There is a short list of things for which nearly everyone strives. When you put that list in terms of our work, success and career, productivity is one of those desirable outcomes. When something is both important and desirable, you would think we would have a clear picture of it. Instead, there are tons (far more than seven) of myths about what productivity is and how to achieve it. I’ve pared the list of productivity myths down to seven.
Before we get to the list of productivity myths, let’s define productivity.
Productivity is a measure of effectiveness or efficiency. It is a ratio of outputs to inputs in a specific period. In other words, we can only accurately measure productivity when we compare the outputs to the time required to achieve those outputs. Keep this in mind as we walk through the myths. Once you have a clear understanding of the definition, some of the myths will melt away like an icicle on a sunny afternoon.
1. If I get more done, I am more productive. Not really—especially if you just throw more time at it. Remember productivity is a ratio—more done is great, but how much more time did it take? Eight reports in eight hours are just as productive as ten reports in ten hours, and likely more sustainable. If you can get ten (done well) in eight hours, now you are talking about increased productivity.
2. Multitasking makes me more productive. Research shows that we can’t multitask—our brains can’t parallel process. Rather, what we do is switch (quickly) from one task to another. The cumulative productivity cost of switch tasking? Up to 40% of our time, or what I call attention pollution.
3. The key is doing all the easy stuff first. This is like eating the cake before the salad and your protein. It tastes good, but it isn’t very effective. Rather than knocking out a bunch of things first, doing the most important tasks first is far more likely to raise your overall productivity (and effectiveness).
4. Busy = productive. “Busy” is the most dangerous four-letter word in the English language. Why? Because “busy” is focused on activity, not accomplishment. Productivity is an accomplishment measure, not an activity one.
5. I’m most productive under pressure. There is no doubt that occasionally a deadline might heighten our attention and help us accomplish more in less total time. But it becomes a myth when we lean into pressure by procrastination, drama and relying on that pressure. The problem is that always forcing pressure (or waiting for it) isn’t sustainable. But it is an invitation for burnout and errors in the work or your judgment. Are you willing to risk that?
6. There is a better approach or app that will solve my productivity problems. Should we look for new approaches and ideas? Sure. Should we continue to throw out everything for the next tool, or the ideas in the next book? Probably not. Let’s bust the myth. Once you have a solid approach and set of techniques (or a tool), they will work—when you use them. Before you seek a new approach, make sure you are applying the current approach effectively and consistently.
7. The key to greater productivity is to power through. Effort and hard work are fine, even admirable, but not always helpful for our productivity. Take a break (even a short one). When you do, you allow your brain and body to recover, reduce your stress and clear your mind. Breaks can make you more productive, not less.
Each of these productivity myths that you disavow and actively work to remove from your life will move you closer to the level of productivity to which you aspire. Pick one, get started and don’t forget to share this with your team as well.
Kevin Eikenberry is the chief potential officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group, a leadership and learning consulting company helping organizations, teams and individuals reach their potential since 1993.
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