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12 Ways To Be More Focused And Get More Things Done Quickly

12 Ways To Be More Focused And Get More Things Done Quickly

No matter what kind of lifestyle you lead, chances are that you could do with a little fine-tuning in the productivity area, including how to be more focused. We all do – it doesn’t matter if you’re a high-flying economist, a writer working at home, or a working parent who has to juggle childcare and work.

So, here are twelve top tips on how to focus more efficiently, remain focused on the daily to-do list, and get through those tasks much quicker while still ensuring great quality.

1. Get an early start

Getting up an hour or so earlier than normal may seem like cruel torture. But push yourself to buy more time – particularly time in the morning when everyone else is sleeping – to go and knock things off the to-do list more quickly, without other people around to distract you or get in your way. Plus, you can get some of your private to-do list items (morning yoga routines, applying skincare products, dancing like a thing possessed in your kitchen to your iPod) out of the way without anyone being any the wiser.

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2. Have a solid breakfast

You should always have a great breakfast to set you up for the day, but health benefits aside (you’re generally healthier and more likely to lose weight when you eat breakfast in the morning), it also ensures that you’re running on plenty of fuel and working at your tip-top best to plow through whatever the day may hold. Nothing too heavy, but filling – many suggest scrambled eggs on toast, museli, porridge, or fruit for a perfect breakfast.

3. Get your ‘hardest’ task done first

Go and hit the hardest task first whenever possible. Not only will it get the biggest hurdle or obstacle out of your path, it’ll give you such a positive rush that focusing on tackling those smaller tasks will seem like child’s play, and you should crush them with ease.

4. Factor in time for procrastination

It’s hard to focus all the time and to try and make sure that every minute of every day is entirely focused and full of productivity is impossible. Chances are you’re going to procrastinate at some point – we all love a great article, a fantastic new song, or a singing cat video, after all. Just factor in the fact that you’re going to procrastinate and you’ll be much more realistic about accomplishing your goals.

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5. Go outside for a break

Take time to go and stretch your legs, breathe in all that fresh air. If it’s summer, you’ve got a great excuse to go and soak up the sun; if the weather isn’t great, pack up an umbrella and go for a brisk walk. It’ll provide your mind with a mental break and chance to recuperate and hit the rest of those tasks stronger and harder.

6. Make a proper list

I personally cannot go through a big day without making a big list of everything I need to accomplish or do – it might be a mental trigger, but I always work stronger, better and faster when I have a pre-written list of everything I need to.

It means that I can maintain a visual dialogue of where my day has gone, what needs to happen in the meantime and what actions I can take. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it does have to be portable. A notebook or a list-making program on your phone can work just fine.

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7. Avoid multitasking

Multitasking is one of those buzzwords that gets thrown around so often it seems as though if you can’t write an article, answer a phone call, do yoga stretches, balance your online checkbook and think of what to make for dinner at the same time, you’re desperately lagging behind everyone else.

In fact, our brains are only supposed to handle one thing at a time so that we pour all our resources into it, rather than being spread too thinly. Focus on one thing at a time and you’ll get through it much quicker and move onto the next thing, rather than trying to juggle four things at a time.

8. Treat yourself

There’s never too little time in a schedule to treat yourself, even for a few moments, and not only is it beneficial to your mental health, it also makes it much more likely for you to appreciate the treat and associate the positive feeling with getting a good job done, making it more likely for you to do it again in the future.

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9. Add a bit of exercise to your daily routine

Your body is meant to be active, so exercise is a vital part of making sure your body is at peak fitness for running around and completing everything that needs doing. I’m not talking about trying to fit a three-mile run into your schedule, but some stretches, a twenty-minute yoga program or even a walk around your neighborhood can help a lot.

10. Plan out as much as you can

I personally believe in planning the heck out of as much as I can – one trick is to break big tasks down into smaller and smaller actions so that accomplishing each one feels like a little victory. Make sure you can plan out and look ahead as much as you can – check the weather, the timetables, and check everything is prepared. That way whatever the day may bring, at least you should be able to handle it.

11. Get plenty of sleep

If you know you’ve got a big day ahead, it’s no bad thing to make sure that instead of doing what we’re all guilty of doing and burning the midnight oil, you go and get an extra hour or so in bed. Sleep recharges our bodies full of energy and to try and survive without it is a bit like expecting a car to run on petrol fumes. Treat your body right and get plenty of sleep.

12. Know your limitations

Know your limitations if you want to be focused. If you know you’re someone who procrastinates a lot, then don’t give yourself an Olympus to climb each day. There’s a difference between being realistic and shooting for the stars in terms of productivity, so choosing to recognize the likelihood of you achieving how much you plan to do in a day is an advantage.

Set yourself obtainable, attainable goals, and not only will you have a much higher chance of getting everything done, you will know how to be more focused on a daily basis.

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Chris Haigh

Writer, baker, co-host of "Good Evening Podcast" and "North By Nerdwest".

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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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