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Top Ten Sources of Interruptions

Top Ten Sources of Interruptions

It’s eye-opening when you realize that many of the interruptions that occur in your day may actually be under your own control! In no particular order, here are the top ten interruptions we see most often with our clients that are affecting their productivity:

1. Phone Calls
Schedule some time to have calls screened by a support person, or if you work alone, screen calls with voice mail. Answering the phone constantly makes you reactive, not proactive! Granted, there are some jobs that make this suggestion unrealistic, but in general, protected time is productive time.

2. Unscheduled Questions and Discussions
One solution is to have a set time block each day for “open door” questions and discussions. Sometimes instant messaging can provide some relief from this issue, if it does not turn into another type of unwanted interruption itself (see #4). If these choices are not realistic, you can do your best to limit number 3…

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3. Social Chat
I am not suggesting that you have a sterile office where nobody is allowed to chat. Obviously it’s when it’s excessive that it becomes a problem. Here are some solutions:

  • Immediately stand up when someone enters your office to chat. Standing sends the nonverbal message that you have other things to do.
  • Get rid of “social magnets” in your office such as super-comfy guest chairs and candy.
  • Make sure you are not positioned so that you feel you must greet each person who walks by your door.

4. Instant Messaging
Instant messaging is a double-edged sword… it can really solve the problem of answering quick questions without starting an entire conversation in person, but obviously it can become a problem if people do not agree on some guidelines between them. Definitely set your IM status to “Away” when you need uninterrupted time to work and discuss IM behavior with your co-workers to prevent problems before they occur.

5. E-mail
Turn off the “new e-mail has arrived” notification sounds and pop-up windows. In Outlook this is under Tools>Options>Preferences tab>E-mail Options>Advanced E-mail Options (anybody know a shortcut to this setting?). Force yourself to stop pressing the Send/Receive button all day long as if you were a lab rat about to get a treat!

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6. Blackberry/Treo Devices
Strongly consider whether you need such devices in the first place—it may be just another gadget to process! I know it’s hard, but make sure you get some Blackberry-free time to do some focused work. And please be polite when you are trying to interact with other people… see David Spade’s hilarious Blackberry Intervention video:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=Al5FZPUeiCY

7. Random Thoughts
Have your To-Do list nearby and ready to write down quick thoughts and keep going. Consider using a digital voice recorder, but make sure you have a process for later putting the information into your time management system. A great workaround for this is Jott, which transcribes your thoughts into e-mail text that you can easily put into your system.

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8. Visual & Auditory Distractions
Keep your workplace uncluttered for minimum distractions and maximum productivity. Take steps to mask or eliminate distracting noise– white noise machines and desktop fountains are inexpensive and can make a huge difference.

9. Improper Use of In & Out Boxes
Keep your paper inbox cleaned out and ready so people feel comfortable leaving things for you there. Instruct those you work with to use written instructions whenever possible. Use your paper outbox to avoid getting up every few minutes to deliver things to other places, and be an example of a person who writes very clear instructions.

10. Saying YES when you should say NO
If someone asks you for help, stop and consider the request carefully before answering. Use the very effective phrase “not available” when declining a request. People tend to not question this phrase and instead will go on to the next choice.

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Lorie Marrero is a Professional Organizer and creator of The Clutter Diet, an innovative, affordable online program for home organization. Lorie’s site helps members lose “Clutter-Pounds” from their homes by providing online access to her team of organizers. Lorie writes something insanely practical every few days or so in the Clutter Diet Blog. She lives in Austin, TX, where her company has provided hands-on organizing services to clients since 2000.

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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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