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The Secret to Productivity: Work Less, Get More Done

The Secret to Productivity: Work Less, Get More Done

If only. Most of you are probably thinking, but it’s not quite as unrealistic as it sounds. Working for fewer hours each day is actually proving better for concentration, health, and productivity.

We are all time wasters. That might seem like a harsh statement, but it’s almost impossible not to be when we’re chained to a desk for long, inflexible hours surrounded by multifold temptations to procrastinate. In Forbes last year, Cheryl Connor revealed that people who now admit to wasting time at work every day has reached a whopping 89% (up more than 20% than the year before), supplementing her argument with shocking statistics from a CareerBuilder Poll which blamed unsurprising suspects for the demise of hard work (social media, gossip, smoking, internet browsing, phone calls, etc.) and essentially came to the conclusion that we’re all a bunch of no good slackers.

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In my view though, we’re not the ones to blame. It’s the outdated structures around which business is based: inflexible working weeks, unreasonable hours, and ridiculous expectations.

Last year, Filimundus, an app developer based in Stockholm introduced the 6-hour working day with minimal meetings, social media banned and distractions eliminated, following the lead of another tech company, Brath, who made the leap three years ago. Linus Feldt, the company’s CEO told Fast Company, “To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge. In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the work day more endurable.”

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Banning social media seems extreme, particularly when platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs are positively transforming the way we do business, allowing companies to reach new audiences, increase sales, and foster customer relationships across the globe. However, the concept is an important one and it demonstrates a shift away from an outdated and highly restrictive professional structure.

The 8 hour working day is based on the idea that employees are productively working for those 8 hours, but, tweeting and gossiping aside, even when employees are actually “on the job”, productivity is still a struggle with concentration continually disrupted by emails, phone calls, and meetings.

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Then there’s the serious health risks of working long hours. A frightening recent study published in Science Alert reported that individuals working 55 hours or more per week had a 33% greater risk of stroke and a 13% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease. This could relate to the inactivity of employees, but also to high stress levels. When we are expected to work or exceed conventional hours, there’s not enough time leftover to properly unwind. With shorter or flexible office hours that allow people to leave when they’ve completed their work, employees feel rewarded and proud of what they’ve achieved. They start to associate the office space with productivity rather than boredom and exhaustion.

Most importantly, people get to leave with enough energy to enjoy spending time with their families, to exercise, to learn, and to relax, so that when they return to the office the next day they’re refreshed and enthused rather than exhausted. Working less hours shouldn’t mean you get paid less either. Most companies would be willing to pay the same salaries for a higher productivity and fewer hours, if that meant for bigger profits and faster development.

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A Happiness at Work survey run by Nic Marks in 2012 showed that happy employees are 3 times more creative, sales increase by 37%, and productivity by 31%. Redesigning office spaces, introducing team yoga lessons and better food all help with morale in the short term, but it’s the long term restructuring that’s going to make the biggest impact.

Shorter days in the office means a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. What have we got to lose?

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Richard Walton

Founder of AVirtual

Boost your creativity, be more productive Hitchhiker by Atlas Green Why asking for help isn’t the same as giving in The Secret to Productivity: Work Less, Get More Done Clearing the office to clear the mind 8 Tasks You Should Be Delegating

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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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