What if I told you that the things you think are true about productivity are actually detrimental to getting things done? Let me guess. You’re doing all the right things that you believe will help you get the stuff done that you really want to do, but it’s not happening. You’re frustrated, burned out and simply tired.
If you’ve been following the rules outlined below, consider shifting your perceptions and adjusting your work habits. These different ideas might enhance your productivity in ways you never thought were possible.
1. Myth – It Pays to Work Hard – Keep Your Head Down
Do you believe that working harder, better and faster is the Holy Grail for getting things done? Do you think that if you could just focus better, keep your head down and “push through” then you’ll magically produce more and more each day? If you believe that you’ll be an instant success when you eliminate breaks, get to work earlier and stay later, you’re fooling yourself.
Are you the person who realizes that after a long day at work you sat at your desk or in meetings all day and never took a bathroom break? Admit it, we’ve all done it. If this is you, keep reading. Working harder and “pushing through” is a vicious cycle that leads to burnout. It takes a toll on you emotionally, psychologically and physically. Recently, a tweet caught my eye that compared prolonged sitting to cigarette smoking, stating, “Sitting is the new cigarette.” This is a powerful statement that led me to research how prolonged sitting affects the body and mind.
An article from the Mayo Clinic indicates that adults in a study that spent more than four hours a day sitting while watching a screen, had a 50 percent increased risk of death from multiple causes and a 125 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease. If this doesn’t convince you to get up and moving, then my message isn’t compelling enough. Keep reading.
Earlier I wrote a post about Ultradian Rhythms and the science of why taking breaks enhances productivity. Taking breaks is truly a little known and surprising method for boosting problem solving, creativity and productivity. Set a timer for 90 – 120 minutes. Then, take a 20-minute break after that time period ends. Experiment with this method and observe if you’re achieving the productivity benefits you’re hoping for.
2. Myth – Procrastination is Bad
I’m certain that during your life, you’ve come to the conclusion that procrastination is a trait that’s considered undesirable – an unwelcome guest that sneaks up and steals your productivity right out from under you. Change your perception about procrastination. Make it your friend, but not your BFF.
The key to making procrastination work for you is to first recognize it for what it is. Is there a task that needs to be done, but you’re dreading it so it’s been put on the back burner? Is there a daunting project looming that you don’t have the time or energy to complete? Consider how important and urgent this task or project really is. Rank it in importance of all the other projects and tasks that are present in your work and life. How will avoiding this task or project affect you?
Align your goals, tasks and priorities. If the task you’re putting off isn’t going to move the needle toward your most important goals, then put it aside – go ahead and procrastinate and stop feeling guilty. It’s not worth your energy. If you simply don’t have time given the other priorities in your work or life, set this task aside, outsource it or delegate it. As long as your making progress on what YOU believe are the most important or urgent tasks, then you’ve mastered the art of procrastination.
3. Myth – All Multi-tasking is Harmful
In the recent past, multi-tasking was considered a trait of highly effective people. It was a characteristic to brag about to friends and coworkers. Recently, productivity experts and researchers have flagged multi-tasking as a habit that reduces productivity and impairs intellectual ability. I agree, rapid multi-tasking is detrimental to productivity. If you’re shifting back and forth from many tasks or getting frequently interrupted, you lose focus and ultimately efficiency suffers.
On the other hand, I never believe in extremes. A limited amount of multi-tasking can make you more efficient, depending on the type of tasks you’re executing. For example, imagine you’re a teacher and you also have children who play baseball or soccer. While you’re waiting at their practice, spend time grading papers and you’ll have more quality 1-on-1 time with your kids when you return home. Discover which tasks don’t require a lot of thought and those are the tasks that can be done in the background. Think of your brain like a computer. If you have too many processes going, it will eventually impair the performance and sometimes it shuts down. You know your limits; use common sense when it comes to multi-tasking.
4. Myth – Paper Lists Work Better Than Digital Lists
I’ve heard time and time again that many of you are unconvinced that a digital to-do list has its productivity advantages over old-fashioned sticky notes or a moleskin day planner.
With an old-fashioned paper to-do list you’re required to erase items when you re-prioritize or make errors, which is arduous. With a digital list, re-prioritization is usually as quick and easy as a tap and drag action. It’s nearly impossible to share a paper list with someone who’s not at the same location when you’re delegating or sharing tasks. It’s challenging to save and reuse a paper list; these lists inevitably get thrown away or lost. Completed tasks or to-dos that are written on paper or whiteboards cannot be searched for history purposes. Your smartphone is compact, always with you — and ready while on the go. Save your time and some trees; a digital productivity app can boost efficiency and productivity with several benefits over paper methods.
5. Myth – You Must Get Up Early to be Productive
Most of us have heard the old idiom, “the early bird gets the worm” – meaning those who rise early reap the benefits. Do you believe if you rose earlier you would accomplish much more? This is another myth that needs busting.
Everyone is different. Some of us do our best work in the morning, while others flourish at night. In fact, researchers at Germany’s Aachen University determined that early birds and night owls may have structural differences of their brains.
Don’t focus on switching your natural rhythms. Learn your natural tendencies by listening to what your body is telling you. Log the times that you get the most done and feel you have the best focus. If getting up early depletes your energy and your schedule allows the flexibility of starting your day later, then go with the flow. Take advantage of when your energy is at its best and schedule your most difficult tasks during those times.
6. Myth – Caffeine Makes You Productive
It’s a proven fact that caffeine increases your alertness and may help you focus. However, becoming reliant on a caffeine boost to increase your productivity might be a crutch worth kicking.
Ultimately, caffeine can affect your wellness in ways that can be detrimental to productivity. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. In fact, it increases catecholamines, which trigger changes in our bodies that allow us to prepare for flight or fight responses. Catecholamines increase our heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
Have you ever consumed too much caffeine to keep you awake so you can study for a final or finish a big project and it left you with a sleepless night? The result – you’re too tired to perform at your best. Or have you ever stopped drinking caffeine for a few days and felt the pain of a headache resulting from withdrawal? Caffeine withdrawal can include other symptoms as well, such as lack of concentration, depression and muscle pain. These withdrawal symptoms can result in days of lost productivity.
A great strategy for caffeine use is to limit it to the times you really need it, instead of making it a habit. And consider your caffeine source. Green tea is a great source because it also contains EGCG, which researchers believe can improve cognitive function. If you’re thinking about kicking your caffeine to the curb, there are many brain foods you can try to boost concentration. Blueberries, avocados, fatty fishes such as salmon, flax seeds, nuts and foods rich in B12 are good choices to boost energy and/or concentration.
7. Myth – Social Media is Killing Your Productivity
Social Media can destroy your productivity. However, it depends on how you use it. Do you check social media several times a day? Do you spend endless hours looking at your friends’ photos on Instagram or Facebook? Do you read every article that pops up on Twitter? If this sounds familiar, you might rethink how you’re consuming social media information. Scheduling a few minutes each day on your calendar to check social media during breaks can actually be a great way to recharge. You just need to use an ounce of self discipline.
Social media is valuable for finding information that you’re researching. It’s also valuable for keeping up with friends and business associates in one central location. For example, consider LinkedIn. Before LinkedIn, you might have spent endless hours collecting business cards and putting information into a Rolodex. Now, all your business contacts are found in one central location – just a few clicks away, which is an amazing productivity booster.
Social media is incredible for locating and collecting information when researching any subject. There are several apps and applications that help you locate and curate this information. For example, our app Pro.Inbox is a great app for this use.
With Pro.Inbox, you can create information feeds from Twitter and Facebook and customize these feeds with keywords for any subject for which you’re interested. For example, imagine you’re focused on finding information about Clutter, CRM, Goals, GTD and other subjects. You can simply create feeds for all of these subjects and find all relevant information quickly and efficiently. Furthermore, you can convert the tweets or posts you discover to notes or calendar items to ensure that you have a record of an article or other information for your research. Converting posts and tweets to calendar items is an excellent time-saving method. When you’re ready to follow up, you’ll easily be able to find the saved information. And, in fact, if you schedule these items on your calendar, you certainly won’t forget about them.
8. Myth – Socializing at the Office is a Waste of Time
Have you ever got the stink eye from your boss when you were discussing important things at the office such as the latest episode of “Game of Thrones?” Many managers believe that socializing and laughing at the office is a huge time waster. In some cases, your boss is right; socializing can be a time suck.
But, with a little common sense, socializing can also build friendships, which can lead to better team relationships. When you have good relationships with co-workers, they’ll enjoy working with you. And perhaps, help you out when you need it. We spend 40 or more hours a week at our jobs. A happy worker is a productive worker. Go ahead, find some friends and laugh a little. Just properly manage your priorities and don’t overdo it.
What common productivity myths would you like to bust? Please share in the comments below.