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8 Ways Highly Successful People Plan Their Time

8 Ways Highly Successful People Plan Their Time

“People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” Leonardo da Vinci

Highly successful people don’t wait and hope for desired results. Success is never accidental for them. It’s the direct result of preparing, planning, and aligning their time with their most important goals. Here are eight ways that successful people make the most of their time:

1. They save their decision-making muscles for important stuff

Obama only wears blue or gray suits. Zuckerberg’s uniform is a gray shirt and jeans. Steve Jobs wore blue jeans and a black turtleneck almost every day. Highly successful people simplify their wardrobe. They minimize the amount of decisions they make on trivial matters.

Only a few decisions truly matter. They’ve internalized that every decision doesn’t have to be optimal or perfect. This frees them to make quick decisions most of the time. They automate and simplify decisions.

They don’t think about whether they will go to the gym. They don’t deliberate about what they will eat for breakfast. They workout at the same time every day. They eat the same breakfast every day. They use their willpower and flex their decision making muscles on the highest impact decisions they face each day.

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2. They have a consistent morning routine

They create momentum at the start of the day through consistent morning routines. Successful complete a combination of the following activities in the morning: meditate, read, journal, exercise, prioritize their day, envision a successful day, and eat a nutritious breakfast to fuel their day.

For example, motivational speaker Tony Robbins takes a cold plunge to reset his system and reduce inflammation in the morning. He also does breathing exercises and expresses gratitude during a ten minute priming exercise. What we focus on expands in our minds. Through his morning routine, he chooses to expand gratefulness over fear and anxiety.

A precise formula that produces an effective morning routine doesn’t exist. Highly successful people experiment with different activities until they find the morning routine that fits their lifestyle and sets them up for a successful day. They also create routines for the end of the day…

3. They have a consistent nightly routine

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” Alexander Graham Bell

Successful people don’t wait until the morning to prepare for a successful day. They start the night before. They unplug from their devices, read, meditate, and plan for the next day. They wake up relaxed and stress-free because they have already designed the blueprint for a productive day. However, they don’t start planning the night before.

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4. They plan ahead thoroughly

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Abraham Lincoln

One of the major differences between highly successful people and average performers is detailed and strategic planning. Successful people spend more time thinking about their big picture goals and ideas. They zoom out regularly to analyze their lives from a 50,000 foot view.

This enables them to make key decisions deliberately, methodically, and strategically. Average performers make those decisions in a reactive mode while they’re in the thick of the forest of their lives. Successful people plan thoroughly and reap the rewards down the road.

Their detailed planning provides clarity on what they should be working on at any given time. They produce at high levels because they separate the planning and creation processes. They don’t plan when they feel like it.

5. They have a system for planning

While Bill Gates was the Chairman at Microsoft, he secluded himself from the distractions of daily life twice a year during Think Week. Visitors were banned during the week. He read many papers (his record was 112) about Microsoft as well as new ideas in technology during Think Week. The space and time he carved out during the week allowed him to take a step back to review the projects and ideas at Microsoft.

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Greg Mckeown, the author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, advocates conducting a quarterly personal review to define your most important objectives for the next three months.

What doesn’t get scheduled, doesn’t get done. Successful people regularly schedule time to review their priorities, goals, and road maps to achieve them. They schedule time to monitor their progress on key objectives and iterate their plans based on results and lessons learned. They schedule their projects on a daily and weekly basis. They set aside time to plan and strategize as well as time to execute those plans.

6. They prioritize

Successful people understand that if they don’t prioritize their projects, they will be swayed and pushed around by the agendas of others. They consistently evaluate their priorities and re-organize the order as circumstances change.

Since their priorities are crystal clear, they quickly assess whether a request fits into their big picture plans. They cultivate the habit of turning down requests that don’t align with their most valued goals. They learn to say no in a firm and graceful manner to requests that don’t fit their plans.

Effectiveness trumps efficiency for them. They focus on working on the right things over getting more done. They strive to produce at their highest quality for their highest priorities.

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7. They focus on important projects

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” Stephen R. Covey

In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey lays out a quadrant with the following categories: urgent and important, not urgent and important, urgent and not important, and not urgent and not important. The quadrant where you spend the majority of your time determines your life’s destiny.Average performers live in the urgent quadrants. They are constantly putting out fires.

On the other hand, highly successful people focus on activities that are important and not urgent. These activities don’t yield instant results. However, they produce massive long-term results.

8. They work on the most important project first

Willpower is a limited resource. As we make decisions, run errands, and work on various projects throughout the day, our willpower is depleted. Successful people leverage the full tank of willpower in the morning by working on their most important project first.

In the morning, the stresses and obstacles that arise throughout the day haven’t cluttered their mind yet. They take advantage of their fresh and clear mind. In addition, they take advantage of the lack of distractions in the early morning. They get a head start on the world by making progress towards their most valued goal in the morning.

Featured photo credit: TechCrunch via flickr.com

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Jose Ramos

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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