You’re Doing It Wrong: Four Examples of Iffy Productivity Advice

You’re Doing It Wrong is a catchphrase commonly associated with FAIL image macros and videos. The phrase can be used to suggest there is room for improvement in almost any context. “ — Know Your Meme website.

As with many things in life, when it comes to advice on productivity, there’s so much open to interpretation. Some methods may work differently for different people, so sometimes, there is no right and wrong. Dilbert creator Scott Adams once joked that if a CEO found success while using a tongue depressor, he could write a best-selling book about it and make millions while other people made it work for them, too.

So, I hesitate to call any productivity advice bad advance, unless it’s something obvious like, “Try multitasking! It works wonders!” And even that may change as our evolving technology shapes the thought processes of our younger generations. That said, there are a few things I’ve noticed over the years that either work only for some people, or work for almost no one. Here’s some of the most controversial advice:

  1. Work smarter, not harder. This one is irritating not just because it’s blindingly obvious and everyone already knows it, but because it’s incomplete. You can’t just work smarter instead of harder; modern jobs require both. Plus, unless you can automate on a level entirely above everyone else, you’re probably already working as smartly as you can. The “smarter” comes into play when you elect to avoid technological advances —say, by sticking to an old phone rather than upgrading, because the older version works just fine. The smart thing here is to avoid loading yourself down with so much “smart” that it slows you down, and to put hard work into play as well.

  2. Work from a master to-do list. Some productivity methods direct you to do a brain-dump of all your tasks onto one list and use that to direct your day. This may work if you have just a few things on your plate, but if you have a larger list over 30-100 items, your tendency to avoid the hard stuff may work against you, so some stuff gets done very slowly or not at all. Some things should be shifted to a memory list, a monthly, weekly, or daily list. Microsoft Outlook Tasks accomplishes this quite seamlessly.

  3. Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today. This famous Ben Franklin quote makes sense. However, it doesn’t always work in today’s electronic world, where we have much more we can potentially do than in Ben’s time. When applied to procrastination, it’s a world-class argument. When applied to a long list of tasks, it could keep you in the office until midnight as you try to do everything you can today. But should you? Of course not; when presented with a high-priority item and a low-priority item and limited time, let the low-priority item slide, drop off your list, or delegate it if you can. Don’t try to do both tasks, and either do them poorly or wear yourself out. When you leave the office and go home, it will be there in the morning.

  4. Do the Hardest Thing First. The wisdom on this is basically to work on your toughest project early in the day, while your facilities are sharpest, so the rest of your to-do list will seem much simpler in comparison. For many, this advice has problems. For example, a significant number of people are low energy in the morning—not everyone is a “morning person.” It’s better for such people to do smaller housekeeping tasks until they get into gear and get moving. Even for true morning people, tackling a huge task first thing in the morning can take forever. Struggling with a difficult task may even slow your thinking process and depress your mood, according to a recent medical study. It may be better to do a couple of small tasks first, getting those successes under your belt before you tackle something difficult.

The One Thing…

Productivity is something of an experimental art, one that each of us does differently and that we constantly refine across our careers. Nothing works for everyone, so one of your jobs is to try logical and recommended productivity methods on our own to see how you fare. The methods outlined above can work to some extent and may even work for you; but for most workers, they’re places not to start.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

Here’s what others are saying:

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

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—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
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