Let’s talk about productivity myths–“productivity” beliefs that can actually make us less productive.
Some productivity beliefs can actually impair our productivity
Sometimes, without even realizing it, we can develop beliefs about productivity that actually make us less productive. I thought I’d talk about a few of them today, so we can examine our own thinking and where necessary replace unproductive myths with productive truths.
There are several productivity myths that can actually lead to inefficiency, stress, and burnout. Here are some of them:
1. Multitasking is productive.
Multitasking can actually reduce productivity because it divides your attention and can cause mistakes. Instead, focusing on one task at a time can increase efficiency and quality of work. One article cited a study by Stanford University: “The study proved that people who are prone to multitasking had worse memory, were often unable to pay attention, and couldn’t filter the information accordingly to what’s relevant for a particular goal. Therefore, they were slowed down by a bunch of unrelated information. What was even more surprising – multitaskers were quite bad at switching from one task to another as well, contrary to what one may expect.” In addition, the article notes, “long-term multitaskers have a lowered brain density in the region responsible for empathy and both emotional and cognitive control.” There is value in the kind of multitasking that has you, for example, listening to an audiobook while you walk or thinking through your presentation outline while you fold clothes, but be judicious about it and make sure when a task can benefit from your undivided attention, it gets it.
2. Busy equals productive.
Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being productive. It’s possible to be busy with unimportant tasks while neglecting those that actually move you forward. It’s essential to prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency. Many of us, often subconsciously, fill up out calendars and to-do lists to avoid the discomfort of downtime. It’s worth spending some time thinking about why. Here are some suggestions from one article about how to “avoid the busyness trap”:
- “Focus on just doing three important things each day, suggests entrepreneur Dan Sullivan.
- Have a one-hour electronic blackout period, recommends Thomas J. DeLong, a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School.
- Recognize your “bias for action” — common among entrepreneurs — and realize you do not always need to do something, says business psychologist Tony Crabbe.
- Say no to things that do not advance your goals.
- Have a morning routine where you take time to reflect on how you will organize the day to fulfill some of your values.”
3. You have to work long hours to be productive.
The number of hours worked is not directly proportional to productivity. In fact, long hours can lead to burnout, reducing productivity over time. One article cited data gathered by The Economist “from 1990 until 2012 and found that longer working hours don’t correlate with higher productivity. For example, Germans work about 600 hours less yearly than the Greeks, but their productivity is 70% higher.” It is perhaps an example of the law of diminishing returns: there are limits to our ability to stay focused and productive in a day, and when we keep working past that limit we get less productive rather than more so. It’s better to work smart and take regular breaks to stay fresh and focused.
4. Productivity means doing more.
Being productive is about getting more done in less time, not necessarily doing more tasks. It’s about effectiveness and efficiency, not volume.
Related to this is the idea that to be productive you need to set and achieve “big audacious goals.” There is evidence–both in research and in personal experience–that setting up huge “achievement”-type goals can actually create overwhelm and intimidation and backfire when we become paralyzed by the size and scope of the thing. A better approach to sustainable productivity is to focus on creating small, consistent habits, because it’s what we do every day that makes us productive, more than the periodic big burst of activity.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have big goals. But consider pondering what a person who accomplishes that goal does on a daily basis–what habits will lead to that accomplishment–and focusing your attention on cultivating those habits.
- Example: Goal–run a marathon. What habits does a marathon runner have? (Running regularly, starting small; eating healthy; hydrating; etc.)
- Example: Goal–write a novel. What habits does a successful published novelist have? (Write daily–start small)
5. You can’t take breaks and be productive.
Regular breaks can actually boost productivity and creativity. A study cited in a Michigan State University article found that “Taking a break from work increases focus when employees return to work, thus improving their productivity. Additionally, taking breaks relieves some stress, which helps employees’ mental health and well-being.” The article noted other studies that showed that breaks helped workers avoid decision fatigue, thus making better decisions after a break, and improved creativity, promoted healthy habits, and improved both memory and focus. Several articles I read talked about how many highly accomplished people have established habits of taking breaks–even naps–during their work day. Consider using the Pomodoro Technique, which recommends taking a short break after every 25-minute work session to keep your mind fresh and focused.
6. Always be “on”.
With the proliferation of technology that allows us to work from anywhere, it’s tempting to be constantly available for work. This was an issue even before the COVID pandemic, but during that period when so many people started working from home, it became even more so, when, as one article put it, “managers and coworkers who were once in the office down the hall, are now in your living room, kitchen, or bedroom (wherever you can find a quiet place to plug in your laptop).” It’s a myth, though, that being always “on” leads to higher productivity. Even before the pandemic, research was showing the negative effects of the “always-on” life, noting, among other things, that “spousal resentment and work-family conflict increased the more often employees checked smart devices during family time.” Whether you work from home or not, it’s crucially important to set boundaries between work and personal life. One Business News Daily article encourages us that
“Cutting ties with the outside world from time to time allows us to recover from weekly stress and gives us space for other thoughts and ideas to emerge. Unplugging can mean something simple like practicing transit meditation on your daily commute, instead of checking work emails.”
Set a time when you’ll disconnect from work each day to avoid burnout and maintain work-life balance.
7. All hours are equally productive.
Related to this is the myth that in order to be productive you must maximize every waking hour. The truth is, as one writer put it, “trying to be a perpetual achievement machine just isn’t in tune with human nature.” Research has shown that most of us have about 3-4 “highly productive” hours in a day. Furthermore, those hours come at different times of the day–everyone has different times when they’re most productive, often referred to as their peak hours. Some people are more productive in the morning, others in the evening. It’s important to identify your peak hours and schedule your most important tasks for those times.
8. A cluttered desk means you’re unproductive.
A popular saying goes “a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind.” However, everyone has different preferences and some people thrive in what others might perceive as a chaotic environment. The key is finding an environment that works best for you. One article put it this way, “Contrary to the standard view that clutter decreases productivity, sometimes a decent mess on your desk can actually make you more efficient, creative, and better at decision making, as found in this study. Put simply, good space organization doesn’t mean leaving the space absolutely decluttered. It means having the things you need the most nearby and keeping unnecessary stuff out of the way but within reach in case of need.”
Another article agrees:
“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. 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.”
9. Technology always increases productivity.
While apps and software can be very helpful, they can also be distractions or create additional complexity. Sometimes, simple methods can be more effective. It’s crucial to use technology wisely and selectively, and not spend too much time managing the tech and not enough time actually getting stuff done.
10. More hours of sleep equals less productivity.
While it might seem like sleeping less gives you more hours to work, the reality is that adequate sleep is critical for cognitive function, decision-making, creativity, and overall health. Lack of sleep can decrease productivity and increase the likelihood of errors.
In addition, at least one psychologist (whose name I can’t pronounce) has noted that “Creative people rest often and sleep a lot. The important thing is that they control their energy; it’s not ruled by the calendar, the clock, an external schedule. When necessary, they can focus it like a laser beam; when not, creative types immediately recharge their batteries.”
Keep in mind that creativity isn’t limited to artists. A key component of true productivity, of making a life that matters, is creative thinking about how to accomplish tasks, achieve goals, and create a life of meaning for yourself and those you love. Thus it makes sense that you need enough sleep to support that creative thinking and be as productive as you want to be.
Some final thoughts
It’s important to remember that productivity is very individual. What works well for one person might not work for another. It’s key to find techniques and habits that align with your personal work style and life circumstances.
What do you think?
What productivity myths have you been acting on without realizing it? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me
Resources and Link
- The Top 9 Productivity Myths That Just Aren’t True
- Deep Work: The Complete Guide (Inc. a Step-by-Step Checklist)
- The Creative Personality | Psychology Today
- 5 Productivity Myths Ruining Your Life
- A neuroscientist debunks the biggest productivity myths | BBC Science Focus Magazine
- 20 Productivity Myths That Kill Productivity | Week Plan
- 5 Common Productivity Myths You Need to Stop Believing | Shine
- 6 common productivity myths busted | DeskTime Blog
- 10 Toxic Productivity Myths – Blog – Shift
- 10 Productivity Myths That Hold You Back – LifeHack
- How to Cope with That “Always-On” Feeling
- Work Addiction: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment
- How to Improve Your Work-Life Balance – businessnewsdaily.com
- Breaks During the Workday – Toward a Respectful Workplace
- The Top Benefits of Taking Breaks at Work | Nivati
- The Importance of Taking Breaks – The Wellbeing Thesis
Help Spread the Word!
Tell a friend about The Productive Woman podcast. Share an episode using the social sharing buttons at the top of this post, and consider leaving a review on Apple Podcast.
Click here to discover my favorite apps!
I would love to have your help!
Royse City, Texas