I live in the US of A, and that means long hours, mandatory overtime, and always stay busy for success. So if we are so productive as a nation, why doesn’t America produce anything anymore? If we are so great at getting things done, why are most Americans stressed, overburdened, and buried under unconquerable loads of work?
As a whole, we here in America pride ourselves on productivity, but some of our underlying assumptions about productivity are actually wrong. Working longer hours doesn’t mean getting more done, multi-tasking is NOT a virtue, there is time for break time, it isn’t always better to just do things yourself and contrary to popular opinion working with others can make you more productive, and finally there is always time to change course if necessary.
Myth #1- Longer working hours help you get more done
Most people have come to believe that if you work longer hours you will get more done, and while this myth is true to some extent, longer hours don’t increase productivity even if you DO get more done. Long hours push our bodies and our minds to their limits, they stretch our ability to focus and often decrease the quality of our work. People who are overworked and tired have a harder time focusing on tasks and staying efficient.
Most people work an 8 hour workday, and yet if you truly look at their days, most of the work that they do could probably be finished in 4 hours or less. Each day most of us waste a vast majority of our time on things like gossip, mindless web surfing, texting, checking emails, or any other number of distractions. For many of us it is easier to go on autopilot and do what is easy and unchallenging for 8 hours than it is to push ourselves hard for 4 hours per day and then spend the rest of it doing things we enjoy.
More working hours doesn’t equate to more getting done, and it often leads to more time being wasted.
Myth #2- Multi-tasking gets more things done
I’ve been to several nursing job interviews where employers say “We need people with multi-tasking skills, tell me about a time when you multi-tasked successfully to get more done.” This might be the single greatest myth of productivity: that multitasking is more efficient than focusing on one thing.
Multi-tasking takes focus away from the things you are working on and decreases the quality and attention of your work. Not only will the quality of one thing be decreased, but all things will suffer if you never devote attention to one thing n its own. The human mind is made to focus on one task at a time, it doesn’t matter if you think you need to be on the phone, checking email, and writing a letter at the same time- the truth is you are going to end up doing each one more poorly than if you paid total attention to one at a time.
Multi-tasking causes low work performance and it leads to more mistakes and hang-ups, which forces you to end up redoing things that should have been done right the first time. Multi-tasking just doesn’t make sense unless you have 3 projects you are working on and you block out separate time for each one. Working for 1 hour on a project and then moving to another project for an hour can be helpful and efficient, but working on 2 or 3 or 4 at once is a waste of your effort.
Multi-tasking is like trying to bail water out of 4 sinking boats at once; rather than bailing out the boat you are in, patching it, and then trying to save the others- multitasking will cause all of your ships to sink.
Myth #3- You need to stay busy at all times (there is no time for breaks)
Pushing yourself hard to get stuff done is good. Setting up intense times to work for stretches without interruptions is good. Trying to work for 8 hours straight without a single break…not so good. Our attention span is like a muscle, we can focus for a while, but after a time we start to get foggy and unfocused. Taking a break can help us reset and relax for a short period so we can jump back into tackling the work in front of us.
Imagine going to the gym and not taking any breaks in between weightlifting sets; after a short amount of time (if your intensity is high enough) your muscles are all going to be so fatigued that you won’t be able to breathe: you will probably end up quitting and going home; however, throw in a short minute break in between sets and you can still bang out a workout in an hour and get home soon.
If you want to get more done, and if you want a high performance each time, schedule yourself with some break times, trust me it will help you out.
Myth #4- Working with other people takes too much time
A lot of people think that working with other people takes up too much of their time and that it is easier to do something themselves than it is to take the time to delegate something to someone else. Not only are other people sometimes better suited to complete a task than we are, but we tend to overestimate our own abilities to do things as well.
Example: Your job is to dig a hole 6 feet deep in an hour. Rather than take the time to go back inside and grab someone to help you, you decide to just get started; you work your ass off but at the end of the hour you are only halfway done. In another world you could have taken 10 minutes to go inside and get 2 people to help you and you would have finished the hole in about 40 minutes.
Other people are capable, and often times taking the time to get help from others will end up saving you a ton of time in the long run, so don’t assume you can do everything best, there is probably someone else who can do it better.
— Makeyourbestself.com (@MakeYourBstSelf) October 21, 2015
Myth #5- There is no time to change course
The final myth of productivity is that there is no time to change course when things go wrong.
Businesses make this mistake all the time; they create a business plan, teach everyone what to do, and then they get to work, but then things don’t go as planned; things go wrong and rather than the companies trying to go back to the drawing board and figure out why things aren’t working, they just mandate overtime and push everyone to work harder. The quality ends up dropping a ton and some of these companies go bankrupt.
That’s basically what happened to Ford and the other American auto industries several years ago; they had a plan that didn’t work, but rather than go back and reexamine the plan and make corrections they just steamed ahead into huge quarterly loss after huge quarterly loss and eventually the men on capitol hill had to come in and save the US auto industry from bankruptcy.
There is always time to sit down, look at your results, and figure out a better and more efficient way to get things done ESPECIALLY if things aren’t going well.
Want to get more things done? Get rid of these 5 myths and you’ll be well on your way in no time!
The truth is that everyone works a little differently and you need to find the work style that suits who you are at this moment. Start focusing on quality more than quantity for starters and most of these myths will go away on their own.