Is This Common Misconception About Productivity Holding You Back?

I was sitting at my computer. Time to be productive!

So I browsed to my blog, ready to start writing a world-shattering blog post. Except I felt a bit tired, and decided to check my e-mail before starting writing. And then I checked facebook. And then reddit.

Next thing I know, it’s two hours later, and I still haven’t done anything. Oops!

I used to do this nearly daily for I don’t know how long. Then, one day, I got fed up with shooting myself in the foot like that, and decided to dig into my mind to figure out why I’m killing my productivity like that. And I found a… surprising answer.

And then, talking to others, I found out that many people make exactly the same mistake. So I’m writing this post, in hopes that you can learn from my experience. Onwards, my friends!

My erroneous belief about productivity

My whole problem stemmed from a deep-seated belief that I need to be busy in order to be productive.

Now, if you’ve been reading personal development blogs for a while, you will know that just because you’re busy, it doesn’t mean you’re being productive.

But the converse isn’t true either! You don’t necessarily need to be busy in order to be productive.

(If you have a grasp of elementary logic, you will know the two statements above aren’t logically equivalent. If you can’t see it, just take my word for it ;).)

And so, when it was afternoon and I was quite tired, but still wanted to get some work done in the day… based on my beliefs, I sat down at the computer because I believed I needed to be busy to be productive.

Which was stupid. I didn’t have the energy to do anything useful, and I only ended up wasting time.

In hindsight, I should have seen it earlier. In high school, one of my least favourite classes was chemistry. Not because of the subject – I actually really liked it. But we often had chemistry late in the day, and our teacher always insisted on us looking busy. She couldn’t understand that taking some 5-10 minutes to shut my eyes would let me recharge my batteries and do useful work for the rest of the lesson. Instead, she insisted that I be busy the whole time, which would leave me in a brain-dead pretending-to-be-doing-something limbo for the whole lesson.

And unwittingly, I ended up absorbing that belief and doing the same to myself, years later. Shucks!

Your time off is often more productive than your busy-time

So what’s a more useful belief? That taking some time off to relax can be far more productive than doing busywork!

In my case, I learned that when I want to do some work but feel tired, the most productive thing is to get some rest. Sometimes I take a 20-minute power nap. Sometimes I just lie around and think.

Either way, my brain gets the rest it was demanding, and I can soon be back to doing productive stuff!

The key point here is that the brain-dead limbo you find yourself in by forcing yourself to be busy doesn’t allow your brain to rest properly! You’re neither being productive, nor getting some rest.

If you’re doing any mind-intensive work, the time off is often just as valuable as the time you spend working. There’s a reason the great minds of the past (like Einstein, or Newton) have spent a lot of time just daydreaming and thinking about stuff. Your brain needs time to process and organize your thoughts.

So take a deep breath, and allow yourself to relax.

Because taking a break is often the most productive thing you could be doing.

Vlad Dolezal writes Fun Life Development, a blog about making personal development fun. Check it out for personal development advice that’s fun and easy to implement, or follow Vlad on twitter.

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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