Productivity Myths: What Works and What Doesn’t

4 minute read

Regardless if you have returned to the office, or are still working from home, you may be looking for new methods to increase your focus and productivity - but which ones actually work? Here are a few common productivity myths that we would like to bust: 

  1. The early bird gets the worm. Though we might hear that waking up early enables some to be more productive and successful, like Apple CEO Tim Cook who gets up around 3:45 a.m, this does not work for everyone. Although starting your work day earlier might allow you to get some tasks done before the daily stream of emails and distractions come in, it has to work with your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Moreover, if waking up early causes you to lose out on quality sleep, even if it’s only 16 minutes, it can cause you to be less productive.

    Instead, identify the windows of time where you feel the most energy and focus in your day. Plan your day around these windows, scheduling the toughest tasks during the times when you have the most energy, and lower priority tasks, like following up on emails, on times where you might need to build back up momentum. 
     
  2. You have to clear your inbox and to-do list. Productivity isn’t always about quantity, especially if it’s at the expense of quality. Although the inbox zero method can be helpful, some might find the task of organizing and emptying their inbox daunting.

    The key idea behind inbox zero is to be able to organize your emails in a way in which you can identify requests or emails that can be quickly responded to, or others that you may need to follow-up on. The same goes for your to-do list. You don’t need to complete every item on the list for it to be helpful
     
  3. Good multitaskers get more done. Unfortunately, although we would like to think we are good at multitasking, research finds that people are more productive when focusing on a single task at a time. This is because it’s difficult for us to shift our attention from an unfinished task and focus in on a new one. This is called “attention residue,” in which we find our mind wandering back to another unfinished task.

    Instead of multitasking, try focusing on one key task at a time. If you suddenly remember something else you have to work on, jot down the thought on your to-do list instead of switching tasks. This isn’t to say you can’t watch a webinar while folding laundry, or have a walking meeting to get in some exercise. The key is focusing on combining things you can do at the same time that aren’t in competition for your focus and attention.
     
  4. Good time management means making the most of your working hours. As Adam Grant puts it, time management isn’t a solution to productivity, but rather part of the problem. If you’re trying to be more productive, don’t analyze how you spend your time. Pay attention to what consumes your attention.”

    Instead of focusing on maximizing every minute, we should focus on managing our attention effectively. This means trying to minimize distractions during deep work, grouping meetings on certain days, and surprisingly, taking breaks. Research suggests that an effective work rhythm is 52 minutes of focused work followed by a 17 minute break. In fact, those who take breaks more often than every hour were still more productive than those who worked for longer with no breaks. This is because as humans, we are limited by how long we can meaningfully focus on something.

Instead of only looking for quick tricks or methods, one effective way to boost productivity is to focus on creating a system that facilitates good habits. To do this, consider what can help you stay accountable. Some might find that the simple act of adding something to a to-do list or planner is enough, while others might need to build in external measures by involving team members. “The specific system doesn’t matter—just design a system. You don’t want this floating around in your head, stressing you out.” Moreover, building habits takes time. Start small by identifying little changes you can make everyday instead of trying to make a large change right away. 
 
Even the most daunting tasks or goals can be accomplished by breaking them down into achievable, smaller steps. 
“The framework here can be adapted to any tool or method of keeping up with tasks, and as long as you start with small changes and protect your willpower as they increase over time, you have better odds of creating a lasting change.”

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