3 Ways to Break the Tyranny of Productivity Myths

Original Post by Dennis Collins


As contributors to a blog featuring advice for increasing productivity, we have a confession to make: We know no one
possibly could implement every tip or meet every standard of business behavior advocated in this space. In fact, we believe trying to do so would be submitting to a type of tyranny that stifles your creative energy
and, worse, drains your motivation.myths-and-facts

Simply put – productivity without purpose is pointless.  In business, efficiency without progress toward an objective amounts to little, if anything, gained. Effectiveness is a better thing to measure than pure efficiency.  Call centers learned that when they realized reducing call duration wasn’t solving the customer service problem, it led to more inbound calls to really solve a problem.  First-call resolution was a metric that measured effectiveness and helped reduce call volumes.

“When we get too focused on productivity as a concept, we often forget what we were trying to accomplish in the first place,” author, editor and productivity guru Jocelyn Giel told Fast Company magazine. Her comments were part of an ensemble piece busting productivity myths; the article was one of three recent items in Fast Company addressing misconceptions about the meaning of productivity.

We reviewed those posts and gleaned three popular productivity fallacies, along with three methods for freeing yourself from loyalty to these myths:

MYTH: Immediate Action is Always Best – Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, right? Except when all of tomorrow’s assignments become today’s distractions, of course. “I challenge people to procrastinate on purpose,” said author Rory Vaden in a Fast Company piece published last fall. “Doing something early isn’t creating more time; it’s taking something from tomorrow and bringing it into today. And this opens you up to the risk of unexpected change cost.”  Too often people rush to do something, and encounter unintended consequences more drastic than a slight delay would have created.

practiceMETHOD: Practice “Strategic Procrastination” – Instead of the binary choice of “do now” or “do later,” Vaden recommends considering multiple options for any given task:

  • Can I eliminate it?
  • Can I automate it?
  • Can I delegate it?
  • Can it wait until later?

According to Vaden, this strategic approach requires an understanding of the distinction between important, urgent and significant: “Important is how much it matters, urgent is how soon it matters, and significant is how long it matters.”

MYTH: What Works for One Will Work for All – Anyone who’s purchased a pair of shoes recognizes the one-size-fits-all fallacy. While we may have common business goals, each of us contributes in different ways according to our experience, expertise and talent. This means, in turn, we all have individual assignments, tasks and challenges. So, how could one set of productivity rules serve everyone?

METHOD: Honor Your Personal Working Style – If popular productivity tips aren’t working for you, then accept this reality, adjust your methods and adapt your behavior. Like being productive, flexibility is a valuable business attribute. “It is really important to help you identify what you need to change and what you optimally need to maintain things,” Julia Mossbridge, M.A., PhD, toldFast Company.

MYTH: Orderly Desk, Orderly Mind – Clutter on your desktop (physical or virtual) literally gets in your way and distracts you from the business at hand. Sure, this thinking makes sense – until we realize that few of us define “clutter” the same way. Like taking immediate or delayed action, defining clutter is not a black-and-white process. And just as one set of productivity techniques can’t account for every person’s individual style, an absolute standard for an orderly workspace is a delusion.schedule

METHOD: Utility’s the Thing – In terms of productivity, clutter should be defined as whatever does not serve current business objectives or assignments, which, naturally, is a definition that must evolve day to day, week to week and year to year. For example, background reading for tomorrow’s staff meeting should be in a handy folder, while notes from last week’s session can be filed for reference. The business book you hope to read? Maybe that item should come off your desktop and go into your bag for your evening train ride or your next plane trip.

The clutter issue underlines an important dimension of productivity: It’s not just about rational systems. Emotion plays a role. “When you get rid of the clutter—the things that aren’t serving you—yes, the place looks good, but you also feel better because you’re getting rid of the things that aren’t helping you,” author Brooks Palmer told Fast Company. By the same token, having useful items within arm’s reach can give you a sense of control and confidence.

So, perhaps the most important piece of productivity advice we can offer is: Develop and heed your own standards. Take ours in the spirit intended: Just some food for thought and perhaps a little nudge here and there.

Have you ever considered a ‘productivity’ tip and then realized it wasn’t helping you at all?  But was the exercise itself valuable because it made you rethink something?  Let us know your experiences. 

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