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8 Ways to Be Ruthless With Your Time

8 Ways to Be Ruthless With Your Time
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    There are a million and one demands on your time and, whether or not those demands are legitimate, it’s hard to carve out the time necessary to take care of your responsibilities. You have to be ruthless with your time — you have to take care of important tasks before handling issues that just aren’t crucial. You have to set up your own rules for deciding how to spend your time, and those rules may not make everyone around you happy. But you are the only one who can decide what you’ll do today — decide ruthlessly and get your work done.

    1. Say no. Expand beyond what you were told and say ‘no’ to any requests on your time that don’t actually move your work along. You can be nice about it, but avoid taking on new projects. I know that you’re thinking that you can’t just going around telling everyone that you aren’t going to help them, and, sure, if you have some time to spare, there isn’t anything wrong with lending a helping hand. But your work must come before helping others.
    2. Stop hitting snooze. I will struggle with my alarm clock until the day I die. But giving in to the temptation of the snooze button will only lose both you and I precious time. It’s a bad habit to start, and a hard one to stop. As long as you are getting enough sleep, though, you need to get up when the buzzer goes off. If you need another hour in the day, why would you spend an hour dozing in bed after your alarm’s gone off?
    3. Procrastinate. In fact, I suggest that you procrastinate shamelessly. As a freelance writer, I make a point to work on projects in the order of their due dates. This means that I’m often finishing up projects hours or even minutes before they’re actually due. It also means that I don’t have to worry about incorporating last minute changes — because I can do it the first time around. I’ve had plenty of projects canceled midway through, as well. If I procrastinate, I can avoid wasting my time on work that I might not get paid for.
    4. Put big tasks first. Get your biggest task or project done first thing in the morning. You’ll need the most time in your day for the big projects. Small tasks (even if they’re important) can be done in the fifteen minutes between meetings or waiting for the bus. Develop your ability to estimate how long a task will take you: do you need to sit down and spend some time to get it done? Or can you do it on your way to your next stop?
    5. Leave early. If you can get somewhere even a few minutes early, you’ll probably have to wait — which is a waste of time, right? Wrong! Remember those small tasks you want to get done today, but haven’t gotten to yet? Make use of those few valuable minutes to return a phone call, write a memo or plan out tomorrow. You may need to drag along a few office supplies — I keep a notebook and pen with me at all times, personally — but you’d be surprised what you can get done. If it’s a nice day, consider just sitting in your car with the windows down. You’ll even get the benefit of a little extra fresh air.
    6. Ignore irrelevancies. As painful as it is to turn off your email for even a few minutes, it’s probably not relevant to the project you need to be working on right now. Be ruthless with yourself and turn off your email and other distractions (instant messenger, phone and anything else). You can always respond later — and if it’s a real emergency, like the building is burning down around your ears, somebody will probably come in to your office to let you know.
    7. Stay aware. At about two o’clock each afternoon, I feel like the only thing I want to do is take a nap. But I know that I can make myself more aware — enough, at least, to concentrate on my work — by taking a walk out in the fresh air and downing a soda. Keeping yourself focused is key to getting a project done and over with: if you’re less than aware of what you’re working on, you not only run the risk of making a mistake, you’re also likely to take much longer to finish your project. And the more time, you spend on a particular task, the less time you have for every other thing you want to do today.
    8. Plan your day. While you may need to have a flexible plan for your day, you still need an outline of the day. List what you absolutely must get done today, what meetings you have planned and any other notes you’ll need for the day. While you don’t have to be strict to the point of refusing to do anything not on your plan, having an actual schedule for your day can help you to be ruthless with others’ requests on your time: “I’d love to help you out, Jane, but I’m completely scheduled today.”

    Just as you have to be ruthless in how you handle how much responsibility, you have to be ruthless in making sure that you get your own work done. You can’t tell yourself that you’ll only slack off this one time, because one time becomes two, then three, then enough that you’ll be wondering where all that free time you used to have went.

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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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