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Productivity Tip: How Not to Overspend Your Time On a Task

Productivity Tip: How Not to Overspend Your Time On a Task
Overspending Time

    Have you ever felt that you spend way too much time on something? You started reading a book, but eventually realized that the time you spend on it far exceeds the value you get. Or maybe you worked on a project, but after completing it you realized that the project could actually be finished much sooner.

    Why do such things happen? While there might be external factors that contribute to the situation, I believe that there is one main cause: we waste our time on unnecessary stuff. We spend our time on things which do not contribute to the final results, and that eventually causes us to overspend our time. Obviously, the cure is:

    Do no more than what is necessary

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    It is easier said than done though. Here are some tips to help you do that:

    1. Set a clear expected output

    An important reason why we overspend our time on something is not knowing precisely what the final result we expect is. If we don’t even know what we want, how can we decide whether or not something is necessary? As a result, we do things which will later be found as unnecessary. So the important first step is to set a clear expected output. It should be specific so that you can know for sure whether or not you have achieved it.

    2. Write down the expected output in a prominent place

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    Google Desktop

      Having a clear expected output is good, but it’s often not enough. The problem is we may forget it once we dive into work. So we need to somehow remind ourselves about it.

      One way to do so is by writing the expected output in a prominent place you can easily see. For example, if you are working on computer and use Google Desktop, you can write it in Scratch Pad (see screenshot). Since Scratch Pad is always visible, you can easily reread the expected output of what you are doing.

      3. Realign yourself with the expected output every now and then

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      While you are busy working on something, it’s easy to get off track. So you need to regularly realign yourself with the expected output. To do so, whenever you are about to do a subtask you should ask: “Do I really need to do this to get the job done? Can I just skip it or do it in a different – more efficient – way?” These questions help you evaluate the way you work and get yourself back on track.

      If asking these questions before doing a subtask is difficult, you can alternatively ask them at a regular interval. For example, if you usually do 50 minutes of work followed by 10 minutes of break time, you can then ask these questions whenever you enter the break time.

      4. Set a deadline and work with inverted pyramid structure

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      Setting a deadline is another way to help you do only what is necessary. By setting a deadline, you are forced to prioritize the things you are doing. The best way to work within a deadline is using inverted pyramid structure: do the subtasks from the most important down to the least important. This way, if the time is up you can still deliver the best possible output.

      Working in this way is actually similar to the way newspaper articles are written. By placing the most important facts first and the least important ones later, a newspaper editor can easily trim an article to fit into the available space. Similarly, by using the inverted pyramid structure you can easily trim your work when you hit the deadline.

      5. Stop when you already get the expected output

      It may seem obvious, but when we already get the output and still have some time left, we may be tempted to spend more time to polish it. At the end, it may introduce some unnecessary stuff into your otherwise productive day.

      Donald Latumahina is an avid learner who blogs regularly about personal growth and effectiveness. Read his articles on 26 Tips to Stay Calm When Situation Goes Bad, and How to Develop Your Ideas Exponentially.

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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!

      More About Goals Setting

      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

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