One of the trickiest things about trying to be more productive is how much we deceive ourselves along the way. It’s like trying to eat healthier and then convincing yourself after one walk up the stairs that you totally deserve a donut.
Productivity lies can be sly, wolves in sheeps’ clothing, making you feel better in the moment, even as you’re actually falling behind and letting priorities slip.
It’s better to work smarter than work harder — and part of working smarter is to be more truthful about why you’re choosing to do, or not do, something and whether you’re actually spending your time wisely.
Outsmart your lazier, sneakier self. Here’s how to face the truth when you catch yourself claiming these three common productivity lies.
1. I’m going to catch up later.
The game of catch up usually never ends but yet if you’re like me, you sign up for it way too often and always end up losing.
It’s the old procrastination rationalization: “I’ll do it later!” you tell yourself, as you imagine this paragon of productivity who looks like you, zipping through a hundred complex tasks in one weekend. That person doesn’t exist.
Borrowing time from the future is like having bad credit. It’s much harder than you-in-the-past figured it will be to pay it all off. As time coach Elizabeth Grace Saunder puts it, “saving work for tomorrow doesn’t work,” because you’re likely to continue your existing pattern of behavior.
Truth: You can’t get to everything.
Focus on what’s important. That means setting and sticking to priorities by deliberately scheduling or allotting time to work on them, and trying your best to be at peace at letting many things go.
This will probably require you to start in on tasks and goals before you’re 100% ready — and that’s a good thing. Try using the 70% rule — where if you’re about 70% sure you want to do something, start (and start small to gain motivation) in order to short-circuit procrastination.
2. I just don’t have any time.
Time flying by, even though you’re not having fun? When there never seems to be enough time, you’re left with the feeling that you’re constantly behind and that build-up of pressure squeezes from all sides. The result? You’re more anxious, impatient, short-sighted, and sloppy in your work.
What’s so overwhelming about this feeling of time scarcity is that it creates an unhealthy feedback loop. We feel too busy, then we start feeling stressed and guilty, which disrupts our motivation and productivity, and then sink deeper into feeling like there’s never enough time.
Truth: You can manage how you perceive time.
Research has shown that one of the basic keys to understanding time management is managing your sense of control. When you perceive more control over how you spend your time, it boosts happiness, because you don’t feel like you’re at the mercy of a million, often competing, demands.
The simple act of scheduling your tasks and goals on a calendar, as you would a business meeting, will increase your sense of control. When you put things on a calendar, you make doing that task or activity an easier decision, and something that’s all it takes. Making appointments for non-work, me-time type activities is incredibly powerful, because these are the important priorities that tend to get pushed off — whether it’s doing yoga, or making time for family and friends, or reading more books.
3. I’m productive because I’ve been so busy.
Sometimes you find yourself wildly in motion, but not necessarily getting very far.
There are a million ways to fill your day. 75% of them are probably online or involve your smartphone — and 20% are occupied by meetings. Maybe it’s getting caught up in lifehacks and “the best” productivity tricks like finding the perfect task organizer or it’s making sure you’re winning at email.
Sometimes the busyness of “vanity work” can feel satisfyingly productive but it actually doesn’t have much depth, all while draining you of energy and attention. This requires a hard look at what you mean by being productive.
Truth: I should examine what I’ve actually gotten done.
Keep a done list where you write down what you get done. Take a pause at the end of the day to reflect on what you got done, rather than focusing on the many things you have left to do. See how you answer questions like “What did I get done today?” and examine whether you’ve spent the day wisely. Did you do good rather than more?
These types of questions and routine of self-reflection will prompt reevaluation, boost learning, help you plan and prioritize, and gain insight into how you can work and recharge better.
Do less overall, but do more of what matters. Your done list will show you how.
What productivity lies do you tell yourself? Share with us in the comments.
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Photo: Joe Penniston