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10 Myths about Personal Productivity and Procrastination

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This is a guest post by Stacey Marone, a graduate of Social Sciences and freelance writer. She likes traveling, exploring new cultures, and gathering interesting facts. In her free time, she also does volunteer work and organizes some activities for children. Her passions involve painting, reading, and writing. You can follow her on Twitter.


The cult of success is a recent obsession in our culture – we all want to be in high-paying but fulfilling work, with people we actually get along with. At the same time, a good family life and ample time for leisure and travel are also important things we want to achieve.

And yet, though these are important to us, they remain ideals. We think of them as too far-off for our own standards, and largely reserved for people who have it all made already.

But this isn’t the case. In truth, anyone can achieve a healthy balance between work and personal life. The secret? A productive lifestyle.

The Problem

Here’s the thing: while plenty of us know what we want and how to get there, few of us actually act on these thoughts. The image of productivity is one of the greatest examples of this lack of will on our end.

Productivity and success are tightly tied to each other, we all know this. However, we find ourselves gravitating not towards a high-functioning tendency, but more towards procrastination and laziness. It seems to be the easier thing to do, that’s all.

The benefits, on the other hand, are another thing entirely. Because we are rarely willing to do the work it takes to achieve something like self-discipline and productivity, we also rarely get the results we want.

How do productive people find the energy, time, and will power to push themselves to do more? It will surprise you that it doesn’t take much.

The Solution

‘Solving’ a personal habit like procrastination is a matter of getting to the root of the problem and undoing every knot patiently.

Some studies show that procrastinators, or at least, people who always turn up late, have a deep-seated fear of being left behind. In the cultures that do put an emphasis on arriving and submitting on time, however, there appear to be fewer procrastinators because punctuality is the norm.

Here you can see that procrastination and personal productivity aren’t ‘natural’ to any person at all! These sometimes circumstantial or learned habits are formed by various factors.

It’s time to undo some harmful myths about personal productivity, and learn how to cope with each of them:

1. Productive People are Born, not Made

Fighter pilot testing plane

As we’ve already established, there’s no such thing as a ‘naturally’ productive or lazy person. The idea that productive people are only productive because their family is productive, or that they have been born that way is one of the biggest misconceptions about productivity there is.

Individuals who get things done manage to do so because of great effort and time management skills. They are also very conscious of what’s going on around them, so they can be one step ahead all the time.

It’s not so much a matter of self-confidence as it is a matter of self-discipline. Envying those who manage to do this won’t get you far.

To get on their level, consider the following tips:

  • Learn to be more mindful of your surroundings. Some people think that mindfulness is about slowing down and enjoying the moment, which may actually sound counterproductive. However, mindfulness is actually about paying attention to what you are doing and how you are doing it so you can do it better. For example, if you find that you keep reaching for the stapler you habitually keep putting back in the drawer, mindfulness teaches you to keep the stapler out and within easy reach, saving you time.
  • Avoid comparing yourself to other people. In most cases, you will not measure up, especially if you are just starting at something, so this can be demotivating. Instead, focus on how much better you are becoming at what you do everyday. Challenge yourself to go faster, get better results, or accomplish more today than you did yesterday. Before you know it, you will be as good, if not better, than your peers.
  • Accept new experiences. Don’t be afraid of venturing out of your comfort zone and trying something new. Sure, you may suck at it, but then again, you could take to it like a duck to water. Being productive is not about the destination, but the journey. If you meet each challenge with eager anticipation, it will make your life more exciting. Even if it doesn’t pan out, you have the satisfaction of knowing you gave it your best shot.

2. Talent Trumps Work Ethic Any Day

There’s a slight bias towards the idea of ‘talent’ that leads us to think that if you’re talented enough, you won’t have to work hard at all.

This misconception about talent is greatly damaging to personal productivity. As much as we’d like to believe that being naturally good at what you do is enough to cut it, that is not true at all. An attitude like that can keep you from maximizing your opportunities.

In the workplace, employers prefer individuals who may not be ‘prodigies’, but who work hard. The truth is, a hard worker with natural talent is the ideal pairing, but when push comes to shove, hard work takes the day.

Keep these in mind the next time you feel like slacking off at work:

  • Talent is as talent does. You are only as good as your results, no matter how much talent you may or may not have. Even if you are not the best at what you do right now, you can make up for it by putting forth your best efforts. As you do, you will find that you get better at it. Observe the behavior and work patterns of people who seem to have a knack for getting the work done, and learn from them.
  • “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” This is a quote from Thomas Edison, perhaps the best example of how hard work trumps talent. Edison was not a genius, but he knew people who were, and he was smart enough to take their ideas and make them real by sheer persistence. While stealing other people’s ideas is not recommended, the point is that lack of talent is not an excuse for not getting anything done.
  • Know your limits. If you do have talent, that does not mean you know everything and can do everything perfectly. Know your strengths and make the most of them, but work on your weaknesses at well. For example, if you are good at coming up with great marketing ideas, but suck at organizing those ideas into a cogent whole, then you should ask for help from someone more organized. Establish a partnership with people who can fill in the gaps to get the best results.
  • A strong work ethic is important in an organized system. You don’t work in a vacuum. People rely on the punctuality of your output, so you need to synchronize your efforts with others in the team. Make a point of knowing and meeting your deadlines to avoid compromising the productivity of others.

3. Productivity Requires Inspiration

Many people delay starting on work because they are not “in the zone.” Waiting for inspiration is just another way to procrastinate, and it is a sure-fire way of running out of time to do a great job.

The fact is, you will get into the zone once you actually start working. It shifts your brain into work mode. As novelist and prolific writer Stephen King points out, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

The next time you find yourself avoiding your workspace like it’s radioactive, try these ideas:

  • Create a checklist of what you need to do the next day before turning in for the night. Crossing out tasks can give you a sense of deep satisfaction.
  • Sleep early, and get up early. You will find you have more energy and will be ready to do something productive.
  • Start working on the most difficult or least pleasant task on your schedule first. If you get your least favorite task out of the way early, the rest of the day will be comparatively easy.

4. Productivity Equals Perfection

In line with the last point, some people miss their deadlines because they want everything to be just so, and can’t seem to let it go. However, productivity is not always about having all the details exactly right. Sometimes you have to look at the big picture. What are you trying to accomplish? Have you accomplished it even if one aspect of the project is not exactly as you wanted it?

The goal of productivity is to get work done right, not necessarily perfect, and obsessing over every little thing can leave you grid-locked. Here are some things you need to keep in mind:

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Some things are important, and some are not. For example, if you bake a cake, and one corner is slightly burned, then it isn’t perfect. What do you do? Make a new cake? No, you cut off that little corner, put frosting over it, and it won’t make one mite of difference to the way it looks or tastes. You know it isn’t perfect, but nobody else does, and it is a great cake. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Obsessing over a little imperfection can be counterproductive, so let it go.
  • Accept that some things are out of your control, and deal with it. In most cases, things will happen that you are powerless to do anything about. Building on the cake analogy, say you can’t get the exact shade of pink you like for the frosting because you ran out of red food coloring. Do you go out and buy another bottle, and miss the party altogether, or settle for a lighter pink than you wanted? If you have time to go out to buy another bottle, then fine, but if you don’t, does it really matter? The lighter shade might even look better!

Accepting that not everything you do will be flawless can be greatly liberating, and make you less anxious. However, if you still have trouble reconciling your perfectionist tendencies with meeting deadlines, calm your inner perfectionist with these steps:

  • Do things ahead of time. If you want to be able to proofread or edit your work or look into each tiny detail without compromising the deadline, then make sure you have enough time to do it. Make allowances in your schedule for your nit-picking ways.
  • Prepare an outline. This is especially important if you are figuring out how to do something for the first time.
  • Be prepared for all eventualities. Some people can wing it, but most people get bogged down by the details of a task or project, which can get frustrating for the habitual perfectionist. Plan out each detail of a task, including any possible delay or compromise. By anticipating these potential pitfalls, you become more capable of getting past them.

5. Creative People Don’t Need Schedules

Large assortment of multi-colored pencil crayons

Similar to the idea of talent being superior to work ethic, there’s also the notion that creativity, as an unstructured and free-flowing activity, doesn’t need to follow a schedule. The most celebrated creative people are, after all, often seen as erratic and spontaneous.

Don’t be fooled. Even creativity follows deadlines and a certain kind of schedule to fit into the mold. This doesn’t make it any less creative. You just need to admit that there is always a method to the madness, and method equals a logical progression.

How would famous painters have finished their greatest work if not through rigorous amounts of discipline and practice? Before they achieved such greatness, they went through a whole lot of discipline first. In other words, creativity and productivity are not mutually exclusive terms. To exercise your creativity and still produce results on schedule, adhere to a new mindset:

  • ‘Productivity’ and organized work schedules don’t have to be the same for everybody. The type of organization you need depends on what works for you. If your creative juices happen to work late at night, simply shift your schedule a day earlier than the others, so that you connect in a mutually beneficial place and time.
  • Keep at it until it works. Some people have a hard time following any schedule, but that’s just habit. Find a system to build habits and apply it to following a schedule.
  • Schedules are motivating. When you know you have to produce at a certain time, it galvanizes you into action. Consider the effect of the words “when convenient” against “urgent” on your psyche, and you will find that the word “urgent” makes your heart beat faster.

6. Organized Work Kills Spontaneity

When leaders say ‘think outside the box’, this doesn’t mean that you’ll need to stay out of that box forever. Great ideas come from spontaneity, but they don’t have to stop when you start getting into a more organized lifestyle.

In fact, setting a work schedule should help your creative flow better because you have something on which to focus. Feeling aimless usually leads to feelings of anxiety. Having a more direct path, on the other hand, clears your mind and helps you focus on what to do. With a focused mind, you can let spontaneity get to work on the right things.

It is important to remember that organized work doesn’t preclude non-work activities. Throw in some fun activities to give your brain a bit of exercise and perhaps some inspiration. After all, spontaneous ideas have to come from somewhere. Here are a few useful tips:

  • Allot time to do a non-work related activity every day in your daily schedule. It could be reading a book, watching a movie, going out with friends, or simply taking a walk after dinner. Always thinking about work not only increases your stress levels, it makes you less likely to be creative in solving problems.
  • List any new things you’ve learned outside the regular run of things. This helps you feel more satisfaction about yourself, and makes you more confident about work.
  • Reserve some time for a break in your schedule. This is especially important when you are struggling with a difficult problem at work. Sometimes the human brain can solve problems better when you put them on the back burner for a while.

7. Pressure is a Better Motivator

There is a popular but very misleading line that reads, “The Deadline is the Best Inspiration”. Some people do believe they work better when they are under pressure, but what really happens is that they work faster. While they get a sense of euphoria when they “beat the deadline,” it also usually means they cut corners and turn in work that is less than stellar.

Cramming keeps you from giving the work the thought and care it deserves. Often, the end product is sloppy and uninspired, or at least not as good as it could have been if you had allotted enough time to do it right. Assuming you do work better under pressure, constantly working against the clock can cause too much stress and pressure on you that can lead to actual health issues.

You can avoid the pitfalls of deadline-beating by organizing your work and making allowances for any delays that may occur. Try these takeaways:

  • Learn from experience. Know how fast you can work, how many tasks you can take on, and how early you can turn in the work. That way, you can establish realistic deadlines, and you will know when to refuse additional work that can compromise your ability to meet your commitments.
  • Establish a system. Increase your efficiency by knowing which tasks should be done first and making a checklist for each one. That way, you can avoid going over the same ground and going back to do something you forgot.
  • Accept that delays will happen. You may work at a certain pace, but you have to allow for delays or problems caused by outside forces. It could be a sick co-worker, an unreliable supplier, the weather, traffic, and so on. Build in generous allowances for the accomplishment of each stage in the task or project, so that you can still meet your deadlines.

8. Productivity is a Solitary Task

We often assume that personal productivity is something to be done alone. However, that is not true at all. Being personally productive does not preclude getting help from other people, especially if certain tasks are not in your skills set. Collaboration can make you much more productive, because you can concentrate on doing the things you do best, and depending on others for the rest.

Essay Scholar Advisor professional writer Maggie Lumens confesses, “I have a hard time proofreading and editing my own work, so I depend on other team members to do that for me. That way, I can move on to other writing assignments, and still be confident that each client gets top quality and error-free work.”

Collaboration can be with colleagues, friends, family, or professional service providers. No one is good at everything, so don’t waste time struggling with a steep learning curve and work with other people that can do it better than you. You can use apps such as Trello or Slack to make your collaboration efforts more efficient.

9. No Time to Make Time

Octopus in Business

A common complaint against plotting out an organized work schedule is that – ironically – doing this takes too much time!

However, the alternative is to work without a plan, which can lead to disaster. You will be forever reacting to situations. Dealing with emergencies you should have anticipated can seriously derail the work you are trying to do, so it really makes more sense to plan it at the start than to deal with it “on the fly.”

Now that you know you need to make time for organizing your work, ask yourself these questions to do it right the first time:

  • How much time are you willing to allot for a certain task?
  • Which tasks are to be prioritized?
  • What steps do you need to take to accomplish each task, and how long will it take to accomplish them?
  • What tasks can be delegated to other people?
  • What possible problems could arise that will have to be dealt with?

10. Nose to Grindstone Means More Work Done

Many people (and most employers) believe you get more work done if you work straight for two to three hours on a task. Taking frequent breaks is perceived as slacking off. However, you are probably being less personally productive if you don’t take a break.

People are simply not built for working for long periods of time without letting up. You need to take a break now and then to recharge.

Studies show that people who take frequent breaks tend to get more work done in a shorter amount of time. Sitting still for hours on end makes you feel physically drained and fatigued, and this affects your mental ability to stay focused. Your brain starts to feel less nimble, so you are unable to think creatively around a problem.

The question is, how often should you take a break for more personal productivity? There is no one answer. Some people swear by the Pomodoro technique, while others believe the 52-17 rule is more effective. Try both, and see which works best for you. If you have heard of any other productivity technique regarding break-taking, try that, too!

Conclusion

Personal productivity and procrastination don’t always cancel each other out, but there is a definite inverse relationship. If you want to increase your personal productivity, you need to deal with your habits of procrastination. These 10 myths are excuses that many people use to justify continuing in their bad habits, but the fact remains that if you don’t get going, you’re not going to get anywhere. Stop making excuses. Start developing the right mindset and habits to become more productive.


This is a guest post by Stacey Marone, a graduate of Social Sciences and freelance writer. She likes traveling, exploring new cultures, and gathering interesting facts. In her free time, she also does volunteer work and organizes some activities for children. Her passions involve painting, reading, and writing. You can follow her on Twitter.

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