Sometimes, conventional productivity wisdom can actually be counterproductive in that the net effect of putting the advice to use is a lower level of productivity. This typically occurs when you have misunderstood some key aspect of the advice or are applying certain time management practices when they aren’t relevant to your situation. Instead of simply heeding this seemingly ubiquitous advice, it’s time to start judging for yourself which advice is applicable to your life at any given time. Here are several common time management “truths” that can end up hurting more than helping depending on how they are used.
1. One very basic and widely used axiom is to “take one step at a time.” That is, don’t overwhelm yourself with too many tasks at once, which can sabotage your efforts to reach your goals. The tip is also aimed at helping you avoid losing your motivation when you become exhausted from over work. But although this can frequently be a useful rule of thumb, sometimes proceeding at such a sedated pace can force you to take too long to reach your goal. For example, if you are attempting to change your morning wake up time, don’t spend weeks slowly dialing back the alarm, do it immediately for a change that literally takes place overnight.
2. Not many productivity advocates would ever label procrastination as a positive attribute. And while procrastination is typically not a positive habitual trait, sometimes procrastinating on low-priority tasks in lieu of tackling more important work can work to your advantage. The more time you spend procrastinating on minor chores instead of on high-priority goals the more productive you’ll be on the important tasks that absolutely need completing.
On the contrary, you may decide you aren’t quite ready to tackle that critical task immediately and need to focus on checking off a few relatively minor tasks off of your to-do list first. This way, you aren’t stalling completely, but you are keeping yourself busy, which may increase your eagerness to get the more important tasks over with. Procrastination should never be your intention, but by using it strategically, it can actually help you be more productive.
3. You might have heard the one about never checking your email as soon as you arrive at your desk. And while, as with the other general rules in this list, this can be a useful tact, every rule needs an exception. Consider a situation where you’ve been out of the office for a week or two. You show up back at work bright and early, ignore your email, get started on some tasks you were working on before you left then later on find out that your boss emailed you to tell you not to work on those very same tasks. While it is totally up to your discretion, there are some situations where checking your email first thing can save you time, effort, and frustration.
4. Finally, there’s the tried and true axiom of never using willpower when forming new habits. The idea is that forming a new habit should be based in the motivation you have for reaching your goals; additional willpower shouldn’t be necessary. But what about times when your motivations are weakened for one reason or another? In those situations, you still need to draw on your reserve of will power in order to fight off temptation. Fighting against old habits is very difficult, and though the motivation of self-improvement is powerful, relying on good, old-fashioned willpower when your life tests your resolve is still a good strategy. You should never rely on willpower alone to fuel the creation of a new habit, but using it in a pinch can help bolster your chances of meeting your goals.
The moral of the story is that time management (and most other types) of advice can be very valuable, but using a critical eye to gauge the usefulness of that advice (depending on your circumstances) can ensure you’re using the information for your best interest.