what we get wrong about productivity

What We Keep Getting Wrong About Productivity

Getting more work done can quickly become counterproductive. For many people, it’s an obsession that only leads to a waste of time. “Do more faster” doesn’t work, especially if you sacrifice great work. A faster treadmill doesn’t guarantee a better outcome.

“The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be,” says Bruce Lee. Hurry slowly to get the details right. An efficient output is far better than a hurried engine.

The “do more, faster” mindset is killing us.

You can get better work done without doing more — that barely moves the needle. You can achieve more in less time. You don’t even have to aim to fill your calendar every day completely. “My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do,” Francine Jay once said.

Productivity is a skill — and like many skills, you can improve how you get things done.

In a survey of American knowledge workers conducted by Dropbox, 61% say they want to “slow down to get things right,” while only 41%* say they want to “go fast to achieve more.” But does going fast help us achieve more? You can find out for yourself by measuring your outcomes on different days.

Being productive is an elusive goal for many people. Whether you like to organize, worry about deadlines, or have a creative personality, you have to overcome the many mindsets that sabotage your productivity actively. Some people feel the need to push themselves to work more and more, and others get distracted by every little detail around them.

The result is that no one is successful at getting anything done. Too much information and too many low-value tasks can be overwhelming, both mentally and physically. The trouble with overwhelming our calendar with too many tasks is that you end up hard-pressed for time and find it hard to focus on a single task because you are too busy worrying about the million other things we need to do.

Many productivity habits don’t work:

  • Answering every email immediately.
  • Thinking in big goals instead of small tasks.
  • Working without a daily structure of getting things done.
  • Start your day with a giant to-do list.

Another thing we get wrong about productivity is choosing to work on easy tasks first thing in the morning. It’s a total waste of brain energy.

You are most active and refreshed in the morning; working your most difficult or high-priority work in the first half of the day makes a lot of productive sense. It’s a simple habit that can significantly reduce the amount of time you spend on tasks.

In our information-rich world, distractions are slowly taking over the little time we have for real work. With emails and texts coming at us from every direction, it can be challenging to focus on essential tasks. Most people fall for the urgency trap: many notifications and messages that supposedly require our immediate attention. There are only a few important tasks in the day, but many people give too much attention to everything coming at them.

“Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most,” Abraham Lincoln said.

The only way to cut through the noise is to defend your time actively:

Use noise-canceling phones, mute your notifications when you start focus work and remove external distractions from your immediate work environment.

We all want to get more done, but finding time for our most important work can be challenging. If you take complete control of your schedule, you can avoid busy and stressful work.

Sometimes the best way to get more done in less time is by eliminating the many habits that add little or no value to your long-term goal. Once you’ve reduced your productivity habits to a few highly efficient ones, single-task to get your high-value tasks done faster. “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all, says Peter Drucker.

Batch the same tasks together to reduce cognitive energy when you shift to different things on your list. It’s a better approach to conserving brain power for important tasks.

Productivity is a personal journey — it’s an infinite process that requires a massive time commitment throughout your career. To get real work done throughout the process, focus on systems and practices that work for you. Own your productivity experience.

That means every tool you add to your process should not take you away from the real work. If you are spending too much time tweaking productivity tools or gathering systems instead of getting things done, you are missing the point. Tools are only meant to advance our daily goals: they shouldn’t take away our precious time. Don’t get trapped in the cycle of hunting for better tools: do the work.

“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves,” says Dave Allen. If your means of getting to the end goal has a massive learning curve, you will spend almost all your time learning how it works when you should be moving the needle or making progress.

Productivity is the engine of personal progress. Choose your tools wisely — make them work for you, not against you. Make it work for you. Work with your mind and body.

This article originally appeared in Medium.