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Last Updated on May 8, 2019

The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

Do you ever find yourself telling a friend or colleague that you’re “so busy” whenever they ask how you’re doing? Or, that you “have a lot on your plate and hardly have any time for yourself”?

These are common answers to the question: “ how are you doing?”. Perhaps you see it as an easy response that doesn’t need much explanation.  Or, it could be that you’re in disbelief at the end of the week, wondering where all that time went.

The reality is that time is precious and waits for no man. Yet, many of us unconsciously squander time away; but when  that realization kicks in, it’s often too late, or you have little time left to spare. And, the end result of what you were going to accomplish either gets short changed or fails altogether.

Think about the time when you had to be up early for an important meeting at work; yet, the night before you were up late binge watching a TV series. You ended up waking up late the next morning and had to rush to work, leaving you flustered and not well prepared for the meeting. Did you really have to watch those TV series late into the night? Or could you have used that time for an early rest?

Or, what about  that time you had a deadline to meet, and you spent every night that week working late to complete the project. Did you really have to spend every night working late at the office? Or could you have prioritized your time better and gotten the project done during your typical work hours?

I’m sure we’re all guilty of not spending our time wisely at some point in our lives.

But let’s not focus on the time that has already been spent; instead, let’s look at how we can leverage the time that we still have!

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How to Leverage Your Time

Going back to the age-old battle of Quantity versus Quality, which do you think matters more? What if I told you that you need not worry about how much time you have left–instead, focus on how you’re making use of the time that you do have so that it’s worth many more valuable moments in the future?

That’s right. You can easily multiply or invest in the time that you have now. This way, you’ll reap many more returns in the future, instead of merely spending time at present. And, one simple way of investing in time now–so that it becomes quality time– is to Prioritize.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before. It isn’t new. Yet, how many of us actually intentionally sit down to prioritize daily tasks and responsibilities? Even less likely, how many of us know a method that can help us effortlessly decide what is important enough to take up an hour of time, and what can be skipped?

Here’s an important skill I want to introduce to you:

Determine Value in Any Task or Action

Before you can decide on what to prioritize, you need to know just how important that action is.

Value is what you gain from an action that you take. It’s the benefit you’re getting in return for spending your time. Sometimes, the Value is immediate or short term; other times, it‘s only realized in the long term.

So when you invest in time, you’re actually creating future value for the time you put in now. Usually, the benefits are not immediate and will take time to manifest. But once they are realized, they are enjoyed over a long period of time.

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Reduce Time Expenditures

Time expenditure on the other hand, creates short term benefits at the cost of your current time. Usually, the benefits are quickly enjoyed, but are one-off. So once it’s done, it’s gone.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, your tasks are automatically prioritized by your brain. Some tasks can get you closer toward your goals, while others don’t really get you anywhere at all. Outside of work, most people seldom plan out their tasks deliberately, which allows  them be driven automatically.

This is where you end up feeling ‘busy’ all the time because some of the actions that you’re doing don’t necessarily align with what you want in the future. The consequence is that we spend a lot of our precious time on wasteful time expenditures, and far too little on time investments.

This causes a lot of people to be stuck in the same loop, day after day, month after month, year after year.

By simply determining the value of your daily actions or tasks, you’ll already be intentionally prioritizing at a much more efficient rate. This will not only reduce time expenditure, but increase time investments that you’ll be able to use in the near future for much more important areas in your life.

Let me paint you a scenario. Say you’re going on a week long vacation to Australia. It’s your first time travelling to Australia and there are so many activities you want to do, sights you want to see, and restaurants and eateries you’d like to visit .

All this research can get pretty overwhelming and you may not know where to even start! Do I book a hotel first? Or get my flights? But what if I decide on a specific  hotel and realize it’s far away from all the major attractions? Should I then look up what attractions I want to visit first? This list can go on!

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In order to not get overwhelmed or over plan your trip itinerary, here’s where Determining the Value of each action or task can help you Prioritize effortlessly.

Start with Your Intention

What is the purpose of this vacation? Once you know the purpose of this vacation, you’ll be able to list down a bunch of tasks or actions–such as booking a hotel, booking flights and land transport, booking tickets to certain attractions, making reservations for restaurants, etc.

Once you’ve compiled your list, the next step is simply to categorize them into 3 criteria:  

Must haves, Should haves, and Good to haves.

Must haves are tasks that are absolutely critical to achieve the objective, and should take top priority for resources and time.  

The Should haves are important but not critical; leaving them out may lessen the impact of your outcome.

And, the Good to haves are just optional. Not having them  won’t affect the outcome of your goal.

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Once you’re able to sort out your list according to these 3 criteria, you’re already one step closer to prioritizing effectively and spending quality time on those Must have tasks. And, this will be a game changer. You’ll be able to easily communicate what you are spending time on, and you’ll find that you have more time to spare because it’s crystal clear what’s worth skipping out on!

This can be applied to any aspect of your life, whether you’re a full-time working professional, stay at home parent, or working parent. If you’ve ever used the expression “I’ve been so busy” when talking to someone, then I’ll recommend you give this a shot.

Quantify Your Tasks

Now that you know how to determine the Value of your actions spent, the next step up to effective Prioritizing would be to quantify your tasks so that you can objectively decide which is more important. This is especially useful when you have multiple items within each Must have, Should have and Good to have criteria.

Quantifying your tasks by assigning a value will allow you to objectively see the importance, making it easy for you to know which task to work on first. This way, you can be assured that the time and effort that you’ve put into is quality.

The Missing Piece 

Time management is only one piece of a bigger puzzle of change that you can go through, to turn your life around and find more fulfilment. Often, when you find yourself going through an obstacle or limitation in life, it’s not just because of one flaw or a one off decision you made.

It’s often a process and a result of many actions that resulted to where you are now, and so you should go deeper to reflect and see how things can be done differently. And, I’ve got just the solution for you to get started on creating lasting change.

It’s really not as complicated as it sounds. You’ll be surprised to find that you already know many of these answers. What you’ll discover is that there are unique new ways to make use of what you thought you knew.

Stop delaying and invest in your time now to break free from being busy once and for all by starting a life-changing journey with us here!

Featured photo credit: Marten Bjork via unsplash.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on May 21, 2019

How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

Regardless of how creative you already consider yourself to be, there’s a good chance you would like to level up your creative abilities.

You might want to write a better song, think of better solutions to problems at work or around the home or maybe paint a picture.

In any case, the good news is that creativity is not born: it’s made, and each one of us has the potential to be more creative and come up with incredible ideas.

“Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The definition of creativity is broad, and reminds us that creativity is not limited to artists or musicians. It does however require that we have some kind of impact on the domain in which we create.

Creativity also emphasizes values.

“The process of having original ideas that have value” — Ken Robinson

This makes up for what Csikszentmihalyi misses out. For instance, we can make a change in the world without adding significant value. Any destructive act, like smashing a window, creates change, but it doesn’t necessarily create valuable change.

In short, there isn’t one single definition of creativity It’s up to us to find a definition that feels true and useful. When you know what your standard is, It’s much easier to embrace creativity and start to cultivate it.

And in this article, you will learn how to be more creative and take a good look at what goes into the creative skill:

1. Cultivate Focus

In order to create, there needs to be a focus on creating something, whether it’s a song, a theory, a product, or a sculpture.

You could also call this “drive” – it’s the initial spark that drives the solution to a problem, or the will to get on your laptop and start typing.

However, it’s worth noting there are different stages to the creative process: the divergent stage and the convergent stage.

In the divergent stage, we want a broad focus – we want to be willing to let in lots of different inputs, ideas and insights. This is the time for brainstorming all possible ideas and solutions.

In the convergent stage, we start to narrow our focus, like a camera lens. At this stage, we start to drill down to a handful of ideas or solutions, discriminating throughout the process.

How to cultivate focus?

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Take a 20 Minute Walk

Walking away and getting your heart rate up is the best free tool you have in regaining your focus.

I know it might seem counterintuitive to take a break right when you’re at your busiest, and especially when you’re drowning in your massive to do list, but the effects it will have on your clarity and ability to focus are undeniable.

Walking is physiologically proven to release stress, and clear your mind. In fact, most of my most brilliant ideas (and some pretty terrible ones too) have occurred on my daily walks.

If you give this technique a try, what you’ll find is that you’re much more productive than you were before you took a breather.

Over time, if you do these walks daily, you’ll quickly find that your to-do list starts to feel a lot less significant, and a lot more doable. It’s all about keeping razor focused, and that’s what short daily walks will gift you.

2. Build a Structure

When I wake up in the morning, I start the day with a structure in mind. I know that 15 minutes will be dedicated to meditation, 30 minutes to coffee and reading, 20 minutes to yoga and so on.

The structure of this morning routine might be boring, but the act of each task in itself has the potential to be, on some level, “creative.”

The point of structure is that it gives you the space to make time for something you want to do. It helps you carve out the time to do your creative work. Once you begin that thing in itself, you are free to go about it however you’d like.

Without structure, we can lose focus and can feel overwhelmed with possibility. If you’ve ever looked at a blank page and felt too overwhelmed with possibility to make a mark on it, you’ll know what I mean. How much easier it gets when you are given some guidelines or a deadline?

The trick is finding the right amount of structure for you and your creative needs. Too little structure and we feel overwhelmed. Too much structure, and we risk feeling limited and stifled.

Again, it’s worth thinking about creating in those two stages: divergent (less structure) and convergent (more structure.)

How to build a structure?

Create a Morning Routine

Your morning routine doesn’t have to be rigid or so arduous you dread waking up. In fact, it should feel like the opposite. When you get a routine that works for you, you’ll look forward to starting the day.

We all have different needs and preferences which can shape our ideal routine. In the book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, you can be inspired over 160 different creators’ daily routines, from Charles Darwin to Pablo Picasso.

Experiment with any that take your fancy, and see how you feel with a bit more structure to start your day.

You can also take a look at this article about morning routine for inspirations: The Ultimate Morning Routine to Make You Happy And Productive All Day

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3. Find Motivation

There is a theory that suggests: people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself — not by external pressures. This is also known as intrinsic motivation; a drive that comes from within.

Think of a time when you did some of your best work — chances are you were totally absorbed in what you were doing, to the exclusion of everything else. You were completely focused on the work itself, barely noticing time flying by.

Now think of a time when you felt under pressure to perform. Maybe it was an exam, or a commission for an important client, or maybe your boss had told you “there’s a lot riding on this.”

Notice the difference? In the first memory, you were driven by intrinsic motivation, which made it relatively easy, even enjoyable, to be highly creative.

In the second memory however, extrinsic motivation was breathing down your neck, distracting you by whispering about the rewards for success and the horrible consequences of failure: likely making it harder to focus on the task at hand.

For this reason, intrinsic motivation, if you can find it, is what separates the good from great creative work.

This isn’t to say only internal motivators help. I personally get motivated by luring myself to work with a good cappuccino at my favourite cafe. That will get me ready to write or edit or whatever I’ve been avoiding.

How to find motivation?

Connect to Your “Why”

Your “Why” is your fuel: the thing that drives you forward, that gives you a reason to do what you’re doing.

‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.’ — Friedrich Nietzche

When you have a reason to do something, a purpose or a goal that matters to you, you can connect your daily actions to it. Then, each act becomes infused with meaning and you find that intrinsic motivation comes naturally.

The trick is to remember your “why” and connect with it on a regular basis.

Think about how you want to feel on a daily basis. What would you like to accomplish in the next year? What would you like for yourself in the next five years? How about in your lifetime?

Ultimately, the tasks you face on a daily basis, or at least some of them, will connect to a greater purpose if you follow this path and you will find you feel more motivated to create and less resistance.

If you aren’t sure where to start looking for motivation, this will help: How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

4. Be an Expert in a Chosen Domain

Research has shown that just as expertise in one domain does not predict expertise in other unrelated domains; creativity in one domain does not predict creativity in other unrelated domains.[1]

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So just because you can paint a pretty picture, doesn’t mean you can creatively solve a mathematical problem.

If you’ve taken one of those tests like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which will ask you to think of a bazillion uses for a pencil, and scored well, unfortunately this is only an indicator of divergent thinking skills. It is not a predictor for creativity all round.

The good news is, you can train your creativity in your chosen domain. Much like a muscle, you can isolate exercises to strengthen it.

Of course you can still do a total body workout – or atotal creativity workout – but it means your creativity-training exercises need to come from a wide variety of domains; not just thinking up uses for a pencil.

How to become an expert?

Make a Mastery Training Plan

Following our physical workout analogy, it’s worth applying the habits of great athletes to your chosen creative domain. For example:

1. Decide what area/s you want to work on

Much like a tennis player who decides they need to improve their serving technique, you can decide what area within your creative domain you want to improve at. Get specific.

2. Decide how much time you can dedicate

Most of us don’t have all day to train like a pro tennis player might, but you can likely squeeze 20 to 30 minutes in a day, if you want to. Whatever the time you can allow is, decide to dedicate yourself to it.

3. Review your progress

Finally, in order to check your progress, you can take regular reviews. Decide what your metrics are, and take time each week to check in with yourself.

How many days did you practice? How did you compare to the previous week? This kind of review can help you stay on track, and actually creates more intrinsic motivation as you see yourself develop.

5. Create a Conducive Environment

A psychologist in 1943 proposed that behaviour is:[2]

“a function of both the person as well as the physical environment they are in.”

I would suggest that the act of creating is a behaviour and that, even though it begins as an internal process, it’s very much affected by and even dependent on the environment we are in.

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I started noticing how environment affects me when I worked in an office. Over time, I realized that the more people who were in or who were talking, the more distracted I was. If I got to the office early before my coworkers arrived, I was twice as effective.

I was even more effective if I was at home. Now that I work from home, I know I’m even more effective when in certain coffee shops. Ideally, places that have high ceilings, gentle lighting, some barely noticeable background music – and excellent coffee.

It’s these little variations in our environment that can really shape our creative output.

If you’re an introvert, you probably do your best work alone. If you’re an extrovert, you probably do your best work in the company of others.

This isn’t to say you should find one way of doing things and stick to it: in fact, varying your environment from time to time is a great way to stoke the creative fire too, which we’ll touch on more later.

How to create a conducive environment?

Add or Subtract Stimuli

Novelty in our environment has been shown to stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases our desire to seek out reward.[3]

If you’re looking for creative motivation, adding some novelty into your environment can be just what you need.

On the other hand, some people are highly sensitive and when it comes to having too much stimulation in their environment, they find it difficult to focus.

Experiment with working in different environments. Note how you feel. Note whether you do better creative work or have more interesting ideas when you’re alone or with others.

Try listening to music, people chatting or try being in complete silence. Try a dimly lit room, try working in bright sunlight.

In each case, note how you feel before, during and afterwards and rate the quality of your work.

The Bottom Line

Creativity is not one particular skill or talent one can have. It comes in as many broad and unique flavors as there are people on this earth.

To be more creative, take little steps each day. Acknowledge where and when you feel most inspired, motivated and original and spend more energy in those areas.

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Featured photo credit: Sticker Mule via unsplash.com

Reference

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