If you have spent as much time in the productivity space as I have, you will certainly have come across those 'secret recipes' that claim to work for everyone who wants to get things done. However, these claims, let's call them myths, often address specific situations, types of people, or circumstances. If you find yourself in that situation or identify with that specific type of person, that particular tip can be very helpful; otherwise, it might be ineffective and even lead to demotivation. Nevertheless, this does not mean that these myths are entirely false, but rather that they are simultaneously too specific and too general. This may seem paradoxical, but it presents an opportunity to gain insights into how productivity actually works and develop some ideas to enhance your work approach. To illustrate, I have selected the three most common productivity myths that I have come across:
1. What you need is motivation:
This phrase indicates that to be productive, you need to motivate yourself and then everything will fall into place. However, while motivation plays a significant role in helping you sit down and get things done, it will not pay the bills. The key to long-lasting productivity is not just motivation; it is about doing the work even when you are not motivated. Some might call this resilience, discipline, or perseverance, but the terminology is not crucial. It is important to recognize that you have to make a conscious decision to be productive and not rely solely on motivation or the inspiration of the moment.
What we can learn: Even after making the decision to get to work, it is crucial to be in the right state of mind to continue to work effectively and not be hindered by your own thoughts. Think about what you need to get yourself into that state; there are no wrong answers.
2. Eat the frog:
This phrase is often attributed to none other than Mark Twain, although I have never taken the time to verify this claim. The concept involves tackling your least favorite task of the day first thing in the morning. However, there is a potential issue here. Do not get me wrong; I do not think that it is inherently wrong or something that you should not try. Addressing the most challenging task at the start of a work session can indeed provide motivation and momentum. But, there also will be times when you have so much to do, that the thought of starting with the most terrible task will make it impossible to focus or even prevent you from starting in the first place. Sometimes, to tackle your most dreaded task effectively, you need a clear head, which might require dealing with smaller tasks first. Listen to yourself every day to find out what you need to get started.
What we can learn: You should carefully consider when to work on each task. Take the time to plan them, and prioritize based on urgency, concentration required, or motivation needed.
3. You need to get up early to be productive:
You have likely encountered this claim if you are active on social media or part of the 5 a.m. miracle morning club. Even if you are not, you have probably heard the saying, "the early bird catches the worm." In theory, this sounds fantastic. You wake up early, accomplish your tasks, and then spend the rest of the day feeling content. However, in practice, anyone who has worked on a substantial project alone knows that it does not always work that way. Not everyone can concentrate in the morning, or they may have circumstances preventing them from following such a routine. If you are a morning person, by all means, make the most of that time. But if you are not, or if it is not feasible for you, find a routine that suits your natural rhythm. Instead of focusing on working at a specific time of day, productivity is about making the best use of the time available to you.
What we can learn: Everyone has a peak productivity time during the day; that much is true. It may change over time and circumstances, but if you can structure your day yourself, try out working at different times of the day to see what works best for you. Once you find it, take advantage of it.
If there is one universal truth about productivity, it is that there is no secret formula. Your ideal way to maximize productivity will evolve as your life changes, and your needs and abilities to work will adapt. So, stay open-minded, experiment with different tips, and do what resonates with you.
Written By: Elisa von Minnigerode
Elisa von Minnigerode is a PhD Student and productivity enthusiast. Her goal is to help everyone interested in how they can approach their work in a more focused and more effective way to achieve better results. Elisa started sharing tips about productivity and studying in 2020 on Instagram and has been active in the productivity space ever since.