Maybe it’s your talkative coworker. Maybe it’s the project you were handed that never seems to end. Or, maybe it’s a family member that’s calling you off the hook. There’s always something sapping your attention and energy.

Here’s the scary thing about that: the people and projects that make the most noise and create the greatest pressure are not necessarily the most important. But they feel urgent, so we often give in just to relieve the pressure. The problem with that behavior is that it ultimately causes more pressure. Doing the less important things, because they are “louder” and demand attention, forfeits your ability to put your best time into the things that really matter. The result is that those bigger and more important things begin to crumble and even crash, causing much greater problems and pressures.

Philosopher William James said, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” In other words, the real genius is in knowing what not to do!

Are these three time-wasters destroying your productivity? If you are, then it might be time to do a little bit of recon on your priorities.


Saying yes to everything and everyone dilutes your effectiveness. Sure, you can keep everyone else’s boats afloat, but what about everything you need to do to accomplish your own objectives? Remember, the more you say yes, the more you’re saying no to other opportunities that could be zipping right by you.
Identify only the tasks and projects you can do, and save room in your schedule for those things. If you get a new request, keep in mind you can say, “Let me get back with you.” Then, consult your schedule and your list of priorities to determine if the request is on track with your other goals.


We all know the antagonistic tune, “Anything you can do, I can do better,” which often rings true when working with a team. If you always work in a vacuum, you’re preventing your good idea from becoming a great idea. You’re also keeping people out of a process who might know things you need to know, or are better at executing a particular skill than you are. Delegating and collaborating are key to protecting your time and making the most of your plans. Don’t hesitate to bring in trusted voices and efficient teammates to achieve your priorities and protect your time.


We all need a little break from the grind, but how much time are you spending on things you enjoy, things that are “fun” instead of ensuring your productivity. The major culprits for you might be social media, apps on your phone, or chatting with coworkers. Don’t totally abandon your Instagram or your weekly conversations with your office mate, just re-evaluate what it’s adding to your life and how it contributes to your priorities. Limit distractions without destroying your morale. Just remember, that it pays to be productive sooner and save playtime for later.

So, how can you cure yourself of wasting time and getting off track?

A great way to accomplish this is to practice something first coined by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, called the “Pareto Principle.”

The idea is this: by focusing your attention on the top 20% of all your priorities, you get an 80% return on your effort. You can’t do everything, but if you do the most important things first, you will gain your greatest results. It’s amazing how many of the less important things don’t need to be done.

People often ask, “How is this possible when the people around me require so many things of me?” You will gain momentum from being consistently successful in the big things that really matter. This will gain you more and more latitude in the things that are less important.

John Maxwell