2 Common Misconceptions about Productivity that Hold Smart Women Back

New buzzwords and trends are creating productivity misconceptions and confusing core issues about and family that matter to talented women.

productivity misconceptions
Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Late last year, The Washington Post published a roundup of new phrases that described new work trends. The problem with such articles is not that they got things wrong but that they it was intended for the general audience. Conventional advice doesn’t always apply to the smart and caring. In fact, I’ve witnessed how it holds women back.

In light of new work trends, I share some of my observations and thoughts to clarify productivity misconceptions as they relate to talented women whether they are employed or not.

Productivity misconception #1: Productivity is bad

Productivity is neither good nor bad. It is a measure of efficiency, an output relative to its inputs.

And, therefore, productivity is in the eye of the beholder.

When employers micromanage you, track and score your behavior because they can no longer monitor you by walking down the halls of the office, then, of course, it’s understandable why you might feel productivity is evil. In this case, employers are defining what productivity is. Meanwhile, you’re forced to comply whether you agree or not.

The sentiments behind the current backlash against productivity are understandable. Again, someone else is dictating which outputs or inputs matter. Employers are asking for an unreasonable amount of effort or setting unnecessary requirements. My research colleagues and I found that when employees can participate in decision-making, they are, of course, more engaged at work.

But, if you are the one defining the desired outcome, then productivity is easier to get behind. Moreover, if you have a clear understanding of, as well as belief and trust in, the inputs that will produce that outcome, then it’s easier to get motivated.

For the smart and caring, however, productivity is an issue because there are pressures to be productive, not just at work but also in other areas of life. Not only do your colleagues and clients rely on you, but so do your children, aging parents, and other members of your community.

Productivity misconception #2: Multitasking is never productive but can serve a different goal

Multitasking is never productive. In fact, your brain is not capable of doing two things at once. Instead, what is happening is task-switching. You may feel like you’re doing two things at the same time. In reality, you are switching between different tasks, going back and forth between them, in rapid succession. This wastes brain energy. Not only is it inefficient but leads to poorer performance on both tasks. Some researchers have also found longer-term negative impacts, for example, on your memory.

There are some instances, however, when multitasking may not be productive, but can be helpful in the lives of busy women. There are occasions when it’s ok to have diminished focus and accuracy but instead just want to relax. For example, if you’re watching TV and folding the laundry, does it really matter that neither the TV program nor your clothes are getting your full attention? Probably not. And, if this entertains you or helps you relax, then why not?

Another instance when I was deliberate about multitasking was when my daughters were in middle school. I heeded the advice from Lisa Damour to become a potted plant parent. (To learn more about Dr. Damour’s work, be sure to also check out not just one but two of my book notes.) I had them do their homework at the dining room table while I cooked dinner. I didn’t get involved in their homework but I was there to notice when their attention drifted.

What to do instead: Breakaway from productivity misconceptions

Here is what I suggest the smart and caring do:

First, as much as possible, identify what outcomes matter to you for which the inputs are within your control. The outcome does not need to be doing more at work. It can be doing more of what you want for yourself. Or, it could be doing less of the things you don’t want to do so you can do more of what you want to do.

Second, if you’re a talented and conscientious woman, you’re likely to have some perfectionistic tendencies. You don’t have to be efficient and focused on everything you do. Dialing back your usual effort of 110% down to 90% will go unnoticed.

P.S. I share more about how conventional advice can hold women back and five simple strategies to help you find more time and relief every day in my upcoming course:

Stop feeling like there is never enough time. Create space for what’s important to you.

Learn what typically holds smart and creative people back and 5 simple strategies you can use every day.

A cohort-based course hosted by Maven.