7 Counterintuitive Strategies That Can Lead to Success

The Internet is chock full of advice columns on how to increase your productivity, or strategies to follow if you want to experience true success. While most of these pieces certainly have their merits, they certainly aren’t written in stone, and as such, should not be taken as Gospel.

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Many of the points on this list will, at first glance, make you roll your eyes and say “Yeah, right.” But, once you dig a little deeper, you’ll realize there’s more to these counterintuitive pieces of advice than meets the eye, and that they’re much more actionable than you may have at first thought.

1. Don't Keep a "To-Do" List

Let’s start off with the one that surprised me the most. There are so many articles claiming that to-do lists can help keep your day organized and your goals tangible. But, for some people, a to-do list might actually inhibit their ability to get things done.

If not done in a methodical manner, a to-do list is simply a piece of paper with an overwhelming amount of obligations written on it. There are some people who would take one glance at a list, and, if it has more than three or four tasks on it, chuck it right into the garbage. Having obligations to attend to can be overwhelming, and if your list is too long, it will bog you down. Obviously, when you’re feeling the walls close in on you, it’s tough to focus your attention on anything at all, let alone the pressing issues in front of you.

To-do lists also don’t necessarily help you prioritize your tasks. If you simply list everything you need to accomplish in a day, you might spend all your time running menial errands and neglect the major things you had to get done. Unless you’ve come up with a great system that helps you on a daily basis, toss the to-do list and figure out a better way to organize your obligations.

2. Argue

We’ve all been in an office meeting in which a colleague said something that we completely disagreed with. You most likely let it slide, not wanting to stir up trouble in front of the entire staff. However, arguing can actually strengthen communication between two parties, if done in a professional manner. I’m not saying you should start a shouting match between yourself and anyone who disagrees with you, but you absolutely should take the time to hash things out with them. Not only will you figure out a way to work things out with your colleague, but you’ll also prove that you stand firm in your beliefs and are able to back them up with facts, and that you also can see from a variety of perspectives.

3. Be Offensive

I don’t mean offensive as in calling someone a doo-doo head for disagreeing with you. But, just as you should feel comfortable debating with colleagues who disagree, you should also be able to call out teammates who fall short of their duties. Your goal here isn’t to embarrass them, of course. It’s to motivate them to do better. Allow them to realize you wouldn’t have said anything if you thought they were incompetent, or if you knew they tried their hardest and still fell short. Reserve the comments for when you absolutely know a colleague phoned in his last performance. They might end up being a little hurt by your comments, but they also won’t want to go through another embarrassing meeting next month, and will be sure to work a bit harder in the future.

4. Be Overly Self-Critical

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I know, I know: you shouldn’t beat yourself up over a poor performance; everyone makes mistakes. But you don’t want to be everyone else; you want to be better than them! The harder you are on yourself, the harder you’ll work to perfect your craft. If you’re indifferent to your performance, there’s no way you’ll end up doing great work.

Of course, being overly critical of yourself does nothing if you don’t follow it up with effort. There’s a fine line between “I can’t believe I messed that up” and “I never do anything right.” While the first comment makes it clear that you know you can do better, and will obviously keep at it until you’ve gotten to the level you want to be at, the second is a defeatist attitude that won’t get you very far in life. Be critical of yourself, but stop short at feeling self-pity.

5. Make Mistakes

Like I just said: everyone makes mistakes. Most pieces of advice will say you should only make the same mistake once, and anything more is due to stubbornness, lack of flexibility, or some other bogus attribute to blame. Getting better at something is all about repetition. If you’re learning to play an instrument, you’ll probably make the exact same mistake over and over again when playing scales. That doesn’t mean you should quit. But you should focus on not making that mistake once the rest of the task comes naturally to you. It should be obvious, but it’s worth stating: Working on your mistakes is the only way to truly get better at something, even if it takes you a hundred tries. You might even end up figuring out a better strategy to solve your problem and make it a thousand times easier to accomplish.

6. Embrace Rejection

You may have heard of embracing vulnerability, but how could embracing rejection lead to better productivity? Well, just as pushing yourself outside your comfort zone desensitizes you from discomfort, being rejected time and time again will make you feel the sting of failure less and less over time. I’m not saying being rejected doesn’t bruise your ego—it definitely does—but if you’ve survived it before, you’ll survive it again.

Once you’ve experienced rejection in a variety of ways, you’ll start to look past the fact that you were rejected, and start to analyze why you were rejected. In doing so, you’ll be able to improve your performance the next time you submit an article, proposal, or job application. I’m not saying you’ll ever jump for joy when you get a letter of rejection in the mail, but the more you experience it, the less it will matter to your ego.

7. Don't Constantly Aim for Perfection

You may have heard the saying “Straight-A students work for C students.” While it’s more of a colloquial phrase that probably doesn’t have much research behind it, the sentiment is that those who spend their life trying to be perfect in every aspect will ultimately end up working for those who focus their energy on specific interests and hobbies. There’s no sense in burning yourself out trying to achieve greatness in an area that doesn’t mean anything to you. If you’re stuck in a job you don’t want to be in, put your efforts into finding something new rather than “proving yourself” in your current position. All you’re really proving is you would rather put the needs of some temporary gig above your needs as a person.

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Productivity “hacks” don’t work for everyone. And there’s definitely no single way to go about utilizing them, either. As long as you go about your career in a systematic, strategic manner, you’ll experience success in one form or another. It’s when you go about things haphazardly that you’ll end up falling short of your goals.

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