I hope you’re sitting down for this.
Napoleon wasn’t short. In fact, he stood a respectable five feet, seven inches — which, at the time, was actually above average height.
Oh, and goldfish don’t have three-second memories. Try three months. (I know, that makes your tendency to forget names far less forgivable.)
Shaving doesn’t thicken hair, alcohol doesn’t make you warm, bats aren’t blind — there’s a truly staggering number of myths floating around.
Okay, so discovering Napoleon’s real height probably isn’t going to change your life. But some myths — like these four misconceptions about productivity — are actually fairly important to debunk. Here’s what you should really know about getting things done.
Myth 1: A Messy Desk Impedes Productivity
Take a look around you. Is your desk strewn with folders, paperwork, Post-It notes, office supplies, notebooks, and other miscellaneous objects?
If yes, I’ve got good news for you: Your cluttered workspace is actually making you more productive than your organization-obsessed peers.
As technology expert Brian Christian explained on his Note to Self podcast, the principle of temporal locality means whatever item you’re likeliest to need next is one of the last things you touched. Let’s say you need to look at a contract. Temporal locality says chances are good that contract is sitting close at hand.
The takeaway: Organizing your desk is largely a waste of time, since the most relevant stuff will rise to the top anyway.
Plus, research shows a messy environment makes you more creative. Looks like Einstein was onto something when he said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
Myth 2: You Can Work an 8-Hour Day
Even if you’re physically at work each day for eight to 10 hours, you probably already know that you don’t spend all of that time productively. Between coffee runs, lunch, water-cooler conversations, and random internet distractions, you’re probably only putting in, oh, six to eight hours of legitimate work, right?
Time for a reality check. According to some of the world’s leading experts on expertise, most people only have the capacity for four hours of high concentration per day.
Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean your paycheck should be slashed in half. Your four-hour quota doesn’t include low-effort tasks, like sending emails, scheduling appointments, updating prospect records, and so on.
To maximize your ability to focus, experts recommend setting aside a chunk of time each day for your most demanding projects. Choose this window based on your natural energy patterns; for example, if you usually find your groove at 10 a.m., that’s when you’d pick up your hardest tasks.
Myth 3: Don’t Take Breaks When You’re In-the-Zone
In the past, I dealt with extra long to-do lists by grabbing a liter of Diet Coke and a box of Cheez-Its, and metaphorically chaining myself to my desk until I’d knocked off every item. Although I’d usually end the day with a stomachache, I always felt satisfied by how much I’d accomplished.
Turns out I could’ve been more productive (not to mention happier) if I’d taken periodic breaks.
One study found that the 10% most productive people took 17-minute breaks for every 52-minute work period, while another showed even the briefest breaks can dramatically improve your mental performance.
“Like time, energy is finite; but unlike time, it is renewable,” explains Tony Schwartz, author of The Energy Project.
So the next time you’ve got a ton to do, make sure you’re periodically pausing. Any kind of break will do the trick. But if you really want to get your money’s worth? Going for a walk, taking a quick nap, or listening to some pump-up music are all scientifically proven to increase productivity.
Myth 4: Being Productive Is Possible All Year Long
If you start counting down the days to summer on January 1st, you’re definitely not alone. But June’s sunny skies, higher temps, and al fresco meals come at a cost: Your ability to stay engaged at work.
Not only does workplace productivity plunge by 20% in the summer, but attendance also dips by 19%, and 45% more employees are distracted.
Those stats aren’t great even when they apply to one person. But since most of us also depend on several coworkers to help us do our job, summer’s impact on productivity can compound across the team.
Luckily, there are a couple steps you can take to mitigate these effects. First, ask whomever controls the AC to keep your office around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit — research suggests this is the temperature sweet spot for boosting productivity. Second, get a mental and physical boost (and enjoy the rays) by taking your meetings outside. Finally, if you’ve got vacation days, think about taking them. (And don’t feel guilty: HR professionals “overwhelmingly agree” that employees who take time off “perform better, are more productive and more satisfied in their jobs than those who do not.”)
Thanks for joining me on this episode of HubSpot Mythbusters. Now that you know the truth, how will you work differently? Share your thoughts in the comments.