5 Common Misconceptions About Productivity

Being productive is a great thing. It makes you feel accomplished and can lead to a more successful career and home life. Unfortunately, learning how to be more productive isn't always obvious. In fact, there are a lot of behaviors that people associate with productivity, that can actually hinder your workday. 

Here are some of the common misconceptions regarding productivity. 

1. Being Productive Means You're Always Productive

Studies suggest that the average employee is only productive for about 3 hours a day. This stat definitely supports the idea that most people struggle to be productive, but it also shows that there are non-productive behaviors taking place during the work day. And they're not all bad.  Studies suggest that the average adult can focus on a task for 20 minutes before losing steam. When those 20 minutes are up, they can choose to refocus on that same task, but research also suggests that breaks are an important part of staying productive. Breaks aren't considered "productive" work time simply because you aren't checking off tasks from your list. But breaks are an essential part of a productive work day. Taking a walk or grabbing a coffee can give your body the mental and physical boost it needs to come back to work more focused. 

Another contradiction to this myth is that you probably don't use every hour equally. A lot of people tend to be really productive in the morning and then the afternoon slump kicks in. This lull is natural and the trick to staying productive is to find a way to stay motivated when mental fatigue kicks in. Taking an afternoon break is especially important to revitalize your day and get back to work.

2. Sleeping Less Means More Productive Hours

Theoretically, sleeping less gives you more time awake, which means more time to get things done. The problem with this mentality is that being awake does not equal being productive. You need to use this time wisely in order to accomplish more of your daily goals. If you use this approach, you could be more productive while sleeping less. But the most important factor here is getting adequate rest. If you wake up feeling tired and have low energy all day, you're probably not going to work as effectively as you would after getting full night's rest. Being overtired can lead to trouble concentrating, foggy mind and a lack of motivation. It's important to prioritize 7-8 hours of sleep if that is what your body needs to function. That said, some people only need 5-6 hours of sleep to fully function and in that case, it's okay to sleep less than the full 8 hours. 

3. The Best Output Comes Under Pressure

Procrastinators love this myth. A lot of people have the mindset that they perform better when the stakes are higher, but that's generally not the case. According to Get Organized South Africa’s CEO, Tracey Foulkes, a last-minute person tends to think that with pressure generates the best outcomes. With no time or options left, you have to go to extremes to meet you goals in an unrealistic timeframe. This can be a really destructive environment, that doesn’t necessarily lead to success. Extreme pressure for one goal can leave you mentally exhausted, with no energy to complete any other tasks.  A lot of procrastinators end up half-assing tasks in order to meet deadlines because they didn't accurately gage how much time they needed to complete a task. 

Tracey suggests breaking the task into smaller segments, and setting earlier deadlines will actually make you more productive. Deadlines give you a healthy amount of pressure, without the dreadfulness that comes with procrastinating. 

4. Being Busy and Being Productive are Synonymous

In America, especially, we tend to glorify the act of being "busy." Have you ever heard a friend say, "I had a crazy busy week at work" with a bit of pride or entitlement in their voice? People associate busy with success and productivity, but in reality, they are totally different things. One person can be extremely productive working 6 hours a day, while another can work 10 hours and accomplish virtually nothing. How many hours have you spent in pointless meetings or fixing the mistakes of others? While some of these things may be out of your control, they also don't contribute to productivity. 

Furthermore, it's important to understand that the definition of productivity differs from person to person. For instance, a software engineer might consider brainstorming sessions to be unproductive, while a creative writer considers them essential.  

5. Multitasking Equals More Productivity

This is a huge misconception that a lot of people believe. I can't tell you how many resumes and cover letters I've seen that highlight multitasking as a great skill. 

A ton of studies have put this myth to bed. Multitasking leads lower quality work and less productivity. It also makes you slower at moving on to new tasks  and it can even lower your IQ

On the other hand, setting priorities and focusing on one task at a time is the best way to increase productivity and accomplish more of your daily goals. 


Debunking these productivity myths is the first step to understanding how you can get more out of your day. It's a good idea to check in with yourself every so often to make sure you aren't falling for any of these myths and sabotaging your own productivity.