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Are You a Productive Person? Look at the Number of People Who Are Waiting On You to Get Back to Them

Are You a Productive Person?  Look at the Number of People Who Are Waiting On You to Get Back to Them

    During the course of the average working day, we make a number of promises to get back to people. We make some of them verbally or in writing directly. At other times, we quietly make a personal promise to ourselves.

    Many of us are resigned to what we believe is God’s cruel trick – not giving us enough hours in the day to respond to everyone. Others complain that they can never find the time.

    The problem is that almost no-one tells the truth – their time management system isn’t doing the job that they need it to do.

    What does time management have to do with getting back to people? Isn’t that a matter of simple courtesy?

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    Well, it used to be, but it no longer is.

    In the good old days, we simply didn’t interact with as many people as we do now. In the past year or two, consider how quickly your Facebook network has grown. I had no idea that I knew 1,000 people, yet my list will top that number this year.

    With the click of a few keys, I can send each of them a message, pulling them into my life in numbers and with a frequency that was unthinkable twenty years ago. As a result, on any given day, a bunch of them expect me to get back to them about one thing or another.

    Many of us fail to respond to this increased expectation.

    We are convinced that our memories are just not good enough. We believe that the older we get, the harder it is to remember, and there is a measure of truth in this assertion, according to the scientists. Above a certain age, we are losing brain cells each day, and with them goes our ability to respond.

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    We also live in the age of distractions – I just read an article in the New York Times that noted that the number of people who are reporting themselves as “injured while walking and texting” has risen dramatically. It’s tough to get back to people when we are pulled in other directions by 200 channels, sexy apps on our phones, IM’s, tweets and the like.

    The flood of information coming our way has also been selectively blamed for blocking our attempts to get back in touch. There’s too much information coming at us to process and we can’t possibly find the time to reply to that snail-mail from Aunt Martha, who doesn’t even have a computer.

    Fortunately, a real solution doesn’t have anything to do with better memory, less distractions or an escape from information. Instead, it has to do with how we manage our time.

    Consider the habit that many have developed when an email arrives in their inbox.

    If it requires a few minutes of either reading or thinking, most professionals will leave it for later once they have completed a quick glance. This particular habit isn’t a problem when applied to a single email. However, when it’s done a few hundred or thousand times, it creates a mountain of half-promises that we have made to ourselves, each saying “I’ll return to it when I have time.”

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    In other words, we are promising ourselves to get back in touch with the sender of the email when we get over our memory challenges, distraction and information overload!

    It’s like smoking. Done once in a while, it’s not a problem to our health. Done to excess and it kills.

    In the case of unreturned email, it kills not just our confidence in our abilities to stay on top of our game, but it seeps into our relationships, until we become one of those people who “never stays in touch.” All this because of a simple habit that almost all of us practice.

    What we don’t see clearly is that we do damage to our reputations and to our time management systems when we don’t manage individual habits. A bad habit that becomes a ritual can drag down our productivity, without our knowing it.

    The key is to make the connection: weak time management systems are made up by people who don’t manage their habits. For that reason, it’s a good idea to engage in what the consultants call “kaizen” – a Japanese word for continuous improvement. In other words, in order to prevent a time management system from becoming stale, it’s better to keep looking for habits to make it better.

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    After all, we are always upgrading our computers — why not something that’s even more critical to our effectiveness?

    At the highest levels of performance, the most productive people have upgraded their time management systems to the point where getting back to people is not a problem.

    In fact, if you ask them to tell you who is on their list of people to get back to, they give you a quizzical look. It’s not something they try to remember.

    Instead, they rely on their time management systems to tell them when they need to get in touch with someone, and they just don’t need to remember who they are.

    For them, the problem of getting back to people has disappeared.

    For most of us, and especially those of us who have long lists of people who expect us to be back in touch with them, we need “kaizen” programs of our own.

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    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

    How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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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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