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3 Secrets to Moving Personal Task Management to the Business Level

3 Secrets to Moving Personal Task Management to the Business Level

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    You’ve got managing your tasks down to a science. Your dry cleaning is always picked up on time, your ‘honey-do’ list at home has nothing left on it, and you’ve even gotten through all the assignments your supervisor has handed off to you. You are a to-do list rock star.

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    But then something changes: maybe you’ve started your own business. Perhaps you’ve been bumped up into management. Suddenly you have to manage tasks for more than just yourself: you have employees or contractors you’re responsible for keeping on track, as well as a need to complete your own projects. How do you take your personal task management skills to the next level? How do you manage tasks when you’re responsible for other workers’ accomplishments?

    Making The Change

    I’ve been struggling with adapting my approach to managing tasks to the fact that I’m in charge of more than just my own work these days. Somehow, assorted to-do lists on RememberTheMilk just stopped being enough when I needed to remember to handle invoicing, checking in with writers and still handle my own projects. I had to step up my task management skills and make some changes.

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    As I was finding a new balance for managing deadlines and tasks, I learned a few things. In particular, I learned that I didn’t like most of the project management options out there — many were actually more hardcore solutions than I needed — but a lot of the basic task management options didn’t meet my needs either. Just as I had to find a system that worked for me when I started getting my to-do list under control, I had to find a balance in handling projects that involved multiple people. Along the way, I learned a few things.

    Secret #1: Technology is a Choke Point

    I think just about everyone I know relies on technology in some way to help them manage their to-do lists. There are a few paper-and-pen holdouts, admittedly, but that sort of approach does place certain limitations on task management. A lot of people have moved at least as far as using a text file to manage their tasks, if not moving on to at least a basic application. The technology available can be extraordinarily helpful in not only organizing tasks, but also helping us complete them. However, it’s also the choke point for taking on bigger projects and responsibilities.

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    The big problem is that we commit to a certain application or approach to managing our tasks. While there are a few exceptions that flit between RememberTheMilk, Toodledo and whatever they find like to-do list butterflies, the general approach is to find one system that works for you. We tend to stick with systems until something forces us to move on. That’s actually not a bad thing: why mess with something that’s working. The issue is that we don’t always recognize exactly what isn’t working. We’re inclined to cling to our current set up or application as long as possible.

    The solution is relatively simple: we have to be willing to change our technology as needed. I’m not recommending that we all join the aforementioned butterflies, but it is important to recognize that as we scale upwards, we usually have to change tools. Take a look at your options and see which meet your new needs: maybe the ability to share tasks is crucial, or perhaps you need some sort of visualization. And when you find the tool that makes sense as the next step, jump as fast as possible.

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    Secret #2: Other People Are Now Involved

    If you’ve gone the entrepreneurial route and you’re doing well, you might be hiring employees or bringing on a virtual assistant. Even if you’re just managing staff for someone else’s company, you’re going to have some other people to think of when it comes to managing tasks and projects. As the boss, you do have the option of imposing any productivity system you want but doing so might not endear you to the people you have to work with.

    It’s worth your while to check with those individuals to see how they like to handle tasks. Make use of the inboxes, to-do lists and other systems they already have in place, whenever possible. There’s often a reason that they’ve made use of a particular system: right now, I’m working with a writer who just doesn’t have the online skills to work with something like Basecamp. I email her each task or project I need her to work on, because that’s the only inbox she’ll actually check. Such a situation isn’t always ideal, but it works and that’s the important thing.

    Secret #3: It Has to Work

    When I realized I needed an application that could help me track larger projects, I looked at several options. I signed up for a whole stack of trial accounts and messed around with a whole bunch of applications. There were one or two that I kept coming back to — not because they worked particularly well with the way I operate, but because I knew that a couple of friends swear by them and find them perfect options. I even started using one of these applications — and everything fell apart.

    Recommendations aren’t enough. Instead, an application actually has to work with your personal methods of getting things done. If it doesn’t, don’t pay money for it and don’t spend time on it. Try out applications as much as needed, but jettison them if they aren’t working for you.

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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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