougher. In sharing them, I hope that you’ll be able to avoid them and crush your goals faster.

1. Fail To Prioritize

This is one of the key reasons I was so unproductive and inefficient with my engineering course work in college. I struggled to prioritize the homework that was most important (due soonest, worth the most points, etc.).

Instead, I chose to do all the easiest tasks, or the ones I enjoyed the most, first. Then, I was always left with a huge pile of difficult work that seemed too daunting to start.

Highly productive people take a much different approach. Ben Tracy, best-selling author of Eat That Frog!, recommends the following strategy:

“Effective people give priority to their toughest chore. Finishing the most challenging and important item on a to-do list first…frees up mental energy that would otherwise have been frittered away worrying about it. And it makes the rest of the day seem manageable by comparison.”

The key takeaway here is to rank all of your work for the day by priority, and then get the top one done first. Although it may seem daunting before you start, you will get it out of the way early, which will set you up for a more successful day ahead.

2. Let the Following Ruin Their Progress

Highly productive people don’t let failures ruin their progress. Instead, they learn from their mistakes and move forward with the new insights they have gained.

Paul Silverman, an executive coach for Fortune 500 companies, states:

“Productive people have a knack for analyzing what went wrong with a flopped prototype, or in snippy conversation with a colleague…They have the ability to make incremental improvements in their performance and ask themselves, ‘Ok, what can I learn from this? What can I do better?’”

The takeaway here is that dwelling on failure will keep you from reaching your goals. A more productive approach is to evaluate your failures, gain new insights, and then move on from them.

3. Sacrifice Sleep

While it can be easy to have the “sleep is for the weak” attitude, that’s actually an unproductive way to work.


“More than a third of Americans are underslept, and our collective sleep deprivation costs the U.S. economy a whopping $63.2 billion annually in lost productivity, according to the Harvard Medical School.”

I have experienced the effects of sleep deprivation too many times to count. Whenever I worked on a coding project late into the night in college, I made dumb mistakes that I couldn’t find a solution for. After I got a good’s night rest, I usually resolved the issues in minutes.

The takeaway here is that you can’t be highly productive when you’re sleep deprived. Instead of sacrificing sleep to work longer hours, give your body the rest it needs to recharge, so you will feel better overall and be more efficient with your time.

4. Lack This Key Attribute

Discipline is the ultimate attribute that distinguishes any productive, highly successful person. If you don’t have it, you just won’t have the drive necessary to be productive.

Motivation is a fleeting feeling that comes and goes. Discipline, on the other hand, means doing what you have to do regardless of whether or not you want to. According to Inc.:

“If you want to be highly successful, you need to be highly disciplined. I’ve polled countless executives and entrepreneurs about the things they’re doing every day which help them succeed, and typically they credit simple daily routines which have been proven over time to give them an edge.”

The takeaway here is to develop a structured routine that helps you stay productive, and be disciplined to adhere to it each and every work day. It will ultimately bring you greater efficiency and success.

5. Work for This Long

If you’re anything like me, you probably struggle to take breaks when you have a huge to do list staring you down. Unfortunately, by powering through your work for hours on end, you are likely doing a lot more harm than good.

Highly productive people actually take frequent breaks. According to Forbes,

“The ache in your brain after several long hours of work should be your signal to take a break. Since your brain has used up its glucose, give yourself a moment to refresh by going for a walk, grabbing lunch or a snack, or just meditating. You’ll come back recharged and ready to achieve greater efficiency.”

The takeaway here is to use strategic breaks every hour or so to recharge, and boost productivity and efficiency as a result. The method I have adopted is to get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour or so. This gets my body moving, blood flowing, and most importantly, gives my mind a short break.

Final Thoughts

We are all given 24 hours each day to do with what we want. Those who are highly productive don’t waste a single second of it.

Once I stopped engaging in some detrimental habits, like powering through my work without breaks, sacrificing sleep, and letting my failures define me, I started to accomplish far more in less time. That is when my business started to take off and become profitable.

If you can avoid these mistakes, you too will develop higher productivity and efficiency. This will ultimately help you achieve greater success, and save you time to do more of what you love.

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Ohio U XC/Track alum. I love to run. I blog about food, health, fitness, lifestyle, etc. Personal Blog - nomeatfastfeet.com | Electrical and Computer Engineering Grad.

Raleigh, NC

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