If you’re looking for ways to better manage your time and be more productive, you won’t find any shortage of productivity advice out there. But not all advice is created equal. Here are four popular productivity tips that can backfire on you.
1. Delete any email that isn’t high priority. Read nearly any advice on managing your in-box and you’ll probably see some version of this advice. The idea is that if you’re someone who never gets around to reading and processing all your email anyway, you might as well just delete it as soon as it arrives and stop it from cluttering up your in-box. But getting trigger-happy with your delete key can backfire on you, if you end up missing an important email from a colleague, or not having any record of the decision on the Jones account when you need to consult on it in a few weeks.
By all means, archive emails that you don't need to act on – so that they’re still there if you end up needing them later – but don’t delete them.
2. Set up an auto-responder telling people you only reply to email during certain days or hours. The idea here is that in order to keep email from being a constant distraction, you’ll let people know that you only respond to emails between 4:00 and 6:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays (or whatever schedule you choose) so they know not to expect a response before then. The problem? It might work if you’re an entrepreneur who controls your own time, but most workers need to be responsive to other people, especially the boss. That doesn’t mean that you can’t set aside blocks of time to process your email and try to ignore it the rest of the time – you absolutely can – but announcing that plan in an auto-responder is a good way to annoy people like your boss’s boss when they email you about something time-sensitive.
3. Give into your desire to procrastinate. Tempted to procrastinate? Go ahead, say some experts. Give yourself a break, and then when you’re ready to return to the task you were putting off, you’ll have renewed energy and focus. And sometimes this works. But other times, you come back to it with the exact same desire to procrastinate and much less time to get the work done.
4. Schedule every minute of your work day. Creating a basic schedule is smart, because it allows you to see how much time you have and what you can fit in where – and it can help you realize, for instance, that you won’t have time to work on Important Project X next week so you’d better make serious progress on it this week. It can also keep you focused on the most important tasks at hand and prevent you from getting sidetracked on things that don’t matter as much. But if you schedule every minute of your day, you won’t have room for the many last-minute things that will pop up during the day. So it’s important to build in buffer zones too, even if it’s just an hour every day for fielding the unexpected.