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7 Ways to Leverage Your Time to Increase Your Productivity

7 Ways to Leverage Your Time to Increase Your Productivity

    We’re all busy people. Some people, though, are busier than we’d ever imagine, yet are somehow are able to stay on top of things so well they seem to go about their life in a lackadaisical manner, while we struggle to produce good work and maintain a household.

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    What’s their secret? Why do they seem to have everything figured out; always unstressed and ready to go?

    Leverage.

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    Sure, tactics like maintaining “to-do” lists (or “done” lists), setting goals, and decreasing the amount and time of meetings can all help. But really, these are all tactics that fall into a strategical category of leveraging our time.

    Leverage is an awesome force–it allows us to multiply our abilities by applying a little pressure to something.

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    In life, we can leverage our time, and here are seven ways to do just that:

    1. Get it out of your head. If it’s in your head, chances are it’s taking up valuable storage space that you can be using to get things done. Every time you think of a task, to-do item, or idea, write it down. Getting it out of your head not only lets you focus energy elsewhere, rather than trying to remember things, it also helps you clear your mind so you’ll be more effective when you do try to tackle that massive list of chores.
    2. Organize your day. Do you go to work and just “jump in” to all the work that’s in front of you? Try this instead: organize your day into chunks of time–10-15 minutes for emails, an hour for that large project due at the end of the month, etc. Focus on knocking out the most important things on the list, earlier in the day to increase your productivity. As your day draws to a close, the easier or shorter items on the list will require less effort, allowing you to de-stress at the same time.
    3. Use other people’s time. One of my favorite entrepreneurial tactics is leveraging other people. This doesn’t mean using other people–no one likes that. Leveraging other people means empowering and allowing coworkers and employees, or even outsourced help, to help you with some of your routine tasks throughout the day. If you run a website, consider hiring someone to maintain the server, site, comments, and emails.
    4. Focus on the prize, but work in “chunks.” Don’t let the looming pressures of finishing that massive report get you down. Focus on how awesome it will be, but actively seek to “chunk” it into manageable parts that you can work on steadily. Give yourself a small reward every time you finish a chunk, and yes–give yourself a large reward when you finish the final project!
    5. Allow time for yourself. One of the most overlooked aspects of the American working life, leading to stressful people who are spread too thin, is giving time to yourself. Plan and write down a segment of each day that you can take 10-15 minutes (at least) to just unwind and do nothing. Don’t think, don’t check email, don’t call your friend. Just sit, relax, and let your mind recharge. You’ll come back refreshed and more able to leverage the time you have. In addition, take a breather for one day a week or every other week if possible to increase your productivity. Do some easier tasks or the “fun” parts of your work, but don’t let yourself get carried away turning Sunday afternoon into another workday.
    6. Use technology. Technology is an evil temptress for productivity–it can suck us in with promises of simple task management, planning, and keeping us in the loop. But we can easily get caught in the vortex of more, more, more tech. Use a simple task manager if it suits your work style, but give yourself limits on social networking sites, checking email, and even text messaging (if that’s your thing). Ironically, there are really cool apps and software packages that help increase your productivity, so be careful and mindful of how you’re leveraging their help.
    7. Keep learning. The day you stop learning is the day you stop producing good stuff. Keep reading, trying new things, and implementing them. To leverage your ability to read, start listening to audiobooks in the car to and from work, and during workouts. Don’t let your RSS feed reader bog you down during the day, but make sure you keep tabs on your favorite blogs and news sites a few times a week, if for no other reason than inspiration.

    Leverage is only useful to us if we’re using it in the right direction: if we let the pressures of our lives get to us so much that we feel like we’re drowning, leverage is to blame. But it’s leverage in the wrong direction.

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    Use leverage the right way and you can free yourself from the mundane things that you never want to do, allowing yourself the ability to create the things that motivate you, inspire you, and keep you pushing toward the weekend.

    Or a better tomorrow!

    What about you? What are some other ways you’ve been able to leverage your time at work, at home, or elsewhere in your life to give you more “you” time?

    (Photo credit: Close Up of Newton’s Cradle via Shutterstock)

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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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