Being productive is like anything else in life: some people seem to do it naturally, and the rest of us need some help.
Why is that? You could say some people are just lucky. I say you just need to unlearn some habits.
Here are the top three myths that are killing your productivity:
- As long as you’re busy, you’re being productive.
Oh, it feels so good to be busy all of the time, and it’s become a social norm, a badge of honor. When someone asks you how you are and you respond, “busy,” you feel so accomplished and successful. But it doesn’t really feel good to be stressed out all of the time.
Your body responds to busyness with inflammation. You feel fatigued and irritable. You have a hard time sleeping at night. Your back hurts. Your head hurts. You feel anxious. There’s a reason that some medical experts are calling busyness a disease. You may be too busy because you haven’t truly prioritized your time so that you focus your attention on only your most important tasks. Is it really necessary for you to be the one to schedule the meeting with your client? Wouldn’t your time be best spent reading, writing, researching, and doing other tasks that only you can perform?
Take a few moments to write down your important priorities at work. You’ll make better choices about which tasks you should complete and which you should decline or delegate. Check out Steven Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, for a detailed system of how to do this.
- You’re a productivity superstar because you multi-task all day.
Multitask at your own risk.
Research shows that multi-taskers are less productive than people who focus on one task at a time. Why? Our brains are not capable of fully focusing on more than one task at a time.
When you multitask, your brain is actually toggling back and forth between tasks, giving each task a few seconds of attention before jumping to the other task. Every time your brain switches tasks, it has to restart and refocus. This takes time and energy that could be better spent focusing on only one task at a time.
I’m not saying that you should never multitask. Standing in line and checking your phone, yes. Driving and checking your phone, no. Doing the dishes while listening to a podcast, yes. Editing a document while on a conference call, no.
What’s the difference? You can multitask when one activity doesn’t require your full attention, such as washing dishes. But you cannot multitask when both activities are important and require intense focus, such as editing and paying attention at a meeting.
- You don’t have time to take breaks because there is so much to do.
I get it. You’re so busy that you have to work through lunch, and you think breaks are only for slackers and smokers. However, your brain can work for only so long. At a certain point, you get diminishing returns.
The research is clear: your brain works best if it has a chance to reset itself, so give it a short break. Get up and grab a glass of water; take a five-minute stroll around your building. Sitting for long periods of time isn’t good for your body either. Stand up and take a few yoga stretches in your office.
Feeling especially unproductive in the afternoon? Consider taking a power nap for ten to twenty minutes. Studies show that napping increases your alertness and productivity.
None of this is probably news to you; you’ve read an article or seen a headline about these somewhere. But there’s a reason for that. If you make these small tweaks to your habits, you’ll find that you can get more done every day and have more time to enjoy your life.