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3 Ways to Increase Your Productivity Without Burning Out

3 Ways to Increase Your Productivity Without Burning Out

You want to get more done every day, but you’re already doing so much that the thought of adding anything makes you feel sick to your stomach. How do you get more done without getting bogged down in the daily “urgent” tasks like email and meetings?

Years ago when I started my business I was stuck in that daily grind of emails and appointments that I simply couldn’t get out of. They all felt important but only a few items actually pushed my business forward. The rest was just busy work.

It took me instituting 3 things to get my time back and start pushing the truly important projects forward. Today I want to share those 3 things with you so you can start putting your focus on the right things in your life.

1. Say NO.

This is the most important aspect of getting more productive without burning out. Before you move on to the other things in the list you need to make sure that you’re focused on the right things in your life.

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Last week I had 3 people I know invite me for coffee. I could have said yes, but my real focus is packing a house to move and getting ready for a month-long vacation. Because the important tasks of my week didn’t leave room for going out with friends, I told them to get in touch with me after my vacation.

It’s so easy to want to please a new prospect in business, but before you worry about pleasing them you need to ask yourself if you should even be working with them. Just because someone wants to work with you or sends you an email doesn’t mean that you need to work with them or respond to the email. That request is simply an indication of what they think is important for you to use your time on.

If that prospect doesn’t fit with your current business focus, tell them you can’t work with them. If you get emails asking for your time on things that don’t fit with your current focus, politely decline the opportunity.

Your default answer to any inquiry for your time needs to become “no.” Start with no and then evaluate how the request matches up with your focus. Only change the no to a yes when it matches up with your focus.

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Staying focused on the few things we really should be doing is the best way to keep us energized while making sure that we don’t have a deluge of busy work stealing our attention from what matters.

2. Delegate.

Unfortunately, despite your best efforts there are always going to be some things you can’t say no to. Maybe it’s your taxes. Few people enjoy doing them or are gifted in tax prep, but it’s something we have to do or we can expect the tax agency to come visit you.

Despite having to get my taxes done, I’ve never done them even in a year when I made $8k for 12 months. I paid someone to submit my taxes for me. I don’t even enter my day-to-day receipts; I’ve delegated that to my assistant.

Do you need to set up your weekly email to your email list? Once the content is written, someone else can do the busy work of setting it up in your email marketing software. Your time is more effective spent writing more content.

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If you have any repetitive tasks, delegate them. It’s going to take investment up front to build the training material, but then you don’t have to touch that task again.

Getting these tasks out of your list means you can stay focused on the things that you do best.

3. Automate.

A close cousin to delegation is automation. In fact some people say that before you look at delegation you should be looking at automation because if you can automate a task, it means you don’t need to delegate it.

I use this with my invoicing software 17hats and their “workflows.” Instead of taking a few minutes at the beginning of every project to write the same email and send it, I now just let 17hats take care of the project intro email for me.

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Zapier is another great tool to automate easy repetitive things. You could use Zapier to push your email receipts off to Evernote for long term storage and the person you have entering your business receipts. Investing a few dollars a month in Zapier can save you hours of time a month in repetitive tasks.

What tasks do you do regularly that can be automated? Do you send essentially the same email to every client at the beginning of a project? Save it in a tool like TextExpander and never write it again.

With these three tools in under your belt, you can cut so many of the things that steal your focus. Stop doing things over and over, and instead, automate. What you can’t automate, delegate to someone who can do it better or cheaper.

Most importantly, do a serious evaluation of what you’re doing and make your default answer to new requests “no.” Only say yes to opportunities that you’re passionate about and fit in with your focus.

Doing these three things is going to give you new energy in your life as you only need to focus on the things that matter most to you.

Featured photo credit: pedrosimoes7 via flickr.com

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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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