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Keeping Yourself Busy All Day Long Doesn’t Mean That You’re Productive. You’re Simply Procrastinating.

Keeping Yourself Busy All Day Long Doesn’t Mean That You’re Productive. You’re Simply Procrastinating.

Many people like postponing challenging work tasks by completing the ones that don’t require much cognitive power first. Usually, they think it is better to fill in the time rather than stay idle when they procrastinate. At least, doing something means they are being productive. Does this situation happen to you often in the workplace? If yes, you’ve already fallen into the trap of mistaking the two kinds of tasks: “reactive” and “proactive”.

Reactive tasks are those tasks that are somewhat urgent and maybe even important but don’t have a high long-term value. Proactive tasks are those that we know we should do, that have a high long-term value but are often blocked by procrastination and reactive tasks.

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Examples of reactive tasks and productive tasks at work

There are plenty of reactive tasks that need to be done at work, like replying to email, documentation and and repetitive tasks that maintain the operation of your company. But that doesn’t mean you should always use them as an excuse to postpone your proactive tasks, like coming up with new ideas for an upcoming project, thinking ways to improve the performance of your company’s products in the market, improving the communication and cooperation with other colleagues etc.

Typically, we spend 80% of our time on reactive tasks and only 20% of our time on proactive tasks. That explains why most of us are only busy but not genuinely productive at work.

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To reverse the situation, first you need to clearly know where you are by taking the following actions:

1. Look at your to-do list and count the number of proactive versus reactive tasks

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2. Calculate your ratio

  • Count the number of tasks (for example, 20 reactive and 5 proactive for a total of 25)
  • Divide by 100 (0.25 for our example)
  • Divide the number of reactive tasks by that number (eg. 20/.25 = 80%)
  • Subtract that percentage from 100 to find your proactive ratio (eg. 100% – 80% = 20%)

How to shift the ratio to make time spend on the right tasks

  • Reduce the number of reactive tasks : Are they all that important that they really need to be done? If not, take them away.
  • Create more proactive tasks : Think of the things you’re passionate about and the goals you want to complete. Add those things to your to-do list, regardless of whether or not you feel they’re urgent. It’s the things that are important, but don’t have a deadline that will make all the difference in our lives.
  • Learn to say “NO”! : Knowing when to say no to someone is a powerful thing. Remember that every “yes” is a drain on your time and energy and it keeps you from being able to say yes to something else – like your dreams!

Takeaway: Keep in mind that reactive tasks only keep you busy and distract you from genuine productivity. To ensure your time is fully well-spent, you shouldn’t shy away from doing more proactive tasks. Good luck!

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Bill Widmer

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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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