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Last Updated on May 2, 2019

6 Simple Habits at Work That Will Instantly Boost Your Productivity

6 Simple Habits at Work That Will Instantly Boost Your Productivity

The smell of coffee hits your olfactory senses, the steam rising from your cup to add a nice touch.

Ah, the start of every weekday morning. Your freshly ground beans soaked in boiling water firmly in hand, you trot to your desk ready to attack the day with some vigor. After all, your mind is clear of all drama and distraction. At least temporarily.

But as soon as you nestle in your chair and get ready to hit the ground running, the distractions come flying at you full force. Your focus, to say the least, begins its rapidly declining state. That fresh cup of coffee tries its hardest to keep you in check, and it might for maybe an hour. But it’s a losing battle; a battle we seem to forfeit on an almost daily basis.

There are ways to help combat such terrible odds though, and the good news is you’re in complete control of them. The better news is they don’t require extra cups of coffee. What you need is to build some simple habits at work.

The following 6 suggestions are easy ways to modify your work habits to instantly boost your productivity.

1. Get to Work Earlier

By this point, you’re probably yelling at me. Hey, I didn’t say this stuff would be easy, just that it’ll be worth it.

It’s been scientifically proven that a lot of people get their best work done in the early morning. Your mind is clear of most distractions, and you’re able to apply yourself to the task at hand.

Getting to work early serves two purposes:

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One, it allows you to take advantage of the fact we’re capable of focusing on the hardest things up front in the mornings. And two, it allows you to beat the rush of your colleagues coming in and contributing to your lack of focus.

Think about it like this:

At 7 AM, no one’s really in the office yet. This means no one is going to stop by your desk to chat about how your weekend was or how your kids are doing, since your colleagues aren’t there yet. It also means no one is going to bug you via email or whatever internal chat client you use for the same reason — they aren’t there yet.

Fewer people around and fewer emails, which are two of the biggest time drainers taken care of.

In comparison, if you get to work at 9 AM, most people are probably there by then, or right behind you. You really don’t have a chance to be “alone”, so to speak.

2. Put Your Phone Face down or in Airplane Mode

If you sit at your desk and your phone lights up, your eyes dart right to it. Once they do that, forget trying to check it later — you need to check it now. Because, after all, we love that small dopamine hit we get when a new notification comes through.[1]

At the office, you don’t have the luxury of throwing your phone across the room or leaving it somewhere else. So your options become two-fold. Either put it face down and stop the habit of constantly checking. Or, put it in airplane mode. Ideally, keep it face down as well.

If this were your house or if you’d have important clients calling you, I’d tell you to put your phone in another room while you focus on working.

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I know this sounds incredibly simple, but you’d be surprised how easy and effective this trick can be when trying to focus.

3. Don’t Check Emails Immediately

When you first sit down, you’ve probably collected quite a few emails overnight. But try to hold off on firing away with your responses.

Checking emails first in the morning isn’t good for you. Here’s why.

Remember, you do your best work in the early mornings most of the time. Don’t waste it checking emails and crafting responses that don’t require much brainpower.

When you feel the lull of the afternoon or need a little break, use the time to deal with emails.

Getting better at focus is like a game of trying to understand when you’re the most efficient and then “trapping” that state and using it to your advantage. It’s a skill which takes time to master. We can be incredibly inefficient due to the simple fact we don’t utilize our time properly.

4. Bring Headphones

Having a pair of headphones serves you two-fold.

One, you’re able to use the time to listen to audiobooks or listen to some music if your surroundings become too distracting. Music has proven itself to get us into the right mood on the right occasion, depending on what we listen to. We can also get ahead with our reading and feed ourselves knowledge by listening to audiobooks.

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The second way could be even better — coworkers will leave you alone. We all know those people in the office who love to walk around and just waste a lot of your time with small talk. Look, we get it — your kids and wife are doing great and you’re also miserable since you can’t seem to sit down and focus on your own work, so you come to me in the hopes I’ll get sucked into the depths of your small-talk black hole.

Your only chance of survival? Don those headphones. You’ll deal with less small talk since you look like you’re in the zone. And no one wants to interrupt someone in the zone.

5. Schedule Meetings for the Afternoon

For the exact same reason not to check your emails in the morning, try to schedule most meetings for the afternoon.

Corporate environments are known for their plethora of meetings anyway, so instead of spacing them out throughout the day, put them off until you absolutely need them.

If the meeting involves strategy and creativity (in other words requires some actual serious brainpower), it’s not a bad idea to have it in the mornings. And some meetings are inevitable to have in the morning, namely because it isn’t your choice.

But for a general rule of thumbs, put them off until later in the day when you don’t need to worry about your focus as much.

And in case you want your meetings to be effective, here’s how:

12 Secrets To a Super Productive Meeting You Should Know

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6. Get Sufficient Sleep

Last but not least, sleep! This sounds cliche but really is the biggest one and also the one which will give you the best return on your investment.

Lately, I’ve noticed a trend on social media. One which says in order to be successful, you must give up sleep. Because apparently, without my knowledge, you can only become the best version of yourself and obtain the riches you so desire if you sacrifice serious shut eye.

As if the secret key to success we’ve all been missing has been to stay up later than our colleagues and fellow compatriots. Ah, if only it was that easy. Mainly because we already sacrifice a lot of sleep.

If you can manage to get a bit more shut-eye on a fairly consistent basis, the payoff is worth it. I’ve seen it first hand myself. Your need for caffeine decreases, your alertness and focus increases, and your desire to be productive jumps ten-fold.

In fact, research suggests that in a typical 8-hour workday, we’re only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes of that time.[2] A large part of that is our consistently tired state of affairs. Want to instantly boost your productivity? Make it a habit to get to bed earlier.

I understand it’s not easy. It requires putting your phone away earlier the night before, drinking less caffeine leading up to the evening, and potentially getting more exercise in so you can feel tired earlier. But getting the right amount of sleep is your single biggest weapon against a lack of focus.

As they say, the best things in life aren’t free. While monetarily this may be free, figuratively it’s far from it.

The Bottom Line

With a few good habits, you can improve your productivity at work without having to rely on eight cups of coffee a day. Some may require a bit more willpower and discipline to implement, but they’re all great ways to get more work done.

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Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

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Adam Bergen

Adam Bergen is the founder of Monday Views, a movement dedicated to showing that with focus and self-discipline, your potential is limitless.

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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

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