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8 Common Mistakes That Make You Easily Stressed

8 Common Mistakes That Make You Easily Stressed

In today’s society, most of us have the same struggle: there just aren’t enough hours in the day and in this current information age our personal lives are even busier than our professional lives. It’s hard to keep up.

There are some people who seem to have no problem handling it all. They are always doing something productive; going to work, grocery shopping, washing the car, and hosting a birthday party for 20 five-year-olds, all in the same day! Yet they never seem to even break a sweat.

So, how do we successfully manage all that we have to do without completely losing our minds? The answer to this dilemma is in the how you do what you do instead of the what. Here are 8 common mistakes that are making you more stressed than you should be.

1. You multi-task without prioritizing. 

Multi-tasking is a fact of life. We all do it. But consider this—truly successful people know how to prioritize their tasks, their time, and rarely multi-task. Focusing on too many things at ones makes you mediocre at them all. When you invest all of your energy, attention, and an allotted time frame to one thing‒more often than not‒you will do it well.

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Consider this example: You come home from work and you need to make dinner and help your son with his homework. When you try to do them both at the same time, you over cook the meal and your son becomes frustrated and throws a mini tantrum because he can’t concentrate. You’re both frustrated, the homework takes hours, and the meal is barely edible.

OR: You come home from work and set a timer for 30 minutes and sit down to help your son with his math homework―uninterrupted. When the timer goes off, the homework is most likely complete or close. You, again set the timer for 30 minutes, and you focus on making dinner while your son finishes the last bit of his homework by himself or, if he still needs more assistance, you allow him to take a break while you make dinner and finish the homework after dinner. The result? A tasty meal and a happier little boy.

2. You make “to do” lists.

“To do” lists in and of themselves are actually very helpful and are a way to help us remember things. But remember, it’s not the what that is important it’s the how. Most people’s lists are long and very detailed. We over schedule our time and plan with a level of granularity that makes it impossible to be successful.

If you must make a “to do” list, instead of planning out every moment of the day in graphic detail, write down the top three things you would like to accomplish in broad terms. For example instead of saying, “I am going to drink a gallon of water today” and then plan how much water you need to drink every hour, say “I am going to drink more water today”. Your chances of success with fewer and more broadly defined goals are much higher. And success leads to more success. On the other hand, the opposite is also true. Failure is disheartening and discouraging. The more you fail, the closer you come to giving up.

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Another alternative to the traditional “to do” list is using a live calendar to help arrange your day. You’ll receive updates and reminders that will help you with managing your time and keep you on track. Remember to keep the tasks broad and don’t fall victim to over-scheduling.

3. You rely on your brain to remember things.

This is a no brainer―pardon the pun. Relying on your memory to recall important information is a recipe for disaster. Your brain is very complex and overburdened with information. It needs help remembering things.

WRITE IT DOWN! If there is something you need to recall―write it down. The physical act of writing it down will aid you in remembering it. When you write things down, you are physically connecting the thought to an action. The simple act of writing things down increases the odds of you remembering it 3 fold. And if you still forget, no worries, you have it written down!

4. You instantly respond to electronic messages (emails, instant messages, social media posts, text messages, etc.)

This is by far one of the hardest habits for most of us, technology slaves to get used to. We have been conditioned―a lot like Pavlov’s dogs ‒ to respond immediately. We hear the notification ‘ding’ on our mobile device and we HAVE to check it out. We cannot fight the urge to see what’s happening.

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News flash… texting LOL can wait. Most successful business professionals have a prescribed time―once or twice each day―where they stop what they are doing and answer emails and respond to messages (they don’t multi-task). They also set a time limit. Anything that does not get answered during their ‘mail’ time has to wait until the next time their calendar alerts them that it is time to check the mail. It takes discipline ‒ but you can do it.

5. You neglect the 80/20 rule.

The 80/20 rule (aka the Pareto Principle): the premise of this principle is that 80 percent on an outcome is derived from 20 percent of the expended effort. If you think about this principle in terms of a team―let’s say a basketball team―this theory predicts that 80 percent of the team’s points would be scored by one player. Research shows that this theory is largely accurate in almost every input/output relationship.

The lesson here is, be careful on how you spend your time and energy. Learning to choose which activities will produce the greatest success and be the most productive is the key. This principle is all about priorities and being fully present during these key activities will enable you to better maximize you time and potential.

6. You procrastinate.

Better known as the “touch it once” rule. Simply put, if you touch something ‒ deal with it right then and there. If you open a letter and you are going to respond, respond immediately.

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Think about the time you waste opening a bill, reading its contents, and then waiting until later to actually pay it or act on it. That was wasted time and energy. You now have to remember to pay the bill (and you didn’t write it down). If you see the letter and know that no matter the contents you are not ready to take an action, leave the letter, unopened in a designated spot to deal with it at a time you are ready to take action. It is OK to put things off ‒ as long as you do it intentionally and you have established a bigger priority to tackle at the moment.

7. You don’t say ‘No” and you don’t ask for help.

A shocking fact is that successful people value their time and energy over other people’s feelings. They have no problem saying no to things that do not make maximum use of their energy. In other words, if it is not a resounding “heck yeah!” then it’s a no. It’s not about putting yourself first or being selfish, it’s about being smart and efficient.

Also, people who experience large amounts of success do not see pending tasks as something they must do, they see them as something that must get done. Whatever is the best way, is what they choose. They have no problem asking for help from someone who may be more suited to the task than they are. And a team can do a job a lot faster than one person. Learn to shift your thinking from “I have to do this” to “what is the best way to get this done?”

8. You hyper focus and over fixate on tasks.

If you’re seeking to accomplish something and it just isn’t going well, learn to take a break and work on something else less difficult. You sit down to write your final term paper of the semester. It’s worth half of your grade for the entire semester but the words just aren’t flowing. Sitting there for hours trying to make yourself do it is actually less productive than taking a break and returning to it later. I know, I know this violates the “only touch it once rule”, however in this case, that rule is superseded by the 80/20 rule. You are expending way too much energy for virtually no output. And also remember that success breads success.

Instead, take a break and work on your economics homework which you can do with your eyes closed, do some laundry, and go for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. You’ll feel better.

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Denise Hill

Denise shares about psychology and communication tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2019

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to focus and concentrate better? How to focus better and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

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Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

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When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

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If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

More Resources About Boosting Focus and Productivity

Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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