You’ll find the phrase “efficient multitasker” in the summary of most resumes and CVs, a bullet point meant to convince employers that an applicant is productive in the workplace. It’s a common skill to boast in business settings. But in truth, the phrase “efficient multitasker” is an oxymoron.
People are incapable of performing two tasks at once — or at least, they aren’t very successful at it. Our minds aren’t equipped to give two separate responsibilities an equal amount of attention simultaneously, causing us to compromise the quality of our work, make errors and actually waste time.
The “efficient multitasker” is a productivity myth, and there are others that might surprise you. In this article, we’ll detail five common misconceptions about productivity that are scientifically false, so you can ditch habits that aren’t helping, but hurting your output.
1. “There’s a Method to My Madness”
Workers with cluttered workspaces often use the “Method to My Madness” argument to rationalize a lack of organization. According to them, their files, planner, reference materials and documents are exactly where they’re supposed to be — hidden in a mess of mismatched papers with no cohesive theme.
While it’s true that pulling a report from the top of a pile is slightly more convenient than flicking through a cabinet, that pile will only continue to grow into an unmanageable problem. Eventually, that “madness” will be more trouble than its worth, and by then, organizing can seem like a time-consuming chore.
How to Avoid the Issue of an Untidy Work Area
Scientists have studied the effect of clutter on the human brain and found that it contributes to an inability to focus and process information. The distraction of competing stimuli with no correlation is a burden on a person’s faculties, muddying their mental clarity and worsening task performance.
The solution to the problem is simple enough. When finishing a project, file away the associated paperwork in an area designated for that type of assignment. If you manage the output on a day-by-day basis, it won’t build up into an overwhelming excess of clutter that will hinder your productivity.
2. Filling Every Minute of the Day
The best employees use every minute of their time in the office to further the betterment of the company. There’s hardly a second wasted in pursuit of higher profits and the success of their department. This sustained diligence is what it means to be a productive member of the workforce, right?
Wrong, and the idea is close to propaganda. Not only does the mentality of round-the-clock, nonstop grinding hurt the health of employees, but it’s also a counterintuitive practice that has the opposite of its intended effect. In actuality, productivity requires flexibility and patience.
How to Properly Manage Your Time
Taking a well-deserved break from work has many benefits to a stressed employee. Researchers concluded that brief diversions from a task can significantly improve the subject’s endurance in completing it, proving that small intervals of time set aside to relax and decompress are a wise investment.
When planning out your day, allocate blocks of free time between the items on your agenda to stop, and stretch and walk around. Sitting for prolonged periods can cause health problems down the road, so you’re tackling two problems at once. Self care contributes to both your morale and productivity.
3. Willpower Is Enough to Excel
So, you’ve been given a difficult task you feel both unprepared for and unqualified to complete. But with the strength of your determination, a positive attitude and intense focus, you can push past any doubts you might’ve had and deliver incredible results to your superior. All it takes is an iron will, and you’re an hour past the deadline with a mediocre product.
As it turns out, sheer willpower isn’t always enough to surmount unfavorable odds. This isn’t necessarily the fault of employees, but that of poor management and the unrealistic expectations of supervisors with a strict bottom line to meet.
How to Apply Yourself to Difficult Goals
Like anything else, will power is a limited resource. A study by psychologist Roy Baumeister observed the effect produced on subjects who had the option to eat a cookie before or after they completed the task. Those who chose to wait for their reward had their attention divided between the objective and the cookie.
If you receive an assignment you feel incapable of finishing, communicate that to your supervisor. No one wants to see you fail, and an open line of dialogue will help your overall productivity. Learning new skills may ease this burden, and there are apps available to improve your abilities in the workplace and elsewhere.
4. You’re on an Optimum Work Schedule
According to the study on time/task management, breaks are essential to a productive workday. And for many people, the average workday is an eight-hour span from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an hour-long break for lunch and two 15-minute periods of rest. We’ve collectively agreed this is optimal.
But an optimal day looks a little different than what most of us are accustomed to. While many workers are content with the breaks they receive during their shift, studies in productivity have yielded fascinating results that turn long-held standards on their head.
How to Determine Breaks During the Day
The formula for peak productivity comes from an app called DeskTime, which reviewed its database to collect information on the most efficient workers. Those deemed the most productive followed a pattern of 52 minutes of activity and 17 minutes of rest. It may seem excessive, but the numbers don’t lie.
The adage, “Work smarter, not harder,” is applicable in this context. By removing yourself from your workspace and giving your mind a brief recess, you can return to your assignment with a fresh set of eyes, reinvigorated and ready to go. Of course, clear any scheduling changes with your boss before you follow through.
5. To-Do Lists Will Keep You on Track
So you’ve opened a brand new package of post-it notes and used your first to write out a short to-do list. Slapped on the corner of your monitor, it’s an ever-present reminder of your responsibilities for the day, a reference point that’ll help you manage your goals and ultimately improve productivity.
You’re not wrong in thinking a to-do list can help. But, in reality, they only show you what you have to do. Unless you’ve attached deadlines to the list you’ve made, you have no way of knowing the amount of time each task will require — information that defines your schedule and high-priority items.
How to Take Advantage of To-Do Lists
Common Cents Lab, a behavioral research organization, studied the effect that deadlines produced on subjects filling out online job applications. When two email prompts were compared — one with a deadline and one without — the response with a deadline yielded a higher completion rate by 24 percent.
When organizing a to-do list, allocate a set amount of time to each item. You’ll find that the pressure to finish them and continue onto your next responsibility is a powerful motivator that boosts your productivity. Throughout your day, steer clear of other distractions and mistakes that slow your progress.
Get to Work
Now that you know a little more about the misconceptions hurting your productivity, you can move toward maximizing your potential. Implement our advice, and you’ll see just how much time you can save — and an improvement in the quality and quantity of your work.