With all the distractions competing for your attention, it's natural to fall back on time-honored ideas about productivity when trying to maximize your time. But what if those ideas weren't really quite right? Or what if you've been applying them wrong all along? We dispel certain productivity myths to help you better understand how to really do your best work.
Myth: Write out a to-do list.
Reality: Lists can keep you organized and help you commit to a task. But to-do lists only help if they’re approached correctly. A recent study asked college students to set deadlines for themselves and found that those who set strict parameters fared best. Those who gave themselves too much time to complete a task fared as poorly as those who’d given themselves no deadlines at all. Write out what you need to do, but then track what you’ve actually accomplished. Knowing what you've accomplised can keep you accountable, encouraged and on track.
Myth: Power through. Just get it done.
Reality: You may think that you have to hunker down and power through a big task to complete it. However, a study by the Federal Aviation Administration fund that short breaks lead to 16% boosts in focus. Better to work for 90 minutes at a time with short breaks in between. Stepping back to clear your head, even if it's just for a quick walk around your office, can jumpstart your brain and leave you feeling refreshed.
Read more: 5 Simple Strategies for Beating Procrastination Once and for All
Myth: Multi-tasking boosts efficiency.
Reality: Often when we try to do everything, we accomplish hardly anything at all. Managing a million projects simultaneously adds stress and draws out the time needed to complete individual items on your to-do list. Instead, finish one task at a time. Prioritize and concentrate on what’s most important first. Working your way through the list will motivate you and give you a sense of accomplishment.
Read more: Multitasking Is a Myth. Harness the Power of Focus to Achieve Extraordinary Results.
Myth: Practice makes perfect.
Reality: Only the right type of practice will lead to improvement. As experts have pointed out, shooting hoops isn’t as useful as setting out to master a specific shot. So re-examine your daily schedule and ask if regular tasks or meetings are helping you to move the needle or meet important benchmarks. The meetings or tasks you decide to continue should be rethought, designed to achieve small, clear goals.
Read more: The Psychology of Getting More Done in Less Time
Myth: I have too much to do.
Reality: We’re not saying your to-do list isn’t long. You’re busy, sure. You just might not be productive. Overly ambitious plans can seem daunting and set you up for failure. Chances are, some items can drop off of your list or be delegated away. Take a fresh look at what you’re expected to do, what’s realistic to finish and start asking for help. Once your plan is more manageable, you’ll find yourself less likely to procrastinate.
Read more: 15 Ways to Overcome Procrastination and Get Stuff Done (Infographic)
Myth: You thrive under pressure.
Reality: Working in crisis mode can make you less creative, since you’re less likely to collaborate and seek out new perspectives and find the best idea. Some experts say you’re more likely to rely on hierarchy and produce average work, not breakthroughs.
Myth: Knock out the busy work first.
Reality: Spending valuable early hours on menial work can be just as harmful to your productivity as mindlessly scanning your social media feeds. Scientists say doing hard work first ensures you tackle challenges when you’re at your most creative and prepared. Jump right into the biggest priority on your list and when you're ready to take a break, switch gears to the lower-impact tasks.
Read more: The Myth of Working Hard vs. Working Smart
Read more: The 3 Worst Things You May Be Doing When Setting Goals
Myth: Procrastination is natural. It's just how you work.
Reality: If you are putting something off, consider why. Often it's not the task you're avoiding but a larger issue, such as a fear of failure or a lack of concrete direction. Ask yourself what you need to make getting things done easier. And if your delays stem from a larger issue with your job, don't feel like you have to go it alone – ask for help.
Read more: Why Procrastination Is Not Your Problem