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Do I Even Need a Productivity Method?

Woman checking her notes in her productivity journal while working with her laptop at a sunny coffee shop.
LStockStudio/Shutterstock

The concept of a “productivity method” gets a lot of hype everywhere you look. We love a good productivity method, and so (it seems) does the rest of the world. But are you selling yourself short if you forgo these hacks and forge your own way?

In today’s fast-paced, tech-driven world, it’s easy to see why the productivity hack concept resonates so well. We’re more connected than ever before, and expected to do more work in less time thanks to modern technology. Anything that helps you handle necessary tasks more easily and efficiently sounds like a good thing.

For the most part, we stand behind popular productivity methods. But more importantly, we stand behind anything that helps you work better, whether it’s an organized system or a chaotic process. Let’s take a look at the case for not subscribing to the productivity method hype.

What Productivity Methods Do

The appeal of productivity methods is easy to see. These systems promise to help you stay focused and get more done in less time. That’s a clear benefit no matter what your goals are.

A good productivity method helps you tap into the relaxed-but-focused flow state and eliminate distractions from things like your cell phone or chores. By giving parameters for how you work, productivity methods turn ordinary tasks into a sort of structured game. You’ll tackle hard tasks but look forward to small, built-in rewards, creating a sort of Pavlovian work system.

Most productivity methods don’t really need strict structures to work, though. For example, the Pomodoro Technique mandates working in 25-minute blocks with 5-minute breaks. You don’t necessarily need to adhere to those specific time limits to get stuff done. But the general concept of designated blocks of “work time” and “break time” is the core that makes the method work.

Who Needs a Productivity Method?

If you need a productivity method, you probably know it (even if you have yet to admit it to yourself).

While these methods can help most people get more done, they really aren’t aimed at the people who can easily sit down and focus. Instead, they offer welcome structure to people who work best with external structure but don’t always have it.

For example, if you’re used to studying in a classroom setting, you can feel at a loss when you find yourself needing to do coursework on your own for an online class. A productivity method artificially provides some of the structure you’re used to, so you can more easily tackle the task.

So, while productivity hacks help certain people in certain situations, they aren’t necessary for everyone. If you aren’t struggling to focus on the tasks at hand, you may be just fine without one.

The Productivity Myth: More Isn’t Always Better

Woman rubbing her temples, overwhelmed by managing her productivity system.
Prostock-Studio/Shutterstock

The appeal of productivity methods is universal: We’re attracted to new ways of doing things, and we tend to overcomplicate simple problems. But this appeal can lead us to rely too heavily on productivity hacks while neglecting our work-life balance.

When you find a method that works, you might find yourself tempted to pile on more methods to make it even better. Or, if nothing seems to be working, you might find yourself downloading app after productivity app to find the perfect solution.

And when one productivity method does work well, you might find yourself trying to squeeze even more out of it, so you can become as productive as humanly possible.

However, none of these scenarios are ideal. First, when you try to hack every last moment of your workday by stacking methods, you’re actually creating a new distraction. Piling on more new hacks will wear you out and take your mind off what you really need to do.

Similarly, if you keep trying method after method but nothing works, you’re probably missing the root cause of the issue. Maybe the reason you’re struggling to focus is that you’re not happy with your job, or that you work in a distracting location. Productivity hacks can’t solve these underlying problems.

Finally, attempting to become a human productivity machine simply isn’t healthy. Even when a method works for you, don’t milk it until you’re exhausted. The idea that more productivity is always better is for robots.

In short, don’t fall into the trap of using productivity methods to push yourself toward burnout. Every day doesn’t need to be astoundingly productive—instead, find a realistic work pace that you can keep up with long-term.

How to Choose the Best Method for You

So, how can you decide when (and if) you need a productivity method? The best answer is often trial and error.

Don’t expect a productivity method to magically turn you into a perfect worker. You’ll still be in charge of your focus and commitment. But don’t write these hacks off as a waste of time, either.

Productivity methods are just tools. And like all tools, they can’t do the work for you—but, if you use them wisely, they can make the work easier. So try a few, take what works for you, and leave the rest behind.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »

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