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10 Productivity Myths That Hold You Back

10 Productivity Myths That Hold You Back

10 Productivity Myths That Hold You Back

    What are the myths and mistaken beliefs that are preventing you from being more productive in both your work life and your personal life? How are you actively undermining your efforts to pull it all together?

    Yeah, I mean you.

    The sad fact is that the beliefs that we hold about productivity and organization often prevent us from doing and being everything we want to do and be in our lives. While we cannot control the circumstances around us, the things that we think about work, life, effectiveness, success, and innovation affect the way we respond to those circumstances, and often for the worst.

    Here, then, are ten common beliefs about productivity that keep people from enjoying the success they desire. How many of these are keeping you from being more productive, effective, and balanced as a person?

    Myth 1: Organized equals clean

    Too many people equate “organization” with the cold, sterile, un-lived-in spaces they see in glossy magazines. That’s not organization – the cleanest-looking space might still take forever to find anything in.

    An organized space is simply one in which the things you need the most are close at hand, the things you need often are easily found, and the things you need rarely are out of the way but easily retrieved when needed. That means that organization has to meet your needs, not some imposed notion of cleanliness.

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    If you never spend more than a minute trying to find anything in that mountain of clutter you call your office (or room or cubicle or kitchen), then leave it alone. At the same time, be honest with yourself – most people claim they can find anything they need, but when put to the test, they’re left scratching their heads. If your clutter isn’t working for you, put some time into figuring out how to make sure it does work for you.

    Myth 2: I don’t have time for a system

    This is a popular complaint about systems like David Allen’s GTD. The thinking goes something like this: “If I spend all my time maintaining my list and doing weekly reviews, I’ll never get anything done.”

    The reality is that while most systems take some time to get set up, once you start using your system, the time you use in “maintenance” is more than made up for by the time you save not having to think about what to do – or making up for the things you didn’t remember to do.

    Myth 3: Systems are rigid and unflexible

    This is another common complaint about productivity systems. The fear seems to be that, unlike everyone else’s life, my life is so chaotic and unpredictable that no system can possibly accommodate it all.

    I’ve read a lot of productivity literature in my life – it is, after all, part of my job! – and I’ve never come across a productivity system that didn’t make room for differences in personality, work requirements, or personal situation. In the end, the important thing is to have a system so that you can respond effectively to unforeseen events without losing your grip on your whole life!

    More to the point, though, if your life is really that chaotic and unpredictable, it’s likely that its because you’ve resisted adopting some kind of system rather than because no system is good enough for your life. Which tells me that you haven’t spent the time you need to figure out what your own life is all about – instead, you’ve just responded to everything the world has thrown at you as it’s come. Adopting a system means spending some time figuring out what’s important to you, what isn’t important, and how to get rid of the less important stuff so you can start making ground on the important stuff.

    Myth 4: Productivity means more work

    Once you start down this rabbit hole, it can be really hard to turn yourself around. The idea is that if it takes me half as long to do all the things in my life as it takes me now, then getting productive means I’ll be doing twice as much.

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    If you’re not smart about things, that can sometimes be true, at work at least. Supervisors hate to see people lounging around while they’re still on the clock, so finishing up your day’s work at 2:00 pm means you’ll be expected to find more stuff to do to fill in the remaining hours. So if you’re that productive, you need to either leverage that extra work into a promotion or raise – or convince your boss to adopt a telecommuting plan so you can work from home.

    But productivity isn’t just about work, either. Being more productive in your life means you should have more time to do things like spend time with your family, take a vacation, read a book, visit a museum, or write your plan for world domination. Getting your work done in half the time just so you can do twice as much work isn’t productive – it’s dumb.

    Myth 5: Creativity can’t be fit into a system

    Maybe you believe that productivity stuff is for business people, not creative people like yourself. This is wrong for two reasons. First of all, creative work is still work, and just as susceptible to procrastination, poor planning, and shoddy work practices as bookkeeping, house painting, and world domination.

    The second reason is that while you may have a great grasp of the demands of your creative work, unless you’re comfortable with the whole “starving artist” thing, chances are you have a lot more to do than just the creative stuff. Records need to be kept, clients need to be contacted, taxes need to be filed, projects need to be invoiced, and so on. And here’s the rub: creative people generally don’t much like doing all that routine, everyday stuff. Having a system to make that stuff as painless and speedy as possible means you can spend more time being creative.

    Myth 6: I work best under pressure

    There are people who believe they thrive under the pressure of an impending deadline. Nine times out of ten, they don’t. They just enjoy the excuse because it means they don’t have to take responsibility for the messes they end up in.

    Keeping yourself in a high-stress, always-urgent mode isn’t good for your health, and it’s not good for your business. Health-wise, it means you’re very likely to keel over on day, decades before your time. Business-wise, it means you aren’t much of a pleasure to work with, which means that even when your work is good you’ll be turning off employers, colleagues, or clients – and sooner or later you’ll miss some important detail that you were too frantic to recognize, damaging your job, your reputation, and your career.

    If you’re lucky, you’ll have your heart attack before that happens, though.

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    Myth 7: My lack of a system is my system

    This one’s actually true, though not in the way most people intend when they say it. The mess of habits, practices, and beliefs you have right now are, in fact, a system – and you’re working it every day. Hard.

    But what most people mean is that by not having a system, they’re actually being more productive than if they had a system. For some, this is just a variation on Myth #2, but others really think that the mish-mash of habits they’ve cobbled together out of life experience is working for them. They don’t see any room for improvement.

    Which is what I imagine being dead is like. For living things, there’s always room for growth.

    Myth 8: I need inspiration to work

    No, you don’t. Inspiration is wonderful, but rarely compatible with getting stuff done. What you need is a system to capture those flashes of inspiration so that, when inspiration is on holiday, you’ve got plenty to work with.

    We have a word for people who only work when they’re inspired. That word is “unemployed”. (The reverse isn’t true, of course – not all unemployed people only work when they feel like it.)

    Myth 9: Being organized is boring

    This is a variation of Myth #1, flavored with a dash of Myth #6: some people crave the excitement that always being about to screw up brings them. This may reflect deep psychological trauma, but it may also just reflect a lifetime of bad working experiences – pulling a success out of imminent failure can feel great, and if your “everyday” successes aren’t rewarded, it can be tempting to push for the imminent failure so you can pull the success out of the jaws of defeat all heroic-like.

    Whatever the root, this myth is misguided because it places attention in the wrong place. Being organized isn’t boring – being boring is boring. Make your own excitement and you’ll stop being boring – and then you can stop using your disorganization as a crutch for a life not fully realized.

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    Myth 10: There’s something wrong with me no system can fix

    This one’s probably true. Systems, no matter how good, can’t fix the fundamental problems in your life. They won’t make you smarter or more likable or better looking or more experienced.

    What they can do is help you make time to figure out how to solve those problems. They can help you make a space in your life for real personal growth. And they can help you highlight the sources of those failures, by eliminating the “noise” that normally masks them.

    In the end, your growth as a person, your success – however you define it — is up to you. Straightening out the things in your life that keep you from being effective and productive can be an important step towards that success, but it’s a means, not an end.

    But if you’re holding tight to any of the myths above, you’re not giving yourself a fair chance – you’re standing in the way of your own life. And that’s not doing you, or anyone else, any good.

    How have you been holding yourself back? Have you overcome any of these misconceptions, and what happened when you did? Share your stories in the comments – I, for one, would like to hear about it!

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    Last Updated on April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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