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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 August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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