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4 Ways to Supercharge Your To-Do List

4 Ways to Supercharge Your To-Do List

What’s one tool that can help you be more productive, lessen distractions and get more things done at the same time? If you’ve read the title of this post then you know that the answer to that would be a to-do list.

It sounds simple enough, right? Write down the things that you need to do for the day and you’ll boost your productivity. But then again, if it were really that easy, how come so many people are still distracted and unproductive? Here’s the thing. While to-do lists are widely known as an effective productivity hack, most people still don’t bother with it. Sure, a lot of individuals may start the habit, but most will fail to keep it up in a consistent basis and they’ll instead revert to their unproductive ways.

Don’t be one of those people. If you’re serious about boosting your productivity, commit to writing down your tasks or goals and stick to it. Every. Single. Day.

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Already got a to-do list? Good. Now it’s time to work on supercharging it so you can get EVEN more things done and free up additional time. Below are a few to-do list hacks that you can implement to ensure that your list keeps you at your top performance level at all times.

#1 See it as a GOAL list instead

Let’s start with your mindset: don’t think of your to-do list as just something that enumerates your tasks or chores. Instead, see it as a list of your GOALS for the day. This perspective is so much more powerful and can change the way that you approach your tasks.

Ensure that this goal mindset is also reflected on your list. For instance, instead of writing a task as “Blog post for client A”, write in an actionable statement so it reads something like “Submit blog post for client A” or “Finish blog post for client A”. The latter statements are more specific, actionable, and can condition you to perform better.

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#2 Prioritize

An unordered to-do is only about half as effective as a numbered one with clear priorities. Productivity isn’t just about getting things done; it’s about accomplishing tasks that actually matter. A numbered to-do list helps you do just that by spelling out which tasks should be done first. It helps you get the important stuff out of the way as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Always number your to-do list according to the importance of each task, and always do the important ones first. Avoid doing the easy tasks first. Trust me, putting off the more challenging tasks won’t make them any less difficult, so you might as well get started as early as possible.

Not getting your priorities straight can lead to decreased levels of productivity. You could just end up procrastinating on the big tasks by doing the low-level tasks on your list.

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Here’s a tip for writing your to-do list: Take down all the things that you need to do, but don’t number them yet. Only number the items after you’ve written all the tasks and after you’ve read through them—this allows you to get an overview of the things that you need to do for the day and it gives you time to prioritize them properly.

#3 “Hide” tasks

The key to getting things done is focusing on one task at a time and not doing anything else until that task is accomplished. Multi-tasking doesn’t work, so resist the urge to do two or more things at the same time. It takes a certain amount of time and effort for your body to shift gears between one job to the next, so trying to switch back and forth between two tasks won’t help you complete them any faster.

To help keep your focus, “hide” the tasks on your list if you aren’t working on them. Cover them with a post-it or write down the one task you have on hand and put it in front of you. Doing so will keep you from being distracted with other things and will allow you finish your current task quicker and more efficiently.

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#4 Really feel it when you cross things off your list

Whenever you complete a task, make it a point to cross off the task from your list (it’s better if you can do it physically on paper) and really focus on the accomplishment and productivity that you feel as you do it.

This will give you natural productivity high that will pump you up for the next task, allowing you to be even more productive. Do it often enough to let your body get addicted to that high, and you’ll end up as a task-completing machine in no time.

Letting yourself feel that productivity high doesn’t just help you be more efficient, it boosts your overall well-being at the same time. As personal and professional development coach Brian Tracy put it, “Important task completion triggers the release of endorphins in your brain. These endorphins give you a natural “high.” The endorphin rush that follows successful completion of any task makes you feel more positive, personable, creative and confident.”

Here’s a bonus tip: Whenever you’re feeling lazy or having one of those slow days, think back to a time when you were ultra-productive and strive to bring the feeling of accomplishment to the present so you can get in the mood of task completion and productivity.

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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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