Why are you unproductive? 3 destructive habits that sabotage time management

Umesh, one of our bootcamp participants, had recently founded an education startup. As the solo founder of an early stage startup, he was overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks that fell on his plate. He worked late nights, yet work never got done and his productivity levels kept on plummeting.

Umesh was able to reset his unproductive daily routine with the Become A Morning Person bootcamp.

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I’m sure we can all relate to Umesh’s situation. I certainly can.

When faced with a heavy workload, we fall into poor work habits like staying up late or taking up more work, somehow thinking that we can squeeze it all into our limited time. 

We try hard to get more done, but in reality, these habits drag down our productivity to abysmal levels.

A better morning routine helped Umesh, but that may not be the right solution for someone else with a different type of productivity issue. Depending on the type of unproductive funk that is pulling you down, the solutions to implement will also differ.

Mark Foster, in his book Secrets of Productive People, explains that being unproductive falls under 3 main buckets:

  • Being unsystematic
  • Overloading yourself
  • Not following through

Unproductive habit #1: Being unsystematic

Being unsystematic goes hand in hand with being unreliable.

Unsystematic people have the best of intentions when they take up a lot of work. But because they lack a coherent system that can handle all these tasks, it often fizzles out.

They struggle to keep track of their responsibilities and deadlines, and may start to feel overwhelmed. They try to juggle multiple tasks at once, but cannot give each task the attention it deserves. As a result, they miss important deadlines and their quality of output suffers.

An unsystematic person unfortunately even gains the reputation of being unreliable.

Being unsystematic also means that you are inconsistent – constantly moving from one thing to another, leaving a trail of unfinished projects in your wake. This can be very harmful to your professional reputation and how your colleagues perceive you.

People do not like working with unreliable people who break their promises, for whatever reason. They may forgive you once or twice, but after not replying to a few emails and letting down a few other people because you did not finish your tasks on time, you start developing an unsavoury reputation which can be detrimental to your career.

Even in your personal life, a lack of being systematic can have significant negative consequences.

You forget birthdays and important events because you do not have a system for remembering them. You may come across as non-caring or forgetful because you let down the people who are counting on you.

Fortunately, being systematic is not a personality trait, but it is a learned skill and behaviour. Of all productivity problems, this is perhaps the easiest one to fix, because putting a system in place can have an instant positive impact on your productivity.


Unproductive habit #2: Overloading yourself

A person who is always overloaded with work typically has a problem saying no. They end up with more tasks and assignments than they can handle.

When you take on too much work, you’re practically ensuring that you’re not going to be able to finish them on time.

After all, you do not have an infinite number of hours at your disposal. However much you try to squeeze your tasks into an hour, you can only do so much.

The basic thumb rule is that whatever new tasks that you take up must be equal to or less than the tasks you finish in a day. If you’re not able to follow this, you will eventually end up with a huge pile of work which you are unable to finish.


Every day is not going to be the same. Some days will be hectic, and some leisurely. But overall, your workload should be something that you can manage.

If you find yourself getting behind on your work, the only reason is that more work is coming in than going out.

How do you deal with a situation like this?

Most people go about this overload by doing a few tasks really well, and dropping the ball on many others.

Keeping your head barely above water, and still getting blamed for the tasks that you were not able to complete can take a toll on your mental health.

If you are behind on several crucial projects that you have taken on, that stress is going to carry back home and impact your personal relationships as well.

Plus if you are always so busy working on your projects, you will never find time for personal care such as exercising or spending time with your loved ones to unwind and reset your mind.

This will eventually affect your energy levels at work, pulling you deeper down into lower and lower productivity

Unproductive habit #3: Not following through

Not following through is a common problem with people who are easily distracted and who constantly jump from one shiny project to the next.

Your inability to follow through could also be because you are juggling too many projects or tasks.

You get excited about a new idea, and start working on it with enthusiasm, but quickly lose interest and move on to something else. As a result, your projects are always left unfinished, and you never seem to make any real progress

This type of non-productive behaviour becomes more apparent in your personal life than your work life, because at work you may have some boundaries and follow-ups that prevent you from completely giving up on any task that was assigned to you.

Say you start on a new diet with a lot of enthusiasm. You would soon become bored with it and stop sticking to the plan. Maybe you start an exercise routine, but quickly lose motivation and stop going to the gym.

As a result you will find yourself constantly being unproductive, and never accomplishing anything of significance.

You may still continue to hold out on the belief that this time it will be different, but often that’s not the case. Your unproductive ways hold you back.

The way to fix this problem is to build mechanisms of strong commitment and accountability.

By declaring your commitment on a public platform or to someone you respect can give you the push that you need to stay on the project. Because you wouldn’t want to lose face in front of your friends or people you respect.


Another thing that works is if you can have some external accountability in the form of an accountability partner who will keep tabs on your progress and check with you if you are not making progress. In fact this accountability mechanism is how we keep HabitStrong bootcamp participants accountable throughout the duration of any bootcamp.

Learning the skill of productivity

If you are unproductive in any of the above ways or in some other way, don’t despair.

Lack of productivity is not an easy problem to solve, but you can experience a massive boost just by setting a few things in place.


Being productive is a skill you can learn. Think back on how it used to feel when you did not know how to drive a car.

After you learned how to drive, it was like you sprouted wings.

It’s the same way with productivity.

Now I won’t fool you into thinking that productivity is just about a few hacks. No, it is much more than that.

You need to reorient your mindset, understand why exactly you’re being unproductive, learn how to improve your systems, regulary weed out extra commitments, and ensure that the things you do take up are followed through to completion. 

In the rest of the articles, we will get you started on how to do all of that.


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