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The Not-Do List: 9 Things You Need To Stop Doing

The Not-Do List: 9 Things You Need To Stop Doing

    We’ve all familiar with creating a to-do list to increase our productivity. Another list which can jumpstart our productivity is the not-do list – things we shouldn’t do. By being conscious of what to avoid, it’ll automatically channel our energy into things that we want to do. Doing both hand in hand will maximize our performance.

    If you want to take your productivity to the next level, here are 9 habits avoid:

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    1. Trying to do everything

    I mention 80/20 rule a lot in my articles because it’s true. And I’ll repeat again. Not all tasks are equal. Each task has its own importance. In fact by the 80/20 rule, 20% of the tasks on our to-do list account for 80% of the value. So cut ferociously at your to-do list and slice away the 80% low-value tasks. When you’ve streamlined it to the minimum essential, laser focus all your energy on those 20% high value ones. Do the same thing the next day. Rinse and repeat. Keep only the absolute important things and let go of the rest.

    Read Strategy #6 on 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity for more on the 80/20 rule.

    2. Answering all emails (or calls and messages for that matter)

    I used to think I have to reply to all emails until I noticed that not all my emails were replied to. In fact, many weren’t, even when they were follow-up replies to reader mails asking for help. Seemingly, all the effort that go into meticulously typing, wording and formatting my mails wasn’t really getting me anywhere. I would be stuck in email land the whole day long with no output to claim of my own except for an increase in mails in my sent box. So I began to selectively reply to higher priority emails , and the world didn’t stop. In fact, I now have more time to create more high value content and articles for readers, which is a big win for everyone.

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    3. Thinking you have to do everything immediately

    Apart from my to-do list and not-do list, I also have a do-later list. This is to collect the items that drop in mid-way through the day, usually administrative, nitty gritty tasks that don’t take much time but aren’t majorly important too. If I drop what I’m doing at the moment to work on them it can be disruptive, so instead I put them in my do-later list. Then at the end of the day, I batch and process everything at one go. It’s a lot more effective.

    Likewise for my emails, I have a “Reply by Tue/Thu/Sat” folder where I archived mails to deal with on the respective days.

    4. Putting important tasks off

    Procrastination is the mind killer. It may seem like a good idea to put off that task now, but that’s just setting yourself for a jam later on, and it’s not worth it. Get started on your most important projects now and stop putting them off. Out of all the people I’ve met in all my life, I’ve never come across anyone who gets authentic joy and happiness from procrastination. The ones who claim to be happy procrastinating are usually living in an illusion, alternating from “Oh I’m happy the way I am” to “I wish I don’t have to do this” to “Sigh I wish I started earlier” in a matter of seconds.

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    Don’t subject yourself to such a situation. It’s all about a matter of getting started. Once you start, it gets easier. I’ve written 11 simple, yet practical steps which can help you move out of the procrastination cycle.

    5. Trying to get things perfect the first time round

    Interesting, it’s the perfectionist in us that causes many of us to procrastinate (see #4). If the perfectionist side of you is hindering you from getting things done in the first place, that’s something you should look into. Get into the notion of ‘drafts’ – let yourself work on a 1st draft, where you work on the core content, then return for a 2nd or 3rd draft where you iron out the little details. Give yourself the permission to make mistakes which you can correct later on. It’s much easier this way than trying to get everything right in the 1st version. I do this when writing my articles and my books and my productivity is higher.

    6. Being hung up over details

    Being detail oriented is good. I’m a very detail oriented person myself. However, don’t be so obsessed with details that it holds you back. Does this matter a year from now? 3 years from now? 5 years? If not, then maybe it’s  not worth worrying so much about it now. Go for the bigger picture; that’s more important to you.

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    7. Not having clear goals

    Do you know your goals for this month? How about your goals for this year? And the next year? If you can answer these 3 questions with absolute certainty and conciseness, then you’re good to go. Otherwise, perhaps it’s good to spend some time to think over them. While it may take a bit of time in the beginning, after you work out your priorities, your days become very sharp and focused. I have clear monthly goals and targets which I work toward and review every week, and these help me to stay on track towards my long-term goals. This month, my biggest goal is to  finish and release my 2nd book. Being conscious of this goal has helped me to push away the unimportant tasks and prioritize the ones essential for the launch, so I can meet the launch timing. Right now everything is going on track and I’m excited to see the final outcome. Read Strategy #1 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity for more about setting your targets.

    8. Not taking breaks

    Humans are not robots. While robots can sustain constant output over a long period of time, we need to rest and recharge. So schedule a short break in between your work hours, say for 5 or 10 minutes, and take a breather. You’ll find your focus markedly higher when you return.

    9. Trying to please everyone

    I like this quote by Colin Powell, which says “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity”. You’re never going to be able to control what others think, so don’t spend too much time sweating over it. Instead, work on the things you have control over – yourself, your emotions, your thoughts and your actions. Spend your energy in the creation process, and on people who do deserve your attention and love. Try it for a week – You’ll find it’s a lot more rewarding this way.

    How about you?

    Which of the 9 items in the not-do list above apply to you? Do you have anything that will increase your productivity markedly once you stop doing them? Share in the comments area.

    Image © Shutterstock

    More by this author

    Celestine Chua

    Celestine is the Founder of Personal Excellence where she shares her best advice on how to boost productivity and achieve excellence in life.

    How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away 42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick

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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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