There's a ton of advice out there when it comes to getting more done. Not all of it is created equal.

Part of the problem is the ease of hanging out your shingle as a productivity guru. No one licenses those handing out tips or checks that their advice is research-backed. Another issue is that what makes your productive depends on the kind of work you do (and to some extent the kind of person you are). What works in a widget factory isn't the same as what works in a startup where creativity and deep thinking are in demand.

And finally, humans are weird. Our brains are full of quirks and oddities that make sensible-sounding measures counter-productive. Meanwhile, some myths (I'm looking at you multitasking) are just so attractive (I really do wish I could do three things at once) that they're hard to let go of.

But you need to let go of these misunderstandings if you want to be as productive as possible in as short a time as possible. A couple of cool recent resources can help bust myths and get you on track. One is a SlideShare presentation called '26 Time Management Hacks I Wish I'd Known at 20' from product design and marketing consultant Etienne Garbugli. As you'd imagine it lays out all the misapprehensions Garbugli fell prey to in his youth.

The second is a helpful Fast Company post by Stephanie Vozza outlining common but incorrect productivity beliefs, which covers much of the same ground as Garbugli's presentation while adding some extra commentary from (real) experts. Here are some of the main myths they tackle:

1. Your to-do list is the Holy Grail of productivity

It's not that you should entirely chuck your to-do list (though some have done it and never looked back), but the experts agree that leaning too heavily on a simple, old-fashioned checklist has several serious pitfalls.

One, noted by Garbugli, is that to-do lists have a tendency to make every task appear equally important. But while 'buy milk' may look visually equivalent to 'negotiate new contract with biggest client' on your to-do list, we all know they're not. Make sure your to-do list isn't inadvertently messing with your priorities and pushing you to spend energy checking off minutiae at the expense of doing something truly productive.

Fast Company warns of another issue with to-do lists. They seem a sensible way to start the day but they're really not. "If you're waiting until the morning of to organize your day, it's too late; the day is already crashing down upon you," Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check E-Mail In the Morning, is quoted as saying.

2. Multi-tasking makes you more effective.

No. It. Does. Not. How much research do you need to see before you believe me? Or take it from Garbugli who states bluntly: "Stop multitasking. It merely kills your focus." If you haven't already giving up this brain-frying, output-reducing habit, quit it already. It's a nice dream, but it just doesn't work.

3. More hours worked equals more productivity.

This is another one that's been completely and thoroughly debunked by science. At a certain point (not much above 40 hours a week) productivity per hour works starts to decline significantly. Trying to push yourself to just keep pounding it out will just mean a decline in both the quality and quantity of your work. You're better off sticking to a humane schedule that works with your natural rhythms and includes plenty of rest thrown in. Or as Garbuli puts it "more hours doesn't mean more productivity. Use constraints as opportunities."

4. Small interruptions are a small problem

The cost of interruptions is higher than you might suspect. For instance, Garbugli includes a little graphic in his presentation illustrating just how hard it is to concentrate before an impending meeting -- the hours leading up to it are often dead time -- and also quotes Y Combinator's Paul Graham: "A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon by breaking it into two pieces each to small to do anything hard in."

This is just one aspect of the problem of "switching costs." It takes mental energy to re-immerse yourself in something after you've been interrupted. Garbugli's advice? "Keep the same context throughout the day. Switching between projects/ clients is unproductive." Another idea? It might sound crazy, but scheduling all your meetings for one marathon day to clear them out of the rest of your calendar could help.

5. Quick action is almost always best

Actually, if you want to be more creative and more spherical in your thinking (which you almost certainly do if you value long-term output), spending time mulling what to do is often time well invested that will pay off in more and better work in the long term

Plus, much like to-do lists, rushing to do whatever is in front of you can mean spending your energies on what's visible or urgent rather than what's important. "If you are always just executing on the task in front of you right then, you are never able to focus on the tasks and projects that truly align to your goals and priorities. You end up reacting instead of responding," Carson Tate, author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style, warns on Fast Company.

What other productivity myths would you really like to see debunked?

Published on: Oct 21, 2015
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