Productivity should be kicked from its throne. Being productive is too often seen as the be-all and end-all of life, while it is only a narrow slice of the human experience. Our interests in productivity come from a healthy place - the innate desire to be useful - but it should not result in the always on mentality that is persistent in today’s society and makes many people feel guilty when they’re not being productive.
Productivity’s royal position, along with the abundance of productivity advice, has led to many wrongful assumptions about the concept. Unfortunately, much of what we believe about productivity hurts us more than it helps us. Here are 6 productivity myths that you should stop believing.
Myth 1: Tool X Will Make Me More Productive
Productivity tools sell you the promise of more productivity. Use our tool and you’ll accomplish so much more. You’ll get your life under control. Organizing your life will never be easier. The list of slogans goes on. There’s a reason why there are so many X vs Y comparison articles to be found online: everyone is looking for that one productivity program that will sell them the promise made on their website.
But the reality is that switching productivity tools is often more of a hassle than it’s worth. The incremental differences between productivity tools don’t merit the change. You’ll spend a significant amount of time transferring everything from one app to the other and you won’t be that much more productive in the end.
Consider this: isn’t it strange that Leonardo da Vinci was so prolific despite not having access to the Internet? That Isaac Asimov wrote over 7 million words with just paper and, later in his career, a clunky typewriter? They didn’t have access to the latest and greatest tools. You, too, should be wary of switching productivity software too often.
Myth 2: You Need to Copy the Habits of Successful People
Elon Musk works 80+ hours a week. Stephen King writes six pages a day. Tim Cook wakes up at 3:45 AM. These must be the reasons why they are so successful. But are they? Benjamin Franklin would stay nude for an hour every morning. Igor Stravinsky stood on his head for 10-15 minutes every day. Michelangelo wouldn’t shower for days.
Successful people are often successful in spite of their habits, not because of. Additionally, we don’t hear of those who tried adopting their habits and weren’t successful - something called survivorship bias. These people are successful for a wide variety of reasons. It cannot simply be boiled down to their habits.
Successful people should be looked at for inspiration, not for blindly copying their habits. That’s looking for a shortcut where there is none. Instead, you need to find what works for you (a recurring theme in this blog post).
Myth 3: You Need to Be Organized to Be Productive
We associate productivity with being organized, because you’ll be more productive when you know where things are and how important they are. There’s an element of truth to that, but we tend to take it too far, spending hours to devise elaborate systems that end up being quite susceptible to falling apart.
While it’s a nice feeling to organize your files, folders, contacts, emails, etc… the link with productivity is tenuous at best. This is particularly true because, in most cases, search is faster than sort. There’s little use spending even half an hour organizing your emails when you can find any email in less than ten seconds with a simple search.
Don’t go overboard with organizing everything, in particular when the thing you’re organizing changes often. Rely on search and keep your organizational structure loose and fluid. Limit the amount of time you spend shuffling things around.
Myth 4: Multitasking is Bad
We’ve all been spoonfed the advice that multitasking is bad. But the reality is, once again, more nuanced. Multitasking is considered bad because of the cognitive cost that switching tasks incurs. Programmers are particularly familiar with this, as writing code requires build-up time to get into a flow state. Switching tasks when you’re in a flow means that you need to go through that build-up time again.
But multitasking doesn’t always incur a cognitive cost. If we’d analyze our behavior while programming, we’d notice that we almost continuously switch from task to task. We read documentation, write code, ask a question to a colleague, test code, and so on. All these tasks are part of the same subset, which is why we don’t feel as if we’re losing focus doing them.
So don’t feel as if you need to do one thing at a time. As long as you stay within the activity that you’re currently focused on, multitasking will do little harm. And if you ever read or hear that multitasking is bad, realize that the truth is more nuanced.
Myth 5: Busy Means Productive
One of the unhealthiest aspects of productivity is that the more productive you are, the more productive you’ll want to be. If you have a productive day and get all your work done halfway through, you’ll feel tempted to fill the other half with more tasks. But that needn’t (and shouldn’t) be the case.
As Dan Luu said in his blog post: “higher productivity doing work or chores doesn't have to be converted into more work or chores, it can also be converted into more vacation time or more time doing whatever you value.”
Here at X-Team, we encourage our developers to build the life they want to lead. If that means exploring a new game, then go for it. If that means traveling the world, we love it. If that means helping your kids develop new skills, absolutely. Productivity should not become a never-ending chase to complete the next task.
Myth 6: You'll Be More Productive Working Remotely
One of the biggest advantages of remote work over office work is that you’ll end up being more productive. It makes sense, too, because you won’t be pulled into meetings, can set your own schedule, won’t be disturbed by colleagues, and so on.
But you won’t be more productive simply because you’re working remotely. If you’re working from the kitchen table while your kids are running around asking for your attention, it’s unlikely you’ll be more productive than from an office. Remote work, too, requires you to find or build a routine that works for you, and that might take some time. The remote work section of our blog can help you with that.
We hope that this article has given you a more nuanced view of productivity that will allow you to read productivity advice with a healthy amount of skepticism. While you can take inspiration from productivity tips and articles, understanding who you are and what works for you will ultimately determine how productive you are.