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Last Updated on January 10, 2018

7 Not So Obvious Habits To Maximize Your Productivity

7 Not So Obvious Habits To Maximize Your Productivity

    I was a big fan of productivity, and, in some respects, I still am. I’ve been a very early adopter of GTD, and, for years, I did my weekly reviews with the discipline of a zen monk. But, eventually, I hit a roadblock. GTD is about getting things “done”, but in life we have much more to experience than “doing”. We feel. We dream. We enjoy stuff without the pressure of an empty inbox. And, most of the time, we simply are. We’re existing. And that’s ok.

    So, I confess I fell out from the GTD wagon. Gradually, I developed my own framework, which evolved from a productivity-based approach, to a life management based approach. I’m using it for about a year now and, as much as I can tell, so far, so good. If I compare what I accomplish now with what I used to accomplish a year ago, I’m stunned. Not only because I “do” much more than before, but because I actually live more.

    But enough with all this shameless self-promotion intro. I understand that my framework may work perfectly for me, but may be of little, if any, importance for you.

    So, instead of doing a presentation of the Assess – Decide – Do framework, I chose to isolate only 7 simple tips for today’s post. They don’t need any framework to be integrated with and they can be implemented by anyone, with a little bit of awareness. Try them for a week, one for each day of the week.

    As a matter of fact, they’re even organized as such. As you will see, there’s a reason why each tip is assigned to a specific day, but then again, if you feel this isn’t really your Monday cup of tea, for instance, feel free to rotate them as you see fit.

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    1. Monday – Ignore The Unimportant

    I firmly believe that the art of ignorance should be taught in schools. We live in such an information-rich society, our focus is so deeply challenged by dozens or hundreds of stimuli each and every second, that we have a really hard time focusing on what really matters.

    Especially on Mondays, when all the previous week unprocessed stuff seems to crash on us, try to apply this. Focus only on what matters. If you have a presentation to finish in one hour, cut out everything – and I mean: EVERYTHING – that is not connected to it.

    Slash out Twitter, Facebook, email. Turn off the music. Close the door after putting a big sign with “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” on the other side. In time, you’ll become better at this. The hidden frustration that “you’re missing something” will fade away.

    2. Tuesday – Reward Yourself Constantly

    Each tiny task that you finish is an achievement. We forget too often that our big successes are in fact big chains of small tasks performed on a daily basis. So, in order to keep this chaining process running, put a little reward at the end of each small task.

    Tuesdays are great for this habit, because they’re the first link after the week hast started. Just do something nice at the end of each task. Listen to your favorite tune or read your favorite blog (and that would be, of course, Stepcase Lifehack) for the next five minutes.

    As much as we won’t want to admit it, that Pavlov guy was right. And I’m not talking about the dogs here. I’m talking about you. Because you gotta be your own Pavlov and the dogs will be your productivity habits. Train them constantly. And, if need will be, feed them some sugar every now and then.

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    3. Wednesday – Negotiate The Expendable

    It’s the middle of the week, and, by now, there must be some garbage accumulated. Some stuff that you don’t really need to do, but, somehow, it’s still in your to do list. It’s a perfect time to negotiate that stuff. Does it really need to be on your to do list?

    The pressure of constantly doing, delivering, accomplishing made us forget that we do have this option too in our arsenal. I’m talking about negotiation. “Talk” with the task. Or with the person at the other end of the task. Does it really need to be done right now?

    I compare this negotiation process with taking out the water from a gulf. If you’re lucky, you will see an ancient shipwreck. That’s your task. It’s not a yacht anymore, it’s a shipwreck. You will start to realize that what you thought is important, may not even be there anymore. It’s just the ghost of the task.

    4. Thursday – Reuse Past Approaches

    This comes from a long history of programming. I’m still doing it, this programming thing, by the way, because I enjoy it so much. Just try to look at what you have to do and compare it with previous experiences. Like “Have I done this before?. How did I do it?”

    Thursdays are perfect for that, because you now must have a consistent “week work history” to dig through. And, allegedly, you’re also pretty much at the top of your potential. From now on, it will start to go downhill, somehow.

    So, try to identify similarities in your work before you will do the same thing twice, just because you don’t remember doing it before. Pay attention to the circumstances, because they’re never the same, but isolate what you can repeat.

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    5. Friday – Ask For Help

    If I would have a dollar for each time I didn’t ask for help when I should have, I would certainly be a millionaire. Seriously. Being “productive” has this aura of “I’m doing all the stuff by myself. I’m so cool.” Well, maybe you’re cool, but you don’t have to do anything by yourself.

    You have a unique set of skills. Other people have their own unique set of skills. If you combine your set with their set, it’s absolutely obvious that you will get far better results than by using only yours. It’s just simple mathematics here.

    And Fridays are perfect to test this habit, because, admit it, you’re a little bit tired. And it’s also a good pretext for some social interaction. Isolate some task that you know somebody else may be doing better than you and ask for their help.

    6. Saturday – Switch Workplaces

    Ok, we don’t have to work on Saturdays. As I told you, you can just put this tip on any other day of the week. But I chose Saturdays because they are perfect for traveling. Short trips around the town, seeing some new places, meeting some new people.

    Try to do the same with your workplace. See if you can work for a day somewhere else. From home, or from a coffee shop. Or even in another office. Or, if you can’t live your office, on a different chair. Just change something in your surroundings.

    All our habits are shaped by our surroundings. The more you’ll change the surroundings, the better and more consistent your habits will become. This constant stimulation will summon energy resources that you didn’t even know you have.

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    7. Sunday – Change Deadlines Into Livelines

    I kept this from my GTD routine, you know, the weekly review. I did this on Sundays, trying to project the next week. I still try to have a look at the week just before it starts.  And now, a little bit of explanation about the word “liveline”.

    I stopped use the word “deadline” long time ago, because it has “death” in it. The “task slasher” approach. I don’t do this anymore. Because crossing off tasks from your to do lists will eventually end up with crossing off your entire life from your to do lists. Rushing straight to your own death, one crossed task at a time. Change this perspective. A deadline is not the end. Make it a liveline. Make it a beginning.

    And by that I mean something connected with something else. A new start. Think in terms of new beginnings not in term of endings. If you really need to reach the end of something, use the word “milestone”. And replace “deadline” with “liveline” every time you can.

    It will be enlightening, believe me. :)

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    Last Updated on September 20, 2018

    8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

    8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

    You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

    Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

    When you train your brain, you will:

    • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
    • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
    • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

    So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

    1. Work your memory

    Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

    When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

    If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

    The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

    Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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    Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

    What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

    For example, say you just met someone new:

    “Hi, my name is George”

    Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

    Got it? Good.

    2. Do something different repeatedly

    By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

    Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

    It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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    And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

    But how does this apply to your life right now?

    Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

    Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

    Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

    So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

    You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

    That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

    3. Learn something new

    It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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    For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

    Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

    You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

    4. Follow a brain training program

    The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

    5. Work your body

    You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

    Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

    Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

    Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

    6. Spend time with your loved ones

    If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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    If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

    I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

    7. Avoid crossword puzzles

    Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

    Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

    Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

    8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

    Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

    When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

    So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

    The bottom line

    Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

    Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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