9 things productive people never do

Sometimes it's not just about the tips and hacks — what you should do — to be more productive. Often letting go of inefficient habits and unrealistic systems can be just as useful. Here are nine things productive people avoid to save time and get stuff done.

1. "Inbox zero"

Reaching an empty inbox is a pipe dream for most people. "Inbox one page" is not only more realistic, it's more useful, says productivity and leadership coach Ellen Faye.

"If you have 'inbox zero,' that means you're putting emails that require action in some sort of 'to do' email folder," says Faye. And "If you file those important emails in any kind of folder, you might as well forget it ever existed," she says. Instead, leave any emails that require action in your inbox and label or star them to prioritize.

Steve Jobs
Getty Images | David Paul Morris
Steve Jobs

2. Long email responses

Long email responses are typically a waste of time, says Faye. "First of all, whomever you're sending it to probably won't read the whole thing – they're busy, too," she explains. "It will just cause them to put it aside until they have more time," or worse, until it it's forgotten.

Instead, use a short, applicable subject line (don't reuse an old one that doesn't fit anymore) and write a couple of sentences that are concise and to-the point. "That's what moves a project along," says Faye.

3. "Reply all"

Just because there were several people on the original email, doesn't mean you need to add to everyone's inbox clutter with your response. If you do you want to reply all, first set up rules with your colleagues, says Faye. For example, "if you're in the 'to' line, it requires your action. If you're in the 'cc or bcc' it's just an F.Y.I," she suggests.

4. Unexpected phone calls

Impromptu work phone calls can be disruptive, distracting and time-consuming. Instead, schedule 30-minute conversations, says Faye — it's enough time to hit the important topics and puts you in control of your schedule.

Kate Walsh as Rebecca Wright on "Bad Judge"
Getty Images | NBC
Kate Walsh as Rebecca Wright on "Bad Judge"

5. Complex systems

If a system is too complex, you won't use it, and "if you don't use a system, it's the wrong system," says Faye.

"The best systems that stick are easy, because you can actually get them done," she says.

And the best system for you is "the easy system that fits your organizational personality." With email filing, for example, some people like a big, global folders they easily search, so dated folders (e.g., May 2017) work, says Faye. Others are more analytical and prefer a system based on projects, subjects or tasks.

6. Constant perfection

Tasks, projects and opportunities are not all created equal. "You can't give a 100 percent all the time and expect to be productive," says Faye. "Instead, follow the 80/20 rule. Simply put, 20 percent inputs yield 80 percent output," so know where you can give 20 and get 80 — by writing quick, non-perfect emails that get the point across, for example.

7. "One-more-thing-itis"

It's a disease, says Faye — never say "Let me just do this one more thing." That's because the ripple effect can be substantial. "It stresses you out, makes you late if you have two minutes and you start something that takes 10 to finish," she says. "Be aware that it's not worth it."

8. Relying on memory 

Productive people don't kid themselves that they're going to do something without creating a "follow-up cue," says Faye. "Our minds are not meant to hold all the data. Our brains are created to be activated by cues – a note, an email, a text, a calendar reminder, what every works for you," she says.

9. A "to do" list

"A catchall to do list is a total waste of time," says Faye. "Productive people prioritize rather than just list."

So pop your "to dos" into those four buckets based on priority: "Critical" is anything that has happen today or you can't leave the office, says Faye. "Hot" needs to happen in the next few days or you'll suffer a consequence, she says. "That could be it will cost you money if they don't happen, or you'll miss an opportunity, or you'll just be embarrassed," she explains. The other two categories are "sooner" and "later."

Then, weekly, "take 30 minutes or an hour to pick up all the Post Its and miscellaneous pieces of paper that you've scribbled on and do the buckets over again for the next week," says Faye.

See also:

8 easy tweaks that will make you so much more productive

Tony Robbins: For a better quality of life, answer these 3 questions