Success and productivity go hand in hand. They always have, but the very notion of productivity is evolving over time as new technologies emerge and cultural paradigms are challenged. So how should we think about productivity in 2020?
“When it comes to productivity, we need to think of it as a way of life, not merely a bunch of tactics and strategies to apply to our work or businesses. A more holistic approach is so much more effective long-term,” says best-selling author and productivity consultant Adrian Shepherd.
So if you want to increase your productivity, approaching it like a lifestyle change makes sense. You are, after all, a whole, multifaceted person who can’t be reduced to the moments you spend behind your screen or powering through your to-do list.
First things first: A lifestyle audit. How do you spend your waking hours? What about your working hours? Whether you’ve adopted a time-management method or love tools and apps that help you optimize your performance, it’s a good idea to be aware of the way you currently get things done.
Now that you have a better idea of your present productivity reality, look into these five outdated productivity tips to ditch if you want to be more successful. Perhaps you don’t need a complete productivity overhaul, but embracing a few simple tweaks and swaps might make you happier and more efficient.
1. Speeding up to get more done
Do you take pride in your ability to complete tasks super fast? You might want to rethink that approach, as speed can give you the illusion of productivity and increase the risk of making mistakes.
“One myth is that you have to speed up to get more done. In fact, most of the time, by slowing down, we actually get more done. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true,” says Shepherd.
“Unfortunately, we’re all under so much pressure to perform, we think the only solution is to speed up. But speed leads to errors.”
And when you get through something so quickly you end up having to redo it because the job is botched, you end up spending way more time than necessary on a given project. So what’s the solution if you don’t feel inspired by the idea of working like a turtle? Instead of trying to do everything fast, aim to understand which specific tasks are best sped up.
“Depending on our skillset, some processes can be sped up. We just need to know which can be, and which can’t,” says Shepherd. Now that’s working smart — not just fast.
2. Booking every moment of your day
From time-blocking to the Pomodoro method, there are so many ways to manage your time that it’s easy to forget that not every moment of your day needs to be accounted for. In fact, having less to do gives you a bigger window to get into a flow state — a precious mind space where you are hyper-focused and, in turn, way more productive.
“Unfortunately, in today’s society, we’re asked to do so much so people think the only solution is to do more. People bounce around from one task to another because they are constantly reacting to their environment,” says Shepherd.
According to him, we are interrupted every four minutes on average, yet it takes 11 minutes to get into a state of flow. “That means most of us are living in a state of constant distraction. Rather than doing more, we need to reduce our tasks and tackle one task at a time. If you want to do more, focus on less.”
3. Embracing a productivity method as the ultimate one
The worst productivity advice is that there is only one effective way of doing things, says Shepherd: “There isn’t. Sure, joining the 5 AM club is a great idea, but that might not work for you. We’re all individuals and we have to find which strategies and tactics work best for our particular circumstances.”
Overwhelmed with the very idea of figuring out how to manage all your responsibilities? Start small, try different approaches, ditch the ones that don’t work for you and build on what works.
“I find that most people who struggle with time-management and productivity just need to get a few notches under their belt to start seeing positive results. To use a baseball analogy, you don’t have to hit it out of the ballpark, you just need to get on base.”
4. Working over email
Inbox zero is overrated. “Email used to be THE thing when it came to productivity, but today it’s become a real mess for most people. It’s not uncommon for executives to have 200-300 emails a day, add in chains and CC and it’s even messier,” says Shepherd.
“There’s no doubt email is still the go-to method for certain tasks, but when it comes to discussing work and figuring out your work schedule to set up meetings, there are better alternatives — Slack and Basecamp are two tools people should look into.”
If the thought of ditching an email makes you breathe a sigh of relief, it might be very well embraced by your team as well. Look into using different methods of communication with your coworkers.
5. High-performance at all costs
Sure, being a high-achiever does mean having a high-performance mindset to a certain extent. But not at all costs. The glorification of hustle culture is starting to be a thing of the past.
“I know many very successful people who live very good lives. Unfortunately, some ended up in the hospital because of stress, anxiety, or simply poor health,” says Shepherd.
“Regardless of how productive you are in your [career], if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll end up burned out, depressed, ruining your relationships or just plain unhappy. To me, true productivity means being effective in all areas of our lives.”