Productivity used to be about the number of hours you could get employees to do the same job over and over, faster and faster. Today, this definition is out-dated, leaving productivity myths that need exposing to find what ACTUALLY works for improving your studying.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Charles Duhigg explains productivity is no longer about increasing working hours and doing things over and over. Today it is about how intelligently you can address a problem and picking the tasks that are most effective. The aim is not to be busy for eight hours a day, it’s to spend your eight hours on the tasks that are most important and will move you closer to your goals.
There are many productivity myths out there but I’ve picked three to debunk in this post.
In this blog post you’ll discover:
- Why you don’t have to be a perky ‘morning person’ to be super productive
- Leaving things to the last minute has disadvantages that can prevent you achieving future goals
- Searching for a one-size-fits-all productivity technique is a mistake
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PRODUCTIVITY MYTH 1 – You must be a morning person
There are so many articles out there shouting about the benefits of being an early riser and how anyone and everyone should try to become one. They explain all of the extra things you would have time to do if you just woke up earlier.
There are many things wrong with this idea...
The earlier you wake up the earlier you have to go to bed
Waking up early doesn’t automatically create more hours in the day. If we all sleep the recommended eight hours a night then we all have the same sixteen waking hours to get shit done
What if you’re naturally a night owl?
Everyone will have times in the day when they’re the most alert and productive. For some of you that may be the morning but for others (like me) your golden time is in the evening. My brain seems to take a few hours to wake up but once I start studying in the evenings I can continue for hours.
Your schedule might not allow you to wake up earlier
Work, commuting, looking after your family – all of these take up a large part of your day so there may not be much scope for drastic schedule change.
Morning people are NOT more successful than night owls
Russell Foster (a circadian neuroscientist who studies the sleep cycles of the brain) explains there is no difference in the socioeconomic standing between early risers and night owls. In other words, morning people are NOT more successful than everyone else.
Productivity expert, Chris Bailey, has an idea about why some people who wake up early seem to get more done. The early risers a lot of articles rave about are often deliberate about their morning routine. They wake up early and plan how they’re going to spend their first few hours. This could include meditation, reading, exercise, a healthy breakfast, working…etc. Those who struggle with mornings seem to spend the first few hours fighting to wake themselves up.
The trick then to improving your productivity could be to make sure you’re deliberate with how you spend your time, attention and energy.
Whether you have more energy in the morning, afternoon or evening – be intentional about what you spend your time on.
So here’s how you can bust this productivity myth so you can get lots done whatever time you want to wake up.
1. Pay attention to your energy levels for the next week or so
Note down what times of the day you seem to have the most energy or get the most done
2) Try to plan your study sessions into these most productive times
If that’s in the morning could you wake up a little earlier to study before work or the kids wake up? If it’s in the afternoon could you study during your lunch break or nap time. If you work best in the evening can you clear some space then, perhaps by moving your chores to the weekend or morning?
3) Be intentional with the tasks you tackle during these productive times
Decide on your priorities and focus on those.
PRODUCTIVITY MYTH 2 – You do your best work last-minute
You may be one of those people who feels they are the most productive when there’s a deadline looming. You may think you can only work hard or do your best work under pressure.
It’s true that we can often accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. For instance, have you ever managed to clean and tidy your house lightning quick when you realise a visitor is about to come round?
Or, how quickly you can do the food shopping when your parking ticket is about to run out?
Parkinson’s Law explains how ‘work expands to fill the time available for its completion’. If you have a week left to write your essay it is natural to spread out the work so it takes a week. But if you have one day to write it you will put on your superhero cape, down some coffee and get that essay written.
So, let’s bust this productivity myth.
While it seems like the last-minute approach is more efficient, there’s many disadvantages to this panic-fuelled method.
The stress and negative emotions felt during this panic can be overwhelming and turn your studying into a horrible experience
Unexpected crap could happen
Something could happen preventing you from submitting anything at all e.g. an illness or family/work emergency
Is this your best work?
If you only finish writing your essay’s conclusion shortly before you submit, that section is unlikely to be great. Without days (yes, days!) to edit an essay, how can it be strong enough to gain you the highest marks?
Shoot your future self in the foot
Not all tasks in life will have the same external deadlines as studying. Relying on adrenaline and panic will not always work. At university there are clear, immediate consequences of missing deadlines i.e. missed grades, course failure…etc. At work there are also clear consequences i.e. a reprimand from your boss, a poor performance review, no promotion/pay rise/bonus or even dismissal.
But for other areas of your life, if you don’t learn to put the work in consistently and work hard even when you don’t need to, you won’t reach your goals.
For example, I’ve set myself the deadline of publishing a new blog post every Thursday. There have been times where I haven’t made it, and the world didn’t end. I have no manager to tell me off or give me a 0/10 on a test. But, if I continue to miss these deadlines my long-term success would be effected. You might want to lose weight, run a marathon or start a business. But you may never achieve these future, non-urgent goals if you have an over-developed habit of leaving things to the last minute.
Here are some ways you can break this habit, increase your productivity and, thus, improve your ability to pursue your goals and dreams:
Track all your study deadlines so you can quickly see when they are
Letting assignments or exams creep up on you is a sure fire way to stoke your habit of leaving things to the last minute.
Work backwards from submission dates to come up with a plan to tackle the task
If you have an essay due in two weeks you could count back and set a first draft deadline for three days before, and a detailed essay plan deadline for five days before that.
Understand and accept the importance of allowing yourself time to edit your work
Try to see the value in spending time fixing grammatical errors; improving the clarity and flow of your ideas; and checking your answer responds to the question or topic.
Plan a reward if you submit your assignment at least a day early
A reward doesn’t have to be big or expensive but visualise the satisfaction you’ll feel as you relax on submission day while your fellow students hurriedly finish their work.
PRODUCTIVITY MYTH 3 – [INSERT PRODUCTIVITY TECHNIQUE] will solve all your problems
There is NO one technique that works for everyone. There’s no magic method that will turn every procrastinating student into a productive superhero who laughs in the face of stress and long to do lists.
There IS a productivity method for everyone – but the productivity myth is that this method is the same for all of us.
Everyone’s different learning habits, context, experience, and chosen subject combine to create very different situations that no one productivity technique is perfect for. You need to try different productivity methods to see what works for you.
The one that works the best for you is the one you should use, not just the one ‘everyone’ is talking about. Don’t try to force yourself to use a method you just don’t like. And don’t worry if the way you work seems different to someone else’s.
You could end up with one productivity technique you use every day or a combination of methods personal to you. Some people are able to find a common technique and follow that with great results. Others may have to tweak and edit it until it works for them.
For example, I am a firm believer in the Pomodoro technique. While this is just one productivity method, it can be adapted to suit almost everyone as we should all be taking breaks in our studying. The standard work/break Pomodoro ratio is 25 minutes of focused studying with five minutes of rest. This is perfect for revision or note taking. For deep work such as essay writing I would recommend a different ratio with 45 minutes of studying and then a fifteen minute break. If you are studying with disabilities, feeling under the weather or just knackered – you could try adding longer breaks so your ratio is 30:15 or 60:30.
Check out this post for 14 more productivity techniques for you to test out and incorporate into your study routine.
RECAP! You should now know…
- You can be super productive as long as you work intentionally AND with your natural energy levels
- Break up with the adrenaline rush of leaving things to the last minute so you can build the habits you need for long term success
- There’s not one productivity method for everyone. Test some to find what works the best for you.
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