Looking for ways to be more productive without putting in more hours? Productivity is a modern buzzword, but personal productivity can be hard to pin down. And on top of it, a lot of advice out there may not be as helpful as you think.
So, here are some common misconceptions about productivity, debunked by science.
Myth #1: The virtue of multi-tasking
Modern society often exalts multi-tasking as the ultimate form of productivity, but numerous studies show that it makes us less efficient and more prone to errors.
According to research, only 2.5 per cent of people are able to multi-task effectively. In fact, for most of us, multi-tasking can hinder our performance, because it forces our brain to constantly switch gears and bounce back and forth between tasks. On this note, some studies suggest that our minds are taxed by multi-tasking, and we lose the benefits of efficiency that come from staying focused on one task. Plus, multi-tasking can also affect our ability to learn, because learning requires focus: one study found that college students who tried to multi-task took longer to do their homework and had lower average grades.
The bottom line: Choosing to focus on one task at a time may free you of the pressure to multi-task and help you perform better.
Myth #2: Copying the habits of highly successful people
Do you really need to wake up at 3.45 am like Apple’s CEO Tim Cook to be more productive?
Short answer: probably not. Everyone is different and what works for someone else, no matter how successful they are, may not work for you. Plus, highly successful people are humans as well, with their flaws and ‘bad days’.
As this interesting article from ThriveGlobal.com highlights, “mindless copying of the habits of other people and pasting them into your life rarely gives the desired outcomes. The nature of your issue is specific because the combination of your characteristics and your situation is unique.”
The bottom line: Use highly successful people as inspiration. Rather than copying them, you can still experiment with their productivity approaches, emulating the ideas that can help you perform better and leaving out the rest.
Myth #3: Working longer hours
Contrary to popular belief, working longer hours doesn’t mean getting more done. A few years ago, The Economist ran the numbers and found that the opposite is actually true. The Greeks, for example, put in over 2,000 hours a year on average, whereas Germany ‘only’ worked for about 1,400 hours each year but were 70 per cent more productive than Greeks.
Closer to home, New Zealand-based research confirmed that working more hours doesn’t mean working better: “New Zealanders put in plenty of hours at work, but lag behind other countries in the amount of goods and services produced from each hour on the job.”
The bottom line: It may sound counterintuitive, but according to science, working shorter hours with frequent pauses can boost your productivity. So, what’s the sweet spot? A study found that some of the most productive people work for 52 minutes and break for 17 minutes afterwards.
Myth #4: Starting your day earlier
We all know the saying, “The early bird catches the worm”. And that’s certainly true for some people (yes, like Tim Cook). But as we said before, everyone is different and starting the workday during early morning hours may not be for you.
There have been a lot of studies around this. Some researchers found that morning people tend to be more persistent and self-directed, set higher goals for themselves, and plan for the future more. However, other studies proved that night owls tend to perform better in terms of memory, processing speed and cognitive ability; also, they might be more creative (although not always).
So, who’s right? In a way, both. According to Oxford University biologist Katharina Wulff, “If people are left to their naturally preferred times, they feel much better. They say that they are much more productive.”
The bottom line: Sure, if you’re a night owl, you can try to be a morning person. But changing your inner body clock (and trying to override your biology) may not be easy or productive. If possible, the best way to go about it is to arrange your day according to your circadian rhythm.
And in any case, try to use the first work hours for the most challenging tasks. As writer Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
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Disclaimer: Please note that the content provided in this article is intended as an overview and as general information only. While care is taken to ensure accuracy and reliability, the information provided is subject to continuous change and may not reflect current developments or address your situation. Before making any decisions based on the information provided in this article, please use your discretion and seek independent guidance.