8 Things the Most Productive People Don’t Do

8 Things the Most Productive People Don’t Do

Productivity is a hot topic these days. Everyone seems to want to know how to be more productive. If you do a Google search for productivity tips, or how to be more productive, you’ll get about 200 million results. That’s a little overwhelming.

With so many people suddenly working remotely or trying to juggle work and childcare and school-at-home, being able to make the most of your time is more important than ever. But what is it to really be productive? And why do we feel the need to be among the most productive people? Is it so we can do more?

Many productivity experts tout being more productive as being able to get more work done in the time we have. Others as being able to get more done in less time. That sounds to me like being productive means being able to work more instead of less.

Some confuse productive with busy. If their calendar is full and they are constantly running from place to place and project to project, they’re productive? Right? Wrong. Productive and busy aren’t the same. Busy means you’re constantly doing something. Productive means you are doing the right things at the right time in the right way.

Let me repeat that because I think it is so important: Productive means you are doing the right things at the right time in the right way.

Personally, I think when I am most productive I am doing effectively what most needs to be done, and not doing what doesn’t. One of the most important lessons we need to learn and apply to become optimally productive is to recognize we don’t need to do everything more quickly or more efficiently. In fact, we don’t need to do everything. Sometimes it’s what we don’t do that can make us more productive.

To that end, after spending years watching and studying the busiest people versus the most productive people, here are eight things I have learned the most productive people DON’T do (that busy people often do).

8 Things the Most Productive People Don’t Do:

Work Excessive Overtime or Pull All-Nighters

The most productive people recognize that more hours worked doesn’t necessarily equate to more tasks accomplished or more projects finished. All-nighters may have occasionally served their purpose in school, but they shouldn’t be a feature of your job.

After a certain point, our brains get fatigued and we need a break. That point probably comes sooner than you think. According to a couple of different studies, we should be taking a break every 50-90 minutes when working on brain intensive tasks.

One study suggests a 17-minute break after every 52 minutes of work (interesting side note: my high school classes were just about 52 minutes long—and that was long before productivity studies). The Pomodoro technique encourages a five-minute break after every 25 minutes worked.

It’s up to you to decide what your optimal time is. But I’m confident it’s not working consistent overtime or all night on a regular basis.

Skip Vacations and Breaks

The most productive people know that rest and relaxation are critical to productivity and success. All work and no play really does make Johnny a dull boy. You need to time to be you. You need time to think about something other than work, whether it is your job or your household chores. Vacations and breaks recharge both body and spirit. Michael Hyatt talks about how he takes off a full month each year, and what a difference it makes for him.

Now, you may not be able to manage a full month (I certainly can’t right now), but you should take time for yourself on a regular basis. This is NOT selfish. Taking a vacation (which doesn’t necessarily mean travel) or taking a break of a few hours a week is good for your mental and physical health.


Go to Work When They’re Sick

Speaking of taking breaks, stop going to work sick. I know, some employers don’t understand this one. I’m not sure why. They need to get with the program. Hopefully, that will be one good thing to come out of this pandemic. Employers will learn how it is not in their best interest (or yours) to have sick employees in the workplace. Not only are you less productive when you are ill, but going to work sick means spreading germs and illness to your co-workers and, before you know it, the entire office is sick and unproductive. Stay home and get well.

Say Yes to Commitments That Don’t Match Their Purpose or Values.

Saying yes to everything doesn’t make you more productive. It doesn’t even make you cooler or more of a team player. What it makes you is busier, more stressed, and more exhausted. The most productive people have learned to say NO to an overloaded calendar full of commitments that aren’t a good fit. Learning to say no can not only preserve your time and improve your productivity, saying no to the wrong things can make you more successful.

Hold Useless Meetings

This one seems like a no-brainer. Who loves useless meetings? Back when I was in the corporate world, my employer would hold periodic training meetings. A trainer would come from the home office with slides and an accompanying workbook for each employee. We would have a meeting, away from our time-sensitive work (we provided benefits on a government-mandated timeline).

In the meeting, the trainer would show us the slides and read us the workbook. Really. One day, I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I raised my hand and asked why a roomful of skilled professionals were being read to like third graders. I pointed out that we were all capable of reading, and the meeting could be cut by hours if we read the workbooks ourselves and then meet for discussion. Apparently, it had never crossed their mind. And while the meetings didn’t end entirely, future meetings were much shorter.

If you must have a meeting, make sure its purpose, agenda, and time frame are clear. And only include those who need to be there. You can find more on making meetings more productive here.


Let Email Get Out of Control

The most productive people aren’t controlled by their email. Nor do they let it get out of control. If your inbox has thousands of unread emails, and no filters or folders, it’s out of control. It’s time for a mass delete. Don’t tell me they’re important. If they are, why are they unread?

There are many ways to bring email under control: designated reading/response times, automatic filtering and folders, unsubscribing to unnecessary newsletters, delegating email duties to an assistant, among others.

You can also find apps to help you with all these things.


The most productive people have learned that multi-tasking is a myth. It doesn’t make you more productive. It’s not good for your brain. There are a very few tasks, none of them critical, that can be multi-tasked reasonably. For example, there is a big difference between trying to write a presentation while watching a webinar, and watching a movie while you fold laundry.

Choose one important task, complete it, and move on to the next, instead of trying to complete two or more at once.

Do Everything Themselves or Micromanage

The most productive people don’t try to do it all themselves. They’ve learned there is value in delegation. And along with delegation, they’ve learned to trust their team. Delegate or outsource everything that isn’t critical to your success. Give clear instructions, outline expectations, and then let go of it and let your team show you how productive and how innovative they can be. When you learn to lead through delegation and trust, you will not only be more productive, but those around you will be more productive also.

If you want to become more successful and less stressed; If you want to join the ranks of the truly productive, learn from the example of others. Learn the things the most productive people don’t do, and stop doing those things.

Do you need some help with your productivity habits? Let’s talk. You can set up a no-obligation consultation at this link, and start becoming one of the most productive people today.

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  1. Hi Marie,
    You have made some very good points here! When I started my business full time 2 years ago I was pulling some 18 hour days. Now I am more like a 10 hour day and trying to get that down to 5 days a week as well.
    I’ve learned to say no to things and to delegate more as time went on. I hope to be able to become even more productive. Thanks for these tips!

    1. Marie Leslie says:

      You are so welcome, Lisa. And I know just how you feel. I too, am working on reducing my work hours to a more manageable level. Step by step, right?