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5 Productivity Myths To Avoid: Don’t Play Yourself!

Welcome back to The Curiosity Concept!

Seeing as school is now underway and uni has begun for some and will begin very soon for others, this week we’re tackling some productivity myths and misconceptions. These are ideas and sentiments that students (including myself!) often embrace, thinking that they will help to increase their productivity but in reality could be doing more harm than good.

I’m actually very excited to be writing this post because it’s my chance to be the Mythbuster I’ve always wanted to be!!

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Myth 1: “The more time I spend studying/working, the more I’ll get done”

This is an idea that I repeated to myself in high school, and at the time it made sense – you can’t spend 5 hours on a piece of homework and get nothing done, right?

Well, I was wrong. Because I would spend 5 hours on homework and get very little done. This was because I didn’t understand how attention and focus work. Over the years I have learned through experience and reading about this topic that, in the end, it doesn’t matter if you block out hours upon hours to do work or spend the whole day in the library if you work distractedly. This could mean working in a noisy or uncomfortable environment or being interrupted by notifications or other people.

Productivity isn’t the length of time you spend working, it’s the quality of the attention and focus you direct towards your work and consequently the value of the work you produce, with value meaning the usefulness of the work and how it reflects your merit. So, instead of trying to do all your work in a single 5-hour time-block,  it would be better to schedule 1-and-a-half-hour blocks on two days, then a final 2-hour block on a third day and in those blocks you focus solely on a single task.

This point is similar to the one I made in my previous post, Advice for Law Students, that it’s about getting into a routine of focused work and dedicating enough time to quality, undistracted working.

Working like this has several benefits:

  • it’s less intimidating to work for 1 and a half hours than for 5
  • you have time to complete other tasks and activities
  • it allows you to take breaks, which are super important for managing your energy levels and consequently enabling you to focus better
  • you push yourself and stretch your capabilities so that the quality of your work is also better
  • it’s an element of working smart and not hard 

A book I recently read that developed my understanding of undistracted, productive working, and that I highly recommend, is Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Myth 2: “I just need this [planner/app/stationery/other tool] and then I’ll finally be productive”

Okay, this is a myth that I am very guilty of believing. It’s actually a trap that I frequently find myself entangled in because of my love for stationery. But the fact is, whilst new stationery,  notebooks and other tools can enhance your productivity and make studying more fun/aesthetic, they can’t create productivity where there was none in the first place.

For instance, I love the idea of the Rocketbook Everlast. Just watch the video because if you’re like me, it might blow your mind too:

It would be very cool to have this erasable notebook but I don’t need it.

In reality, all that is required for you to be productive is some paper/a computer, some writing tools, a system for organising yourself and the right mindset. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but I’ve found that if you don’t already have productive habits and a persistent attitude to working, getting new highlighters or a notebook will do nothing for you. The focus should instead be on building productive habits and routines so that you can make the most of whatever you already have, knowing that if you get anything else later on it will actually be put to use.

Myth 3: “This is my learning style and I can only learn in this way”

This is a myth I discussed in my post Learning Isn’t Supposed To Be Easy, and the idea is that although we may have learning preferences – visual, auditory or kinesthetic learning – assigning ourselves to specific categories can lead to ignoring activities that develop useful skills. This is the example I gave in that post:

Imagine a self-identified kinesthetic learner who doesn’t like to sit and read and therefore doesn’t do their course reading. They can have as many group study sessions as they like, where they participate in teaching and learning with their friends, but if they don’t actually read anything, their understanding will be severely limited to their own ideas. A downside to this is that they deprive themselves of the opportunity to develop the critical skills to pick out information from other people’s work and come across new thoughts that can inspire their own.

Earlier this year, I learned that there is no conclusive evidence to support the existence of learning styles. A study by Allock and Hulme (2010) found that the use of learning styles didn’t lead to students attaining better test results than students who didn’t use learning styles. Also, Dr Julie Hulme explained that learning styles can lead to cognitive illusions, where if we’re only ever using methods in line with our ‘style’, we can start to think we’re learning and developing when, in fact, we’re not.

So, although you may like to learn through visual methods, such as mind-maps and colourful notes, for example, don’t pigeon-hole yourself and avoid other ways of learning, such as through audio or even through teaching other people. Keep an open mind to learning techniques that might not align with your specific preference – they can teach you new skills, broaden your capabilities and may help you learn better than if you’re just sticking to methods in your comfort zone. 

You can read more about the myth of learning styles and why it’s better to have learning approaches and a growth mindset in my post, Learning Isn’t Supposed To Be Easy.

Myth 4: “I just need to build up motivation, then I’ll be able to be productive”

There’s a common idea that in order to stick to a study/work routine, constant motivation and inspiration are needed. Whilst these two factors are very important for initially getting started, their role is overestimated in the long run. Motivation, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, can come and go. But your goal will continue to just exist in the abstract, unfulfilled as long as you keep waiting for a rush of adrenaline or dopamine to kick you into gear.

Nissy Tee recently created a video on this topic and she speaks so much truth, it really is a wake up call to discipline:

“YOU HAVE TO. YOU MUST. IT IS IMPERATIVE FOR YOU TO.”

Discipline can be difficult – the word literally has a meaning related to control, authority and obedience. But habitualising it and creating a system in which you commit yourself to regularly putting in the effort is where discipline is born. Over the past few months, through reading The Power of Habit and Deep Work, I’ve been learning a lot about the importance of systematisation and structure. Motivation and inspiration can get you going, but discipline through a system and structure will keep you going.

A particular lesson I learned from Deep Work is that discipline isn’t about making a single choice one day to just “be disciplined”. Discipline is the series of decisions to commit, regardless of whether the thought of doing work makes you feel excited or whether someone else told you that day “you can do it”.

One way that I am working to be more disciplined is through the “No Zero Days” concept. This means I am creating a system where every single day, I do something to work towards my goals. Even if this means that I only spend 15 minutes working, 15 minutes is better than 0 minutes.

Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.

Myth 5: “The more productivity tips the better”

It might seem a bit counter-intuitive for me to debunk this myth because I give productivity advice and tips through The Curiosity Concept, but the point is to help you become better and to live your BEST student life, not to just burden you with thousands of productivity and study hacks.

There are so many resources available, so many books and videos that document the habits of the most successful and productive people and it can sometimes seem like if you’re not doing any one of the things these resources discuss, then you’re never going to be successful or productive. So why not just do all the things? Why not have a morning routine where you wake up 4:30AM and by 8AM you’ve already exercised, written in your gratitude journal, meditated, eaten your acai bowl and said 50 different self-affirming mantras to yourself in the mirror? And don’t forget about your night routine where you meticulously plan the next day according to every 5 minutes before you disconnect from all social media and are asleep by 9PM.

None of these things are inherently bad, it’s just that when you’ve got a multitude of opinions and ideas from a multitude of successful people, it’s tempting to want to implement everything. But then you become overwhelmed by how much there is to do so you end up actually not doing anything. Or at least, not doing anything as well as it could be done.

This was a point that Thomas Frank made on an episode of his podcast, the College Info Geek Podcast, and his advice is to choose just one thing to optimise and become good at.

So, when you discover a productivity tip that you think could help you, test it out to see if you can apply it effectively to your life. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean you can never be productive, it may just mean it’s not the right tip for you. Keep learning and trying until you find those tips that are for you.


So, there you have it. 5 productivity myths – debunked!

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I find it really interesting to read about things like this because ideas that may seem like common sense and concepts that seem to be widely accepted among students can sometimes be inaccurate and counter-productive.  Hopefully, you will now go into this new academic year with goals of working smarter, adopting a growth mindset and being more disciplined.

As always,

onwards and upwards,

Anoshamisa 🙂

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