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Productivity & Organizing Myth #3 – I don’t have time to prioritize

Productivity & Organizing Myth #3 – I don’t have time to prioritize
Busy Pond

    Productivity & Organizing Myth #3 – I don’t have time to prioritize
    As a new guest author to lifehack.org and an experienced productivity consultant I would like to start by naming and dispelling common productivity and organizing myths. This series will be posted each Wednesday until we cover the top 10.

    Myth: You don’t have time to prioritize because you’re so busy doing the things that you’re responsible to do.

    Reality: You don’t have time not to prioritize because you’re busy, responsible, and want a good balance.

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    I call it CEO time – as in Chief Executive Officer meeting time.
    When someone has a meeting with the CEO they show up don’t they? (Distractions and postponements never come from the one invited to meet with the CEO)
    Everyone shows up on time for CEO meetings don’t they?
    If you were meeting with the CEO you’d be prepared, too, right?.

    You are the CEO of your career & life so you should have your own CEO meeting weekly. During that meeting with yourself be sure you’re doing the right things and prepare for the coming week. Schedule your CEO meeting and honor it as the most important meeting of the week.

    Given that you are really busy how do you know that you’re doing the right things? Do you know precisely what you’re responsible to do? Do you consider work and outside work when you think of your responsibilities? Even more poignantly, does anyone complain about how you spend your time? Does your spouse grumble about not seeing you? Do your kids protest about having a baby sitter again?

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    This is a reality check – not to make anyone feel guilty. If it makes you uncomfortable, however, thank you for staying with me.

    During your CEO meetings list the things you are actually responsible for accomplishing – the big picture things. This is for your professional as well as personal life. A list of responsibilities would easily be 20-30 long and related to job and home. The list would include the things that show up on an annual job evaluation and family ‘serious discussions’ list. This list will be the touchstone to determining if one is doing ‘the right things’. Somethings you are involved with might be fun, educational, and valuable for building relationships but not really the core of your priorities.

    For example, Marty is a busy executive with an international software firm. He has a couple of kids and has been married 20 years. Although his job responsibilities change every 18-24 months, it is clear what he needs to accomplish. It’s written in his job description and measured. Coincidently he’s given a cash bonus for meeting those responsibilities. At home he and Marsha have job descriptions, too. They came out of a playful ‘what’s my line’ conversation. They include taking care of the kids, taking care of each other, and taking care of themselves.

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    Marty has scheduled his CEO meetings Friday afternoon at 1pm. This meeting is rarely missed. Marty isolates himself sometime by working at home, sometime by working in a meeting room at the corporate offices, and sometime he is in his cube and hangs a ‘do not disturb’ sign for the 1-2 hours it takes for the meeting.

    During the meeting Marty pulls out his list and runs down it to make his own review of his progress toward goals, completion of projects, and use of his time. He decides what things need to be wrapped up before the end of the day and writes a list of actions for the upcoming weekend with his family and week back at work. Marty has a clearly charted course and continues to be a success as a father, mate, and employee.

    Previous Myths:

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    Susan Sabo is an intrepid traveler who has organized her life to be able to leave the country for months at a time. She’s the author at ProductivityCafe and she consults with professionals on their productivity.

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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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