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What’s Missing in Productivity Today?

What’s Missing in Productivity Today?
What’s Missing in Today’s Productivity?

This month, we asked Lifehack.org contributors — and you, our readers — to think about the things that are missing in today’s productivity systems. Not only the areas where the "Big Name" systems fall short, but the gaps in our own systems, the places where we as individuals fall down.

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The Lifehack.org community rose to the challenge, offering a variety of thought-provoking posts and comments that hopefully gave us all something to mull over before we embark on yet another round of system-tweaking.

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In chronological order, here are all the posts from Lifehack.org this month that set out to answer the question, "What’s missing in today’s productivity systems?"

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  • My Redundant Productivity System (Joel Falconer)
    While "touch it once" might be a good rule for inbox processing, having multiple, redundant copies of your crucual work and reference documents is an important part of staying productive — even when (especially when) disaster strikes.
  • 10 Tips for Improving Your Appointment Setting Skills (Thursday Bram)
    Setting an appointment means more than jotting a time and name in your calendar; here’s 10 things to think about to avoid wasting time before or during scheduled appointments.
  • Why doing nothing may sometimes be the best action of all (Adrian Savage)
    Your brain is wired to act, even when the facts aren’t all in. Slow down and make sure you have all the information you need before you act — and consider whether doing nothing might be your wisest course of (in)action.
  • Personal Productivity in the 21st Century (Dustin M. Wax)
    In their attempt to reduce everything to discrete chunks of doing, today’s productivity systems don’t leave space for the kinds of work that characterize most of our jobs today. How can we open more space for creativity, reflection, and just being?
  • The Gaps in the Standard Address Book (Thursday Bram)
    7 ways to improve the off-the-shelf address book or contact management program.
  • Simplify Your Information Intake (Joel Falconer)
    Productivity starts with the things we choose not to do — and limiting how much email and web content we handle, and how we handle it — can go a long ways toward creating more productive days.
  • Audiobook Review: David Allen’s "GTD > Weekly Review" (Dustin M. Wax)
    The weekly review is far and away the red-headed stepchild of David Allen’s GTD methodology. Arguably the most important part of the system (the thing that makes it a system), the weekly review is the most likely part ot be skipped or minimized. Allen’s new 3-CD set offers help getting back on track and rethinking the role and importance of the weekly review.
  • The Real Trouble with Productivity (Lisa Gates)
    Productivity as an aim in and of itself is an empty thing, indeed. True productivity lies in the ways we make meaning in our lives, and is grounded in a vision worth pursuing. What’s yours?
  • Small Projects Generate Good Feelings (Karl Staib)
    Productivity needn’t be only about marketing campaigns and writing best-sellers; little projects give us the opportunity to plan, carry out, and finish, creating satisfaction in a job well done that will carry over into the rest of our lives.
  • There’s More to Productivity Than Time Management (Dustin M. Wax)
    Being productive doesn’t mean getting the most stuff done in the least amount of time, it means doing the necessary stuff as efficiently as possible so we can focus on the things that add meaning to our lives. Make time for the most useless thing you do!
  • Self-Discipline: The Foundation of Productive Living (Joel Falconer)
    "Self-discipline is the power to act on ideas." Learn to get yourself from thought to action — especially where all this productivity talk is concerned!
  • What are the aids for increasing GENUINE productivity? (Adrian Savage)
    There are literally hundreds of software products out there that claim to increase productivity, yet all of them do basically the same thing: categorize todo lists. What might a program that really increased productivity — that helped us do more or better in the same or less time — look like?
  • Look for the Solution within the Problem (Paul Sloane)
    Systematic Inventive Thinking is a way of thinking about problems that sees a problem as a chain of unwanted effects and seeks to break the chain. It offers inventive solutions to problems where resources are limited.
  • 10 HARD Ways to Make Your Life Better (Dustin M. Wax)
    Too many people promise an easy way to wealth, fame, and happiness. Doing something hard, even if you fail, is often far more satisfying — and truth be told, probably a lot more certain.
  • Change Your Day, Change Your Life, Change the World: A Review of “New Day Revolution” by Sam Davidson and Stephen Moseley (Dustin M. Wax)
    One way to create more meaning is to direct your actions towards changing the world. Davidson and Mosely’s book offers a few ideas to help you start bringing your day-to-day activities in line with your vision of a better world.
  • Go on a High-Information Diet (Dustin M. Wax)
    The key to productivity isn’t to minimize the information you take in — you need as much of that as you can get! Rather, the key lies in reducing the amount of superfluous junk, to go on the intellectual version of a high-fiber, low-fat diet.
  • Getting to Good Enough (Dustin M. Wax)
    Get things done by accepting less than perfection. 80% good is better than 100% nothing.
  • Productivity maybe . . . but for what purpose? (Adrian Savage)
    By every emasure, we’re more productive today than a generation ago — yet we have less leisure, less connection, and less happiness. Why? For most of us, it’s because the time we free up weighs on us, and we seek desperately to fill it with even more work. There are other choices!
  • How to Maximize Efficiency by Grouping Tasks (Joel Falconer)
    An antidote to "Cranking widgets"? Tips on thinking and working at the "big picture" level by grouping tasks.
  • Welcome Failure (Paul Sloane)
    If you want innovation, you need to learn to embrace failure.

There you have it. 20 takes on what it might mean to be productive in today’s world and what our systems fail to take into account. What do you think? What’s missing in your system?

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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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