Busting Productivity Myths


The chase for better productivity has truly become everyone’s obsession these days. The amount of tips, tricks and strategies available online is simply astounding. Go ahead and google ‘productivity’ and you will end up with over 68 million results! 

You would think that with this amount of helpful advice from productivity gurus we should all be in our absolute top form, destroying deadlines and delivering quality work in less time. And yet, we seem to be struggling with managing our time and controlling our focus as much as before. Clearly, something’s not right here.

Things like stress, multitasking, procrastination and many others get almost universally labeled as the worst enemies of any productive individual. The truth, however, is never so simple. And by taking some of those widely-accepted productivity ideas at face value, you may actually be undermining your efforts to be more productive.

But how can you tell which ones have real merit and which are pure fiction? Here are a some of the most common productivity myths that we think it’s time to put to bed for good.

Common Productivity Myths, Busted

1. Multitasking is bad bad bad

It’s a scientific fact that the human brain cannot effectively perform two mental tasks at the same time. So yes, constantly switching from one thing to another does little to improve your productivity. You lose your focus, and it becomes impossible to maintain a steady workflow.

However, this jumping between tasks is not the same as multitasking. What is multitasking is doing more than one thing at a time.

And it’s not an easy thing to do for most people, sure. However, recent scientific findings demonstrate that multitasking might not be that bad for us. In fact, a study conducted at the Chinese University of Hong Kong shows that in some situations multitasking can be beneficial.

The key is in finding tasks that complement each other, rather than those that require the same type of cognitive effort. Like listening to a podcast while cooking a meal, or planning your week while exercising.

2. Procrastination is a no-no

Procrastination gets a bad rep for being just an excuse for lazy and undisciplined behavior. There is definitely some truth to it, of course. Like if you’re watching YouTube videos or browsing your Facebook feed instead of working on an important work assignment, procrastination can become a very real roadblock on your way to better productivity.

But in some circumstances, putting things off to do something else can help you remain productive.

Professor John Perry of Stanford University, who openly admits his procrastinating tendencies, highlights the difference between regular procrastination and what he calls “structured procrastination”. The former according to him is simply not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. While the latter means you don’t waste any time, and while avoiding one particular task, you do something else of equal importance instead.

3. Knock out the busywork first

It’s a pretty common practice to start your work day by knocking out a bunch of small routine tasks first – replying to emails, checking voicemail or filing paperwork.

It makes sense to get the busywork out of the way so you can devote the rest of your day to the bigger tasks, right? Well, no. As far as science is concerned, it’s a far better idea to begin your work day with something larger and more important.

You see, our mental resources are not unlimited and by choosing to spend our precious brain power on trivial things at the start of the day, when we’re at our most focused and alert, means having less energy for more meaningful things down the line.

So making a habit out of doing the most important task first thing in the morning could the key to maximizing your productivity.

4. Being an early bird is the way to go

If you’re of those people who have trouble getting out of bed with the alarm, it’s probably fair to say that you’ve heard this tired adage at least a few (dozen) times: “the early bird gets the worm”.

If you try waking up at 5AM every morning, you will definitely have more time to have a proper breakfast, hit the gym, and get an early start at work. But unless you’re a morning person, what you would also do is get really really tired. And, as a result, unproductive before your work day even hit its midpoint.

A research conducted by scientists at the University of Liege in Belgium cast some serious doubt on the popular idea that being an early riser translates to better productivity. They studied the brain activity of two groups of people with significantly different sleep patterns (night owls and early birds) while they took reaction-time tests an hour and a half and 10 and a half hours after waking up.

To everyone’s surprise, it was discovered that in the morning, shortly after the wakeup call, there was no significant difference in the brain function of early birds and night owls. What’s more fascinating, the evening test showed that night owls were noticeably less tired and had much sharper reaction times than the early birds. Put simply, those who woke up later in the day could stay mentally focused for longer before feeling exhausted.

We’re not saying you should start sleeping till noon, mind you. Just be sure not to rush into changing your established routine if it already works well for you. Some people are early birds, some are more productive in the late hours, while the rest are somewhere in the middle. And that’s perfectly okay!

5. Busy means productive

It’s almost tragic how many people fall for this one, actively confusing being busy with being productive. Nothing wrong with being busy per se, but assuming that you’re being productive just because you’re buried under a pile of busywork is all kinds of wrong.

Sure, it may feel like got you’ve got a lot done having spent an hour crossing items off your to-do list. But if that list was filled with low priority tasks, then you have effectively wasted an entire hour of your time on unimportant stuff. Time that could’ve been better spent on making real progress on a bigger assignment.

Stop chasing quantity, because it’s quality you should be after. Sorting through all 1,278 unread emails in your inbox may feel great, but finishing a couple of paragraphs of that big article due this week would be a lot more productive.

If It Works for You

When researching advice for increased productivity it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed with tips that seemingly contradict one another. One hint can be lauded as the single best thing you need to perform better by one author, while being slammed by another as something you should avoid doing at all costs.

The smart thing to do, of course, is to not take everything you read on the internet at face value. Just remember that there’s no universal approach, and the effectiveness of any particular method largely depends on the individual. So if your way of doing things has been working perfectly fine for you so far, even if experts advise against it, there might be no need to change anything.

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