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Many of productivity gurus like to reinforce the routines of highly successful people: Steve Jobs ate just 2 foods a week, Sigmund Freud had his beard trimmed daily, Oprah never misses a meeting, Tim Cook wakes up at 3:45 am (seriously?), etc. Yet, expounding the habits of a highly successful person is flawed for several reasons.
Firstly, it is statistically questionable.
Psychologist Aditya Shukla claims “For a few people who are successful by developing productive habits, many are unsuccessful in spite of using the same habits,” in his blog Cognition Today.
Placing successful people on a pedestal can undermine our own efforts.
Secondly, it promotes the concept that highly successful people are permanently peak performance. But take someone like Benjamin Franklin, known for living by a highly demanding set of virtues and goals, and who may have been the creator of the todo list. Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, writes of him: “… was not naturally inclined to keep his papers and other possessions organised, and he found the effort so vexing that he almost quit in frustration. Moreover, the demands of his printing business meant that he couldn’t always follow the exacting daily timetable that he set for himself.”
In revering the performance of highly successful people “It’s easy to forget that they’ve had and still have their own set of struggles and challenges on their path,” says health coach Casey von Iderstein on Thrive Global. “We can perceive their lives as being perfect and unattainable.”
A more pragmatic approach is to consider aspects of how highly successful people operate and incorporate them sympathetically into your own circumstances.
By all means be inspired by the people you admire, experiment with their productivity approaches, emulate the ideas that genuinely help you work better — and disregard the remainder.
“When we see someone who’s created a life that’s appealing to us, it’s important to use them as real, human inspiration (which is very different than idolisation) — because when we see things from that viewpoint, we can get a much better idea of the whole picture,” says von Iderstein.