As we head into the fall, many of us are buckling down to focus on upcoming projects and deadlines. But oftentimes, putting pressure on ourselves to do more and meet unrealistic expectations can only add to our stress — and detract from our focus. In fact, letting go of some traditional ideas around productivity can be exactly what we need to prioritize what’s important and feel good about our work.

We asked our Thrive community to share with us the beliefs they’ve let go of in order to find focus and reduce stress. Which of these beliefs will you give up?

“Breaks are unproductive.”

“When I am overwhelmed, stressed, or feeling uninspired, I stop and remind myself that downtime is not wasted time. Rather than focusing harder or engaging in wasteful activities like scrolling through social media, I step out into nature, take a walk, or simply gaze off. Mind-wandering tends to be equated with laziness or lack of focus, but research shows that allowing our brains to be unoccupied significantly boosts our creativity and problem-solving ability. Daydreaming doesn’t take time away from achieving our goals. Instead, it helps inspire more meaningful solutions and ideas.”

—Farrah Smith, life coach, Los Angeles, CA

“I have to say yes to everything.”

“One belief I have let go of is the notion that because I have the competency to do it and it is ‘good deed,’ I must say yes. On a daily basis, I receive varied requests from friends, strangers and organizations to provide support for, and usually, if I am capable of doing it, I say yes. But this weekend I had reason to pause and revisit that belief. I thought of a quote from Howard Thurman: ‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’  There is lots of good to be done in the world, and I don’t have to do it all. By saying no, I actually create a space for others to step up to the plate, and create a boundary for myself.”

—Judy Joseph Mc Sween, Time Out Specialist, Port of Spain, Trinidad

“Quantity over quality.”

“I have let go of the belief that impact is measured by quantity over quality — and that being all things to all people is even a remotely accurate measure of success.”

—Karisa Karmali, online fitness trainer, Ontario, Canada

“It needs to be perfect.”

“I’ve let go of the need for perfectionism. It doesn’t exist and I’ve found that it often holds me back and interferes with my productivity. I have spent significant time trying to do everything to meet my self imposed idea of perfectionism because anything less wasn’t good enough for me. It’s led to a great deal of procrastination and even decision paralysis at times. I now embrace the idea of ‘done is better than perfect.’ It has offered me so much freedom and I actually accomplish more now.”

—Kerri-Anne Brown, licensed mental health counselor, Orlando, FL 

“I have to be good at everything.”

“My daughter, who’s a college athlete, once told me, ‘I don’t have to be good at everything. That’s why I’m part of a team.’  That idea really stuck with me. She’s absolutely right. I’m used to juggling and multitasking, always striving to be the best. But allowing myself the grace to trust in others and relying on members of my team to step up makes a big difference. This shift in thinking not only improves my focus and reduces my stress, it builds trust in my team and allows me to be the kind of coworker and leader who elevates others.”

—Amy Marquis, director of communications, external affairs, New Orleans, LA

“Multitasking is the key to productivity.”

“The most elusive lesson I’ve had to learn about focus is that in many ways, being busy can be the enemy of productivity. Complex tasks involving judgment and thinking by their nature require dedicated, quiet moments of focus. This doesn’t mean dropping everything and going on a retreat, but rather blocking off 20 minutes to give one task your undivided attention. Magical things can happen during this time that would not have been available during eight hours of distracted, chaotic working.”

—Joe Kwon, speaker and author, Oakland, NJ

“I need to follow a strict to-do list.”

“As someone who constantly feels like they’re not doing enough, I scrapped my to-do list for a few days and tried something else: Each hour, I wrote out the things I actually did. At the end of the day, I was amazed at how productive I’d been, just not in the ways my to-do list told me I was ‘supposed’ to be. It let me get more realistic about factoring in the things that take up my time, like email, and give more space to them during my day.”

—Summer McStravick, app creator, San Diego, CA

“I have to set big goals for myself.”

“I have recently let go of holding myself to unachievable goals, whether it be at work or in my personal life. Being realistic with myself and what I can accomplish has not only relieved a great deal of pressure on me, but it has also allowed more balance in my life.”

—Suzanne Schnaars, manager, Basking Ridge, NJ

“I can’t ask for help.”

“I’ve come to realize that my time is valuable, and I’m not an expert in everything. If it is going to take me over two hours to draft a proposal when I can hire a graphic designer to draft it in 30 minutes, I’m going to go with the latter option. And instead, I prioritize my focus time in 30-minute increments. I put my phone on airplane mode and set a timer for 30 minutes. I will work on said task for 30 minutes and when the timer goes off, I set another timer for ten minutes. During those ten minutes, I can do whatever my heart desires — but when the timer goes off, I will reset it for 30 minutes and refocus.”

—Noel Elie, actress, Los Angeles, CA

“I have to get it right” 

“Letting go of the belief that ‘I have to get it right’ has been a game-changer, both personally and professionally. Now I strive for progress over perfection, and that alone has enhanced my ability to lead as a dad, husband and coach.”

—Joshua Miller, master certified executive and personal coach, Austin, TX

“Everything needs to get done now.”

“I’ve learned that it’s OK if there are dishes in the sink, laundry in the basket, and the beds are unmade before I leave for work. I can sleep the extra 15 minutes, spend the extra time with my daughter, or read the end of The New Yorker article.  The world will not end.”

—Amy Feind Reeves, career coach, Boston, MA

“I have to do more.”

“I have let go of the belief that I am ‘failing.’ It sounds strange to put it that way, but I have found that the best way to be productive is to adopt the attitude that I am doing the best I can under the circumstances. To be most productive I have to feel relaxed. It’s difficult to relax if I am listening to negative voices in my head beating me up for failing to get everything done. So, I have learned to take a deep breath and relax back into my seat when I feel overwhelmed, redirecting my attention to the task in front of me so I can focus on the highest priority. This attitude of acceptance and trust also makes it easier to shift my priorities if need be.”

—Marijke McCandless, writer and workshop leader, Las Vegas, NV

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Author(s)

  • Rebecca Muller

    Senior Editor and Community Manager

    Thrive

    Rebecca Muller Feintuch is the Senior Editor and Community Manager at Thrive. Her previous work experience includes roles in editorial and digital journalism. Rebecca is passionate about storytelling, creating meaningful connections, and prioritizing mental health and self-care. She is a graduate of New York University, where she studied Media, Culture and Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. For her undergraduate thesis, she researched the relationship between women and fitness media consumerism.