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How Clutter Drains Your Brain (and What You Can Do About It)

How Clutter Drains Your Brain (and What You Can Do About It)

You’re sitting on the subway or bus, trying to read something. It could be related to a work project or it could even be for pleasure. A person comes and sits down next to you. They’re in the middle of a loud personal conversation about their friend’s romantic antics. Now, instead of focusing on your reading, you find yourself hearing parts about someone’s love life — and, in fact, you have to consciously focus on ignoring that conversation to get your own reading done.

Most people think it’s easy to ignore these little distractions, but it’s not. The brain has a limited amount of functions it can perform at a given time. Distractions and clutter that aren’t worth attention take up some of that space in the brain and reduce the space remaining for things that matter — and thinking overall.

Ignoring anything takes energy, and the brain becomes passive when it can’t control what to think about. Ignoring clutter around you (noise, distractions) often takes the same amount of energy as focusing.

The Unaware Distractions

In a physical sense, think of your desk at work. There are usually folders, pencils, and other nick-knacks all around. You know you shouldn’t fiddle with these — it’s not the point and it won’t help you focus — but as a day draws on and energy wanes, you’re often drawn to doing just that. It takes up space in your mind to ignore these little things.

Those are just physical things, too — the explosion of the digital world has made this even more complicated. Somewhere between 89 and 115 billion business emails are sent every day globally,[1] and many people do not have good systems for organizing their inboxes.[2]

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The same can happen with non-physical elements like friendships. If you’re in an annoying text exchange with a friend and you know (from your lock screen) that the latest, just-arrived text is completely annoying, you might tell yourself, “I’ll exit this conversation and just ignore it.” But you know the text is sitting there. You’re going to burn lots of mental energy trying to avoid that text.

This all becomes a problem because our lives have so much clutter, both physical, mental and digital. All this creates clutter and the need to ignore, which makes the brain work harder.

    Photo credit: Source

    Too Much Stuff Burns out the Brain

    Now imagine this situation, you hate reading, and you’re put in an empty room with a book. What’s going to eventually happen? You’re going to read that book.

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    But this isn’t the usual reality. Most rooms with books tend to also contain— or have nearby— TVs, smartphones, computers, and other potential distractions. Asking you to finish reading that book will take you a lot of mental energy to ignore all other stuff first.

    Even though you may think that you have got used to the stuff around and don’t find them distracting, all those things are constantly stimulating your thoughts unconsciously. “I know I should read the book, but maybe I should clean the TV set first.“, or “I know I’d better start to read this book, but the computer should be placed on my desk instead.

    To think about ignoring those thoughts, again, burns up your brain energy.

      Photo credit: Source

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      Take Back Your Brain Energy

      When you know your priority on what is important, you know what to remove from life and free up brain energy.

      In a work context, two-third of managers cannot name the priorities of their organization.[3] This often filters down throughout the organization, confusing workflows and burning people out on supposedly important projects that, in reality, aren’t tied to actual priorities at all.

      This happens in personal and relationship contexts as well. People are often unclear on what they want out of life and partners, etc.[4] They spend time away from priority, trying to manage/ignore toxic relationships, the curated social media lives of their friends, etc.

      It’s that your brain energy needs to be spent on legitimate priority tasks. That means value-add work, strong friendships, burgeoning relationships, friends, family, pets, career goals, and the like. It doesn’t need to be spent on low-priority, cluttered tasks.

      But because of how our brains work, and the energy we need to spend on ignoring the clutter and noise around us, we often spend a lot of time and energy on the low-priority tasks and events.

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      Begin by removing the “stuff” in your life that doesn’t truly serve a purpose. That can be very challenging for many people, but thankfully there is a formula to help you throw away stuff without regret: The Declutter Formula That Helps You Throw Stuff Away. Learn it, know it, and try your best to follow it.

      Only when you remove the unnecessary distractions and mental energy-zappers can you truly begin to re-focus your life. Every time when you see clutter around you, think about how much mental energy you have to spend on ignoring them.

      The first step is de-cluttering your life, both physically and digitally. Only then will you be able to focus your mental energies in the right direction.

      When you remove the unnecessary elements from your life, that’s when your energy can be used for those elements to really help you grow as a successful, well-connected person. It all starts with the elimination of clutter.

        Photo credit: Source

        Featured photo credit: The Gary Art Good via thegaryartgood.blogspot.com

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        Leon Ho

        Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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        Last Updated on January 6, 2021

        14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

        14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

        Everyone has heard the term productivity, and people talk about it in terms of how high it is and how to improve it. But fewer know how to measure productivity, or even what exactly we are talking about when using the term “productivity.”

        In its simplest form, the productivity formula looks like this: Output ÷ Input = Productivity.

        For example, you have two salespeople each making 10 calls to customers per week. The first one averages 2 sales per week and the second one averages 3 sales per week. By plugging in the numbers we get the following productivity levels for each sales person.

        For salesperson one, the output is 2 sales and the input is 10 sales: 2 ÷ 10 = .2 or 20% productivity. For salesperson two, the output is 3 sales and the input is 10 sales: 3 ÷ 10 = .3 or 30% productivity.

        Knowing how to measure and interpret productivity is an invaluable asset for any manager or business owner in today’s world. As an example, in the above scenario, salesperson #1 is clearly not doing as well as salesperson #2.

        Knowing this information we can now better determine what course of action to take with salesperson #1.

        Some possible outcomes might be to require more in-house training for that salesperson, or to have them accompany the more productive salesperson to learn a better technique. It might be that salesperson #1 just isn’t suited for sales and would do a better job in a different position.

        How to Measure Productivity With Management Techniques

        Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to fine tune your business by minimizing costs and maximizing profits:

        1. Identify Long and Short-Term Goals

        Having a good understanding of what you (or your company’s) goals are is key to measuring productivity.

        For example, if your company’s goal is to maximize market share, you’ll want to measure your team’s productivity by their ability to acquire new customers, not necessarily on actual sales made.

        2. Break Down Goals Into Smaller Weekly Objectives

        Your long-term goal might be to get 1,000 new customers in a year. That’s going to be 20 new customers per week. If you have 5 people on your team, then each one needs to bring in 4 new customers per week.

        Now that you’ve broken it down, you can track each person’s productivity week-by-week just by plugging in the numbers:

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        Productivity = number of new customers ÷ number of sales calls made

        3. Create a System

        Have you ever noticed that whenever you walk into a McDonald’s, the French fry machine is always to your left? 

        This is because McDonald’s created a system. They have determined that the most efficient way to set up a kitchen is to always have the French fry machine on the left when you walk in.

        You can do the same thing and just adapt it to your business.

        Let’s say that you know that your most productive salespeople are making the most sales between the hours of 3 and 7 pm. If the other salespeople are working from 9 am to 4 pm, you can potentially increase productivity through something as simple as adjusting the workday.

        Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to set up, monitor, and fine tune systems to maximize output.

        4. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!

        We’ve already touched on using these productivity numbers to evaluate and monitor your employees, but don’t forget to evaluate yourself using these same measurements.

        If you have set up a system to track and measure employees’ performance, but you’re still not meeting goals, it may be time to look at your management style. After all, your management is a big part of the input side of our equation.

        Are you more of a carrot or a stick type of manager? Maybe you can try being more of the opposite type to see if that changes productivity. Are you managing your employees as a group? Perhaps taking a more one-on-one approach would be a better way to utilize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

        Just remember that you and your management style contribute directly to your employees’ productivity.

        5. Use a Ratings Scale

        Having clear and concise objectives for individual employees is a crucial part of any attempt to increase workplace productivity. Once you have set the goals or objectives, it’s important that your employees are given regular feedback regarding their progress.

        Using a ratings scale is a good way to provide a standardized visual representation of progress. Using a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 is a good way to give clear and concise feedback on an individual basis.

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        It’s also a good way to track long-term progress and growth in areas that need improvement.

        6. Hire “Mystery Shoppers”

        This is especially helpful in retail operations where customer service is critical. A mystery shopper can give feedback based on what a typical customer is likely to experience.

        You can hire your own shopper, or there are firms that will provide them for you. No matter which route you choose, it’s important that the mystery shoppers have a standardized checklist for their evaluation.

        You can request evaluations for your employees friendliness, how long it took to greet the shopper, employees’ knowledge of the products or services, and just about anything else that’s important to a retail operation.

        7. Offer Feedback Forms

        Using a feedback form is a great way to get direct input from existing customers. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when using feedback forms.

        First, keep the form short, 2-3 questions max with a space for any additional comments. Asking people to fill out a long form with lots of questions will significantly reduce the amount of information you receive.

        Secondly, be aware that customers are much more likely to submit feedback forms when they are unhappy or have a complaint than when they are satisfied.

        You can offset this tendency by asking everyone to take the survey at the end of their interaction. This will increase compliance and give you a broader range of customer experiences, which will help as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

        8. Track Cost Effectiveness

        This is a great metric to have, especially if your employees have some discretion over their budgets. You can track how much each person spends and how they spend it against their productivity.

        Again, this one is easy to plug into the equation: Productivity = amount of money brought in ÷ amount of money spent.

        Having this information is very useful in forecasting expenses and estimating budgets.

        9. Use Self-Evaluations

        Asking your staff to do self evaluations can be a win-win for everyone. Studies have shown that when employees feel that they are involved and their input is taken seriously, morale improves. And as we all know, high employee morale translates into higher productivity.

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        Using self-evaluations is also a good way to make sure that the employees and employers goals are in alignment.

        10. Monitor Time Management

        This is the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. Time spent browsing the internet, playing games, checking email, and making personal calls all contribute to lower productivity[1].

        Time Management Tips to Improve Productivity

          The trick is to limit these activities without becoming overbearing and affecting morale. Studies have shown that most people will adhere to rules that they feel are fair and applied to everyone equally.

          While ideally, we may think that none of these activities should be done on company time, employees will almost certainly have a different opinion. From a productivity standpoint, it is best to have policies and rules that are seen as fair to both sides as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

          11. Analyze New Customer Acquisition

          We’ve all heard the phrase that “It’s more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.” And while that is very true, in order for your business to keep growing, you will need to continually add new customers.

          Knowing how to measure productivity via new customer acquisition will make sure that your marketing dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is another metric that’s easy to plug into the formula: Productivity = number of new customers ÷ amount of money spent to acquire those customers.

          For example, if you run any kind of advertising campaign, you can compare results and base your future spending accordingly.

          Let’s say that your total advertising budget is $3,000. You put $2,000 into television ads, $700 into radio ads, and $300 into print ads. When you track the results, you find that your television ad produced 50 new customers, your radio ad produced 15 new customers, and your print ad produced 9 new customers.

          Let’s plug those numbers into our equation. Television produced 50 new customers at a cost of $2,000 (50 ÷ 2000 = .025, or a productivity rate of 2.5%). The radio ads produced 15 new customers and cost $700 (15 ÷ 700 = .022, or a 2.2% productivity rate). Print ads brought in 9 new customers and cost $300 (9 ÷ 300 = .03, or a 3% return on productivity).

          From this analysis, it is clear that you would be getting the biggest bang for your advertising dollar using print ads.

          12. Utilize Peer Feedback

          This is especially useful when people who work in teams or groups. While self-assessments can be very useful, the average person is notoriously bad at assessing their own abilities.

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          Just ask a room full of people how many consider themselves to be an above average driver and you’ll see 70% of the hands go up[2]! Now we clearly know that in reality about 25% of drivers are below average, 25% are above average, and 50% are average.

          Are all these people lying? No, they just don’t have an accurate assessment of their own abilities.

          It’s the same in the workplace. Using peer feedback will often provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s ability than a self-assessment would.

          13. Encourage Innovation and Don’t Penalize Failure

          When it comes to productivity, encouraging employee input and adopting their ideas can be a great way to boost productivity. Just make sure that any changes you adopt translate into higher productivity.

          Let’s say that someone comes to you requesting an entertainment budget so that they can take potential customers golfing or out to dinner. By utilizing simple productivity metrics, you can easily produce a cost benefit analysis and either expand the program to the rest of the sales team, or terminate it completely.

          Either way, you have gained valuable knowledge and boosted morale by including employees in the decision-making process.

          14. Use an External Evaluator

          Using an external evaluator is the pinnacle of objective evaluations. Firms that provide professional evaluations use highly trained personnel that even specialize in specific industries.

          They will design a complete analysis of your business’ productivity level. In their final report, they will offer suggestions and recommendations on how to improve productivity.

          While the benefits of a professional evaluation are many, their costs make them prohibitive for most businesses.

          Final Thoughts

          These are just a few of the things you can do when learning how to measure productivity. Some may work for your particular situation, and some may not.

          The most important thing to remember when deciding how to track productivity is to choose a method consistent with your goals. Once you’ve decided on that, it’s just a matter of continuously monitoring your progress, making minor adjustments, and analyzing the results of those adjustments.

          The business world is changing fast, and having the right tools to track and monitor your productivity can give you the edge over your competition.

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          Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

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