We’ve all met people who hawk productivity tips into the ears of every willing and unwilling passerby. Being victimized by unwanted advice is one thing, but when the advice turns out to be terrible—scientifically speaking—that’s just a shame.
According to a Gallup poll, 40% of US workers “are so stressed out they feel burnt out.” One of the reasons people are burned out is because they have an unhealthy relationship with productivity.
Do the Hard Task First
There’s a tip out there that says it’s good to start the day with a difficult task. The theory is that once the hard thing is out of the way, all other tasks will seem more enjoyable. This advice is a setup for failure.
Fast Company writer Art Markman asks, “How many times have you valiantly tried diving into the most difficult thing on your agenda, only to push it aside by 10:00 a.m., all in a huff, in order to go answer emails?” Front-loading difficult tasks can really dampen your mood for the day.
This strategy can be bad because your mood influences your ability to work effectively and be creative. Thinking about your mood and learning how to manage it throughout the day is a much more effective means of productivity.
But front-loading hard tasks isn’t the worst common productivity offense.
Work Smarter, Not Longer
63% of small business owners work more than 50 hours a week. Not only do they work more than the average American, but they’re pretty proud of it as well. This strategy is OK, to some extent, because business can occasionally be quite tumultuousness.
But a study of American workers found that output declines sharply after the 50-hour mark–which means any hours you put in above and beyond those 50. Overworking yourself will leave you tired, frustrated, and anxious.
A factor in productivity is careful consideration of how best to spend your allotted hours. “If you want to be more productive, stop and figure out what you are doing and why it is important to you,” asserts Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed. So take some time to prioritize and spend your working hours wisely.
It’s Ultimately Up to You
One common problem with productivity advice is the underlying assumption that Joe Coffee has the same needs as Jill Espresso. This generalization just isn’t true. Some people feel good after staring at a computer screen for several hours. Others stare at a screen for half an hour and start to get a headache.
So, really, productivity is a process of understanding yourself–your limits, pet peeves, and strengths–and tailoring your work experience to be as kind and forgiving as possible.