7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People

by Henrik Edberg

With a twist to the common list of habits that are useful to establish, here are 7 habits that you do best to avoid.

Just like finding habits that can be useful for you it’s important to find habits that are holding you back.

Most of these 7 habits can easily become such a normal, everyday part of life that you hardly notice it (or how it’s affecting you).

I’ve dabbled with all of them quite a bit. Not surprisingly I didn’t get much of the important stuff done.

I’d also like to add that these are just 7 broad habits you can establish to become highly ineffective in most parts of your life. I pretty sure there are several more.

1. Not showing up.

Maybe you’ve heard this quote by Woody Allen:

“Eighty percent of success is showing up”

One of the biggest and simplest thing you can do to ensure more success in your life – whether it be in your social life, your career or with your health – is simply to show up more. If you want to improve your health then one of the most important and effective things you can do is just to show up at the gym every time you should be there.

The weather might be bad, you might not feel like going and you find yourself having all these other things you just must do. If you still go, if you show up at the gym when motivation is low you will improve a whole lot faster than if you just stayed at home relaxing on the sofa.

I think this applies to most areas of life. If you write or paint more, each day perhaps, you will improve quickly. If you get out more you can meet more new friends. If you go on more dates you chances of meeting someone special increases. Just showing up more can really make a big difference. Not showing up will not get you anywhere.

2. Procrastinating half the day. To keep it short, my 3 favourite ways to get out of a procrastinating state are:

- Swallow that frog. What’s this means is simply to do the hardest and most important task of the day first thing in the morning. A good start in the morning lifts your spirits and creates a positive momentum for the rest of the day. That often creates a pretty productive day.

- How do you eat an elephant? Don’t try to take it all in one big bite. It becomes overwhelming which leads to procrastination. Split a task into small actionable steps. Then just focus on the first step and nothing else. Just do that one until it’s done. Then move on to the next step.

- The Get around to It Paraliminal. I find this guided mediation to be very useful. After 20 minutes of mostly just lying on my bed and listening I’m far more productive for a few days. I don’t feel the urge to sink into that procrastinating state or the need to find out what’s new over at one or five of my favourite websites.

3. When actually doing something, doing something that isn’t the most important thing right now.

One of the easiest habits to get stuck in, besides procrastinating, is to keep yourself busy with unimportant tasks.

To be effective you probably need some kind of time management-system. It might be something really simple, like using the 80/20-rule at the beginning of each day. The 80/20 rule, or the Pareto Principle as it´s also known, says that you’ll get 80 percent of your results from only 20 percent of your tasks and activities. So you need to focus most of your energy on those few important tasks to be effective.

When you have prioritized using this rule just write down the top 3 most important things you need to do that day. Then, from the top, start doing them. Even if you just get one of the things done, you have still done the most important thing you could do today. You may perhaps prefer some other system, such as GTD. But however you organise your work it’s still of highest priority to find the most important tasks so you don’t spend days, weeks or months doing busywork that isn’t that essential anyway. Just getting things done faster isn’t that useful if the things you get done are unimportant to you.

4. Thinking too much.

And thereby seldom taking action. Paralysis by analysis can waste years of your life. There is nothing wrong with thinking before you do something. Do some research, make a plan, explore potential upsides and problems.

But compulsively thinking and thinking and thinking is just another way to waste your time. You don’t have to examine everything from every angle before you try it. And you can’t wait for the perfect time to do something. That time never comes. And if you keep thinking you’ll just dig yourself down deeper and deeper and taking action will become more and more difficult. Instead you just need to stop thinking. Shut of your mind – it just helps you up to a point – and go do whatever you need to do.

5. Seeing the negative and downsides in just about anything.

When you see everything from a negative perspective you quickly punch a hole in your own motivation. You find faults everywhere and problems where there are really none. You cling to details. If you want to find a reason to not do something then that’s no problem. From a negative viewpoint you can find ten reasons every time.

And so very little gets done, you whine to anyone who wants to hear – and many who don’t – about how crappy your job, life and boss is. Which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as you create the life that is appropriate considering how think and see your world.

A solution is to realise the limits of a negative perspective. And that your perspective isn’t some kind of 100% true picture of the world. Then try other perspectives. For instance, trying to establish a habit of seeing things in a more positive and optimistic light can be quite useful. In that vein, you may want to try the Positivity Challenge. It’s not easy, but if you do the challenge and try to only think positive thoughts for 7 days it can give you an insight in how much your perspective and beliefs changes how you interpret your world. And what results you get.

6. Clinging to your own thoughts and being closed to outside influences.

It can be hard to admit that what you thought or believed was not the best alternative. So you cling to your thoughts harder and harder and keep your mind closed. This makes it hard to improve and for instance to become more effective. Even really considering the possibility that you can change your life can be difficult in this position.

One solution, obviously, is to open up more. To open up and learn from the mistakes of others, from your own mistakes and from other sources like books. This is easy to say though. It can, as almost anything, be harder to do. One suggestion I have is to, like I said about the previous habit, realise the limits of what you know and the way you going about things. And then just try something new.

Another tip is to read A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle and especially look at the chapters about the Ego. If you stop identifying so much with your thoughts and your Ego, as Tolle prescribes, it becomes a whole a lot easier to let new ideas and thoughts come into your life. And to let go of old thoughts that aren’t useful to you anymore. On the other hand I’d like to add and counter-balance with these tips: don’t get stuck in reading, in just taking in new information either or you might become a self-help junkie. Use the new information, put what you have learned in to action and try it out.

7. Constantly on information overload.

With information overload I don’t just mean that you read a lot. I pretty much mean an overload in all input. If you just let all information flow into your mind it will be hard to think clearly. It’s just too much stimulation. A few more potential downsides to this habit are:

- Some of the input you receive will be negative. The media and your surroundings often put a negative spin on things for various reasons. If you aren’t selective in what input you want in your life then you’ll be dragged into this negativity too. This affects how you think, feel and act.

- It creates an urge to keep up with what’s happening but there are always ten more things happening so you can’t keep up. This makes life stressful.

- It becomes hard to make decisions and take action if your mind is constantly bombarded with information or trying to sort through it all. Personally I find that if I get too much information it leads to a sort of paralysis. Not much get’s done. Or you get stuck in habit #3 and keep busy, busy, busy at high speed with low priority activities.

To be able to focus, think more clearly and take action it’s useful to be more selective in what you let into your mind. When you work shut out as much distractions as possible. Shut off the phone, internet and shut the door. It is strange how much you can get done when you aren´t interrupted every fifth minute or have the opportunity to procrastinate by checking your RSS-feeds or favourite websites.

Now I’m not suggesting that you should stop reading all blogs or newspapers. But think about what you really want to read and what you read just read to fill your time. And have a look at other areas of input where the doors are wide-open.

For instance, you don’t have to let in all the negative emotions from your surroundings. If everyone else are procrastinating or are anxiously keeping themselves busy by doing low-priority tasks at warp speed it’s easy to be influenced by that mood. If you have a door, then it might be good idea to shut it and focus on doing more important things.

Print Friendly

Like what you've read? Then get email updates (it's free)

Join over 59,426 awesome subscribers who receive exclusive happiness and personal development tips every week!


Brian Tanaka September 5, 2007 at 6:08 pm

I love the phrase “Swallow that frog.” That’s awesome. I use this technique often, and I wrote up a little how to on DevYou about it: http://www.devyou.com/productivity/boost-energy-with-the-morning-blech

Henrik Edberg September 5, 2007 at 9:01 pm

Thanks for the comment and for sharing, Brian. I agree, Swallow that frog is a great little phrase. It´s visual and memorable.

Sebastian September 5, 2007 at 9:37 pm

Love your article. I came here via StumbleUpon not expecting to read something that I have to deal with everyday: procrastination. I’m working in media business doing websites and stuff. So thanks for your article – it just reminded me that just clicking the “StumpleUpon” button and browsing website after website in the end does not finish that one website I need to get done ;)

bipolar2 September 6, 2007 at 2:54 am

OK advice for neurotypicals and noxious extroverts — Enjoy your genetic predisposition to being outer-directed.

Filling your time with high quality servitude? — “ineffectiveness” is Nature’s way of telling you that your lifestyle sucks. Find ways to lavish your skills on yourself instead.

You have heard “Those who have the gold, make the rules.” But, let an INTP say, “Those who make the gold, break the rules.”

copyright asserted 2007

Erin September 6, 2007 at 3:42 am

Hi Henrik,

After Priscilla Palmer’s self development list Jenny and I have decided to try to help build the self development community. So we are holding a little contest. I would like to invite you, and anyone else interested, to find out more details at Win a $25 Gift Certificate.

Canucklehead September 6, 2007 at 5:51 am

Great article. I was going to say more here .. but now that I think about it. I really guess this could come back to bite me .. man, everything sure does lately, well I .. meh, maybe tomorrow.

ieclectic September 6, 2007 at 1:50 pm

I have more or less practiced each and every one of these more or less my whole life. It’s a constant battle to keep open, positive, productive. For me, it’s mostly been a battle of writer’s block, which is really idea block. A blank sheet of paper, a blank screen, is sometimes easier dealt with than others. For those tough times, I’ve found being constantly challenged with new information, perspectives, ideas unrelated to whatever I’m working on is key. Re your last point, it’s refreshing to me to keep feeding my inner child. If interested, try the Eclectic Guide To Ideation, 250+ links to both more and less useful, thought-provoking, insightful places and people and input.

Henrik Edberg September 6, 2007 at 2:36 pm

Thank you all for you comments.

drk September 6, 2007 at 3:32 pm

I’d like to comment but I think I’ll do it tomorrow …

Minimalist September 6, 2007 at 5:53 pm

Save the environment, procrastinate away.

Be paralyzed by thought as opposed to thrashing by action in the wasteland we call corporate America, at least you’ll do less damage.

90-95% of jobs / careers are meaningless, you probably have one.

No need to become effective at the production of meaningless junk to sell to the mindless drones of overconsumption throughout suburbia.

To what end? Ineffectiveness is the most effective tool to slowing production and doing the least damage to the unarmed citizenry advertisers, salespeople, marketers target and the environment in general if you had just taken a moment to think.

quotes September 6, 2007 at 6:04 pm

Bill Cosby said, “I don’t know the secret to success but the key to failure is to try to please everyone.”

Phil September 6, 2007 at 7:38 pm

I’ll read this later..

Leandro Nascimento Camargo September 7, 2007 at 1:43 am

I guess people who fits in these advices are very related to the ADD syndrome.

I am one of these people. I have ADD and I identify myself with these tips. Thanks. =]

kevin September 7, 2007 at 3:34 am

while I realize you are trying to limit yourself to 7, may I suggest an 8th: Don’t keep records–appointments, contact information, important documents– all the things people use to schedule their time, their activities, and their progress.

That seems to be a key component of the highly ineffective people I have been unfortunate enough to have close contact with.

Anon September 7, 2007 at 11:13 am

An inspiring article, especially #6 and #7, felt like someone was pointing a finger at me!

Bob September 7, 2007 at 12:47 pm

I love being told how to live my life by a complete stranger! Thanks a lot!

Luis September 8, 2007 at 12:20 am

“Bill Cosby said, “I don’t know the secret to success but the key to failure is to try to please everyone.”

Was the director John Ford who say that.

sunchaser September 9, 2007 at 7:26 pm

great article and site! :)

Jabapyth September 10, 2007 at 1:21 am

Wow. far too much of this describes me ;)

Pancratius September 16, 2007 at 10:38 am

I also read somewhere, and it works quite well: In case of procrastination, instead of saying to youself, for example, “I have to write a report”, say “I CHOOSE to write a report”. It does help.

Scott September 20, 2007 at 9:56 pm

Re: Constantly on information overload. Try turning off the news. The 24/7 news cycle where you can hear about the OJ arrest ten times an hour is a horrible way to live. You will be surprised how much happier and productive you become when you stop bringing the problems of the world into your living room.

Douglas Woods September 25, 2007 at 11:47 am

“Seeing the negative and downsides in just about anything”

There are always more than one side to any issue and it is often good to be able to see more than just the one. Not all apsects of an argument or debate are going to be good, some are likely to be negative. Surely it is good to be able to see the negative or downside, so long as you do it for the reason of finding ways of avoiding or overcoming them!

Where I agree with you is that always seeing the negative or downside is likely to stop you moving forward or doing anything!

Coach Kip September 29, 2007 at 3:50 am

I usually like to keep things always in the positive, but I like the twist to the article. Nice job pointing out what we need to avoid.

GreatManagement October 1, 2007 at 8:12 am

Another great article.

One word – meetings.

Attending meetings which have no outomes, agenda, purpose, interaction, etc.

How many times have you attended a meeting and come out thinking ‘what a waste of time, that was!’


Gopal Krishnan October 1, 2007 at 12:48 pm

Happened to stumble down on a very good article.

Now I know, these qualities are shared by others also; not only me. Only person who found out these about me ( I was keeping it as secret) none other than my wife.

Thanks for your keen observations.

@Stephen October 3, 2007 at 3:21 am

Great list. These are some characteristics that I have been working very studiously to avoid. Thanks for pulling them all together.

Duncan October 4, 2007 at 7:11 pm

Never put off until tomorrow what you can stick it to someone else today so that they get blamed for it. :)

Lyman Reed October 5, 2007 at 4:00 am

Outstanding stuff, Henrik… one of the things that I love about StumbleUpon is coming across stuff like this that I missed when it was first published.

And it’s ironic that I just pulled myself out of your #1 the same day that I ran across this!

Richard Cox November 2, 2007 at 9:17 pm

Great stuff,

ditto what Lyman said, stumbleUpon rules!


Stanley Bronstein November 7, 2007 at 5:51 pm

I loved reading your post on “7 Habits of Ineffective People.”

If you want to learn some Habits of Effective People, please check out video interviews from my nationwide tour of ultra successful people at:



Maryam Al Qamzi November 11, 2007 at 4:29 pm

i’ve really learned alot from this article
thank u very much

John Stack November 17, 2007 at 3:38 am

The thinking too much and surfing too much – I’m sure you saw the thing in NYSumday times? I have it in my blog post this week: epaper.hubspot.com


Andrew November 26, 2007 at 8:06 pm

Great article. I agree with “not showing up” as the biggest pitfall for most ineffective people. Most of success is showing up enough times and trying sufficient new things and ideas until ones of them catches on, hooks everyone’s attention and becomes very successful.

I have also written related article title for anyone interested:
How to Become Great in any Field – 4 Success Secrets Revealed



kim January 19, 2008 at 6:10 am

Anyone that finds this interesting should read up on The law of attration,the science of dliberate creation, and the art of allowing (known as the laws of the univers) GREAT READS

BillinDetroit February 4, 2008 at 5:37 pm

@Henrik: Great twist on an inviting topic; the title caught my attention.

Hey, look, I know that English is not your first language and I don’t want to bring you to grief with this, especially as English is the ONLY language I feel comfortable writing in, but I want to ask you to correct this sentence:

“And so very little gets done, you whine to anyone who wants to hear – and many who doesn’t – about how crappy your job, life and boss is.”

The word “doesn’t” refers to the singular, such as “John doesn’t care.” There is obviously only one “John” being referenced here. The word “don’t” is used to refer to the plural, such as “many who don’t”, where ‘don’t’ is used to describe ‘many’, which is always plural.

English is complicated. Not as bad, I am told, as Arabic, but definitely more of a challenge than Esperanto. Your blog is great, your English far better than my Dutch, please continue providing this service for us all. And please consider this comment to be nothing more than an attempt at helpfulness.


Henrik Edberg February 4, 2008 at 5:45 pm

Thanks for the tip, Bill. I’ve fixed that sentence.

BillinDetroit February 4, 2008 at 5:51 pm

@ Luis … it is attributed to Bill Cosby @ http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/billcosby105051.html

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.
Bill Cosby”

Could you cite your source for your claim that John Ford said it? I am going to use the quote in a blog post that I am writing right now and I would like to be certain that it is attributed correctly. I normally consider brainyquote to be authoritative in such matters, but if they got it wrong then I want to put matters right in what I write.

Know what I mean, jelly bean?

Myke May 12, 2008 at 4:07 am

One of the easiest habits to get stuck in, besides procrastinating, is to keep yourself busy with unimportant tasks.

When you have prioritized using this rule just write down the top 3 most important things you need to do that day.


Thanks for this post! I find some really helpful.

Adrian May 16, 2008 at 1:45 pm

One thing that works for me is to stop listening to the negative voice in my own head. When I have negative thoughts I try to think of what the reverse thought would be and act on or in that direction instead.thank you for all the other wonderful ideas!

Inspiration for Change May 17, 2008 at 10:24 pm

Fantastic tips on how not to be ineffective, great post!

Heavens June 27, 2008 at 1:43 pm

Stephan Covey in his Landmark book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” introduced the concept that all things can be prioritized by “IMPORTANCE” and “URGENCY”.

But can any one comment:




Paul August 6, 2008 at 1:16 am

Habit #3 = BillinDetroit (big thanks for a live preview, I appreciate this very much). It goes like this:
“One of the easiest habits to get stuck in is to keep yourself busy with unimportant tasks.” – BillinDetroit gave us a great example how to waste time, explaining the difference between the word “don’t” and “doesn’t” in an article which teaches how to make big bucks and deal with the real world. This is my second post about this issue on Henriks’ site and the only purpose I wrote those two posts is to tell Erik to concentrate on content – which is GREAT!!! Bill – no offense – you really thought I can’t understand the article. I personally have nothing to Bill, I don’t know him but his next post about citation is habit #4 “Thinking too much”. I’m waiting for his next posts wonder which bad habit he will use now. BTW I’m struggling with the same BAD habits. I try to see them or maybe not, maybe even my post is one of bad habits, at least we are showing up and 80% of success is ours …uff.

IM August 11, 2008 at 11:59 am

Haha “paralysis by analysis”… It would, unfortunately, be a too-fitting epitaph for myself.

Some good quotes and advice in this article– thank you!

Alex Shalman October 24, 2008 at 6:40 pm

In today’s day and age, information overload is the hardest thing to tackle!

Claudia November 15, 2008 at 8:51 pm

Those attributes sound really carefully chosen, I myself have noticed them in a lot of people. Especially in people who were struggling with a drug or alcohol dependency problem, but there is a way to solve most of these attributes. A good drug rehab center can help them get their lives under control.

Mark December 19, 2008 at 9:12 pm

I’ve to admit I’ve been guilty of thinking too much, procrastinating and information overload.

I’d long wanted to do Internet Marketing but because I had zero knowledge, I kept putting it off as I wanted to make sure I knew everything and had the perfect plan before I get started so that I can’t fail.

But truth is, there’s just so much information on IM all over the cyber space that I was trapped in information overload. And all I did was read, read, read and read, and plan, plan, plan and plan. And nothing concrete really came out of it.

Eventually, I finally figured ‘what the heck’. To hell with the unknown! As Richard Branson said, “Screw it! Let’s do it!”

And that’s just what I did. I’m glad to say that I’ve finally had my blog up and running for a few months now. Although it’s not gained much traffic yet, I feel a great sense of satisfaction just for TAKING ACTIONS.

I feel so empowered and inspired simply for taking actions. There’s really magic in taking actions.

I hope that anyone who read this comment would do the same. Stop worrying about what you don’t know. Instead, focus on what you already know. You never know what you already know will take you until you TAKE ACTIONS.

So just tell yourself “Screw it! Let’s do it!”



Francesca January 11, 2009 at 4:05 am

This is silly. We all found this blog from stumble upon.. or most of us. I procrastinate. ALL the time. I’m homeschooled and I haven’t done a single shred of work all year. I know what I need to do to stop procrastinating. Only an idiot doesn’t know that. I choose to procrastinate because I like to lay in bed and listen to 23 minutes in Brussels and smoke a joint. Every procrastinator does it by choice, unless they have a diagnosed disease.

Rain January 31, 2009 at 4:05 pm

i love your site :) its so informative and helpful

GhadaLancer March 9, 2009 at 1:29 am

great topic… you are just talking about me
I’m suffering of procrastinating and lack of time management ,, spending most of the day doing unnecessary things
your tips and notes are very useful to me
thank you so much


Amezstudio April 25, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Excellent article,mind blowing,i am a big fan for this blog.Thumps up.

{ 6 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: