Ah productivity tips! Everyone is fluttering around them like teenage boys around the new pretty girl at school. Major online publications and business magazine are full to brim with them. Ways to hack this and ways to crack that – it’s so amazing how many people know how to get things done.
But you have to ask yourself: Should we all be eating power muesli as we muse over the way someone else gets through the day? Or should we simply be getting on with the job?
If you, like me, have had it up to the back teeth with productivity tips and what efficient writers do to get through the day, I have some awesome news for you.
Most productivity tips you’re reading out there have no scientific or psychological basis whatsoever. Yep. You read that correctly. Nada, zip and doughnut hole.
Here’s why we’re all consuming at the wrong trough if we actually wish to achieve something in the working day.
When it comes to productivity tips, stretch goals rely on you already achieving
There are a lot of processes, courses and books making a fair whack of cash off selling the idea that you need to aim for the stars. You should be building your vision board, rocking that TO DO list and aiming to be fitter, faster and more productive.
It seems logical to us that having the clear path is visualising the destination, right? Well, this is true to a certain extent. But beyond giving you a plan from point A to B, those far-reaching writing career goals and star-driven momentums are actually causing you more harm than good in the motivation stakes.
Dr Stephen Briers is a psychologist and also somewhat of a myth buster in the self-help circle. He gets rather annoyed in his book, Psychobabble, about the amount of plain crappy information there is floating around about productivity tips, goal setting and achievement.
And who can blame him? Dr Briers relies on psychological research and neuroscience to study the human response. The majority of self-help relies on… well, self-help. It’s a circular motion for both fields where people base their arguments on peer-based research and furthering the other person’s experimental hypothesis. Only psychology uses experimental parameters, control groups, participant observation and previous psychological studies. Whereas self-help uses whatever point the last millionaire author made to reinforce the idea the future millionaire wants to make. Good times.
Yes, I must admit the cynicism is flying thickly with this one, but for very good reason.
Somewhere along the line, the idea of setting goals became a gospel story. It became something people like Anthony Robbins adopted and made famous.
However, in a psychological sense, unless you are still ebbing with excitement from a major win, or your basic default setting is positive and proactive (which many people attracted to self help are not), Briers points out that goal setting causes major problems when the gap between what you want to achieve and what you actually achieve is expansive.
In fact, he goes so far as to describe it as a “crushing and disheartening for those with a weaker track record of achievement and accomplishment.”
But unfortunately, it’s not simply the disparity between goal set and achievement unlocked that poses the problem.
A lot of the productivity science is faulty
There’s one thing that self-help does super well, and that is rope science and psychology into the mix. This is a perfectly sound approach, as long as the science is sound. Unfortunately, it’s not a fair whack of the time.
For example, the widely covered story about the class of 1953 and the 3% of students that set goals and achieve big has been a cornerstone of many a self-help program. Apparently, social scientists measured the difference goal setting made in the lives of the class of 1953, reporting that the 3% that set goals were miles ahead of their peers in terms of life and career later on. Then Robbins, Zig Ziglar and Jay Rifenbary quoted it, immortalising it into self-help circles as fact.
Except the study never happened. Heck, nobody can even work out where the myth came from.
It continues on only through the propensity of self-help gurus to keep quoting the next person- and each other in the case of Robbins and Zigler. But there is no researcher willing to claim it, no physical evidence or a single person who graduated from Yale in 1953 that says they participated in that study.
To quote a couple of other popular life gurus we should all get behind, Bill and Ted, it’s “totally bogus, dude.”
Then you have the wondrous work by Locke and company on ‘goal setting and performance’ that found “there is no consistent evidence that participation in goal setting leads to greater goal commitment or better task performance when the goal level is controlled.”
In fact, outside monetary goals, the paper found consistently that it was an orientation of attitude, not the focus on goals that determined the participant’s success. So again, we’re back to goals working if you are a happy little camper, and falling flat if the fizz has left the personal champagne.
Yet highly effective people still run around the internet telling us what time to wake up, what goals to set and commit to a plan.
And this is where it ignores the randomness of life and achievement.
Happy accidents, not productivity tips, make us creative
No, I am not talking about the advanced ages that lead us to getting a little loose with the toilet habits. I am talking about the science, art and creativity we enjoy through not planning every little thing.
I’m talking about the scientific achievements that have happened by accident and not as a result of a productivity tip. Or the moments where an out and out mistake, such as Neil Gaiman writing Coraline instead of Caroline became the seed for an idea (a brilliant, wondrous and delicious one at that).
Goal orientation also ignores the problem of goal setting sucking the joy out of your work by focussing too much on the big picture, and not enough on enjoying the process and the small wins along the way. You may also know it by its other names of job dissatisfaction and burn out.
A focus on productivity, plotting and postulating every piece of work and every minute of the day is it doesn’t allow for us to get bored or drift off. This is counterintuitive to how we think and what we need to create. Humans need those moments where our brain gets to daydream to ensure that our ability to creatively tackle problems is protected. We rely on a mix of downtime and free thought in order to produce great work.
Plus, what’s more boring- a person who is talking you through the ins and outs of their task-orientated vision board, or the one who is regaling you with tales of the things they’ve done recently?
Let’s smash the myths and build a better dialogue
Rather than work on the process of being bigger and more, listed and level, let’s get a little messy. Let’s look after ourselves and stop trying to be all things to everyone and invite a little bit of self-care for the self-employed.
Let’s take the notion of always getting it right, being the dude with the longest hours and high fiving the amazing never ending night where we’re stuck at work and yank the veil right off the myth of work-life balance in a get-ahead culture.
And if we happen to burn a few productivity books and have a cheery laugh in the process, why not?
Because that 5 minutes you’re spending reading productivity tips about some highly effective person making highly effective money off perpetuating a myth could be better spent.
Rebekah Lambert makes her living as marketing, content creation and copywriting freelancer, Unashamedly Creative. She is also the head of Disruption for women’s portal, Discordia Zine. Rebekah has just begun a mission to improve the mental health and wellness outcomes for freelancers and entrepreneurs as one half of the Hacking Happiness team. You can follow her journey via Twitter, Facebook and Google+.