Breaking Little Habits that Hamper Productivity

Catalyzed by my post on battling laziness, I’ve been focusing on some tasks that I’d previously avoided because I just didn’t want to work on them. Guess what? I’m making progress! I finally took care of the stacks of assorted documents that rendered my desk unusable.

Clean desk

No more stacks of documents!

While focused on these tasks, I’ve realized that my productivity is sometimes hampered by a few habits that are simple but quite consequential. I’ll place at the bottom of the stairs items that need taken upstairs…and that’s where they’ll sit. I’ll walk past them on my way upstairs several times a day. About a week later I’ll finally get around to taking them upstairs. (Ridiculous, isn’t it?) Junk mail poses another problem. I’ll open it and recognize it is trash, but instead of putting it in the recycle bin or shredding it, I’ll set it on the table. Later in the day, I’ll pick it up and wonder why I didn’t deal with it in the first place.

Do you have any little habits like these that hamper your productivity? Do you leave clean clothes bunched in a laundry basket until they are so wrinkled that they can’t be worn without first being ironed? Do you routinely spend half an hour looking for your scissors because you’ve once again left them in some random place instead of returning them to where they belong?

I’ve realized that my productivity is often hampered by a few habits that are simple but quite consequential. How can I break productivity-hindering habits?

These habits may appear to have limited impacts, but the time they consume and the frustration they spark can decrease productivity throughout the day. Moreover, I desire to be faithful. The Bible teaches us to put whole-hearted effort into every task before us (Colossians 3:23). For these reasons, I’m using a handful of simple strategies to try to break some of these habits.

Strategies for eliminating little habits that hamper productivity

  • Take action right away. Don’t put off addressing your habits until next week or next month (which is procrastination—another habit that can really decrease productivity!). Make changes today!
  • Write down the habits you’re changing and seek accountability. You don’t want to lose sight of what you’re seeking to change, so it is helpful to make a list of the habits and keep it in a place where you’ll see it often (e.g., your calendar, on the fridge, your journal). This, by itself, is a form of basic accountability. For even greater accountability, share with a friend or loved one about your attempts to change. Ask him or her to check in with you on occasion regarding your progress.
  • Create barriers to engaging in the habit. Sometimes it is helpful to generate an obstacle to make it more difficult to engage in the habit. In regards to my walking upstairs without taking with me the items left there that need to go up, I can literally place these items in the center of the lower stairs so I can’t go up without tripping over them. The example I mentioned earlier about the clothes being left in the laundry basket could be addressed by hiding the basket so the clothes have to be hung on hangers or folded right away when they are pulled out of the dryer.
  • Replace the bad habit with a good one. In many instances, it is useful to substitute a new habit for the bad one you are breaking. For my habit of not quickly tossing out junk mail, I’m developing the habit of opening the mail in the kitchen where a trashcan and recycle bin are handy. That way I can immediately toss out the junk mail. Regarding the scissors example, the replacement habit is pretty straightforward—select a location to store the scissors and place them there after each and every use.
  • Reward yourself for success. When you make important progress towards breaking the habit, treat yourself to something special. Take a long, relaxing bubble bath. Rent that movie you’ve been wanting to see. Have a piece of chocolate. Choose something simple that is enjoyable to you and let yourself celebrate the little victories. Celebration can bolster your motivation to continue avoiding the habit you’re breaking and can encourage you to break other habits.

What little habits impede your productivity? What additional tips can you suggest for breaking these?


  1. Charlotte Thiel says:

    One of the things I have found helpful–though to be honest and I must confess it is not a total cure–was a little ditty I read that is a good part-time mantra for me: Touch it once, Why touch it twice or three or four or five times….Touch it once, So often it would take so very little to just deal with it instead of putting it on the “Oh yeah, I have TO DO that” !

  2. I have a habit like this with email. I don’t delete junk emails when I first get them. Then, when my inbox has 1,000+ emails in it, I wonder how it happened! When I clean it out, I can’t believe I didn’t delete the junk emails when I first got them. I need to instill the new habit of deleting junk emails promptly.

  3. Pinned it!

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