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3 Simple Strategies For Better Time Management

3 Simple Strategies For Better Time Management

Our screen addiction has turned into a procrastination addiction, and we’re more exposed to distraction than ever. Need more proof? I could kill your work day with a simple link (seriously, don’t click it).

The web is full of tips on how to manage your time, stay productive, and get more done in less time. The world wants to save you some time while all you do is read these articles and slack off. With all the productivity tools, tips, and tricks available, we’ve become obsessed with becoming more productive. But if you put too much time into managing your time, you might want to reconsider your approach.

This is why it’s useful to consider a non-managing approach to time management — a lazy take on this growing trend. Think of it as time management for people who really can’t seem to manage. Here are some tips that won’t take up your time, but will get you started on managing your time better. They’re far from expert-level time management, but they make for a good introduction.

Plan to be interrupted

If you want to quit procrastination, schedule time for procrastination. Plan to be distracted, because you inevitably will be.

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If you allow yourself a portion of time and stay focused on work, knowing you’ll get your break in a while, you’ll be more productive and, in time, procrastinate less.

Basically, get it out of your system.

The same goes for various distractions and interruptions. Stop constantly checking your email and social channels — nothing is that urgent. Plan to check every few hours or so and refrain from visiting these sites outside of these times.

There are also a few handy tools available, like SelfControl, that can help you blacklist the unwanted sites and block them for a few hours while you’re trying to focus. Do you think you’re not hooked? I dare you to try the app and find out!

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Remember: there’s no better time-killer than a lost pen

Clutter is a known productivity killer.

Don’t let your mess take over your mind and leave no space for thinking, planning, and working. Declutter your home, keep your workspace tidy, and clean up the mess in your environment to create a better working environment for your brain.

What you’re surrounded by ultimately affects your productivity, and if you want to get things done, remember to declutter. It’s now well known that a messy desk is a sign of a creative person, and that’s probably true, but even creatives can benefit from becoming a little more efficient.

Track your bad habits

Are you a smoker? An avid facebook checker? A cat video lover?

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Whatever bad habit you may have, you’re probably struggling to quit. How about taking some time to get a better perspective on your bad habits? Track your time doing these things for a week. Be consistent and track every moment of a habit you’d like to get rid of. Then revise.

Would you be watching cat videos for just “a couple minutes now and then” if you knew that the time actually amounted to 4 hours of your week?

The same goes for multitasking – if you tracked your unfocused work for a couple of weeks, you might discover that you spend a majority of your week working on things that get you no results.

There is tons of time that can easily be saved.

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You could use that time for things that are much more useful — reading a book, mastering a skill, learning a new language. You could be an expert in a few months. And soon enough, your longstanding cat video expertise will be replaced with, you know, something actually useful.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash / By Steve Houghton-Burnett via unsplash.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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