Many of us have mindsets that keep us from becoming more productive. For example, one of the most common ones is the belief that increasing productivity, or getting the most out of your time, will decrease the quality of your work, or your ability to do tasks perfectly. In a past survey we conducted, about half of respondents agreed with the statement: “I’m sure I could get more done in less time, but the quality of my work would go down.”
Most believe they should always put in an extra 30 minutes. How could we not when each additional minute adds value to our work?
That’s how many professionals think, but more time doesn’t necessarily translate into better quality work. In fact, spending more time at work and on specific tasks can actually hurt your performance, reducing the quality of your work:
- When you work over 50-55 hours per week, your cognitive performance (e.g., emotional intelligence skills and the capacity to reason and solve problems) declines
- Managers struggle to distinguish between those who work 80-hour weeks and those who work 50-60-hour weeks, suggesting that the extra work generally isn’t noticed
- Longer, more complicated emails are less likely to be read and spending the time to provide more strategic options/choices generally leads to poorer decisions
If you want to pursue greater productivity unhindered, you must embrace the truth that productive behaviors improve rather than diminish the quality of our work. To do this, you need to change the supreme goal of your work, which often is to deliver perfect work. Instead, you should prioritize impact over quality. When impact is the goal, you consider the value different tasks will contribute and choose those that will add the most value even if it means forgoing those that would make the work “perfect.”
This is an excerpt of the article “The Lie That Perfectionists Tell Themselves” we published in Harvard Business Review.