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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 July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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