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8 Deadly Traps that Cause Our Failures to Accomplish Everyday Work

8 Deadly Traps that Cause Our Failures to Accomplish Everyday Work

Failing to accomplish work is a huge problem in the workplace today, just ask any project manager. The incomplete work often has consequences piling one task on top of another until what was once achievable now feels either impossible or difficult to do. To avoid this problem one must make a schedule and diligently complete what you have to do, before what you want to do. Here are some suggestions for those who want to get rid of the habit of procrastinating, and be productive. Setting priorities can be effective way to avoid procrastination. Here are 8 deadly traps that keep us from being productive.

1. Unclear Expectations

Creating clear expectations is the foundation of being successful. We have all heard of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time Bound). As you define, communicate and carry out the clear expectations you will want to add one practice that will distinguish you from the rest. Include the three elements of quantity, quality, and pace. Rather than saying, “finish the work as soon as possible” say, “finish these “x” items, as measured or approved by “y”, at a pace of “z” elements each hour/day/week” This approach coupled with SMART goals sets up you and your organization for success. Let’s face it, we feel a bit lazy at one time or another, it is part of whom we are as humans. This lazy characteristic can show up either when we want to get something trivial, or when we want something important done. Don’t let the lazy characteristic take control in the expectation phase of the activity, this will surely come back to bite you later!

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2. Failing to Schedule

Make yourself two lists, first of what to do and second of what not to do. This is the first step in planning and doing. This helps to get your priorities straight as well as to get the tasks done on time. Making a schedule also constantly reminds you of all the things you need to do and lists them for you to finish one-by-one. This approach lets you see the tasks in perspective and it even makes what you might have thought was hard to do seem trivial at times. This method works especially well if you get the harder tasks completed first, quickly cross them off your schedule after finishing them and continue to complete the easier tasks with some relaxation.

3. Allowing Distractions

This involves first identifying what is keeping you from doing your job productively and what it is that is making you slip into feeling lazy. Is it the television? Your phone? Your video games? Or perhaps even your comfy couch which is making the idea of slouching on it more tempting than getting your job done? Identify what is distracting you and give it a break. Perhaps even stay faraway from it. Accountability is important. If you can’t trust yourself to get it done, find someone to hold you accountable.

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4. Delayed Starts

Getting started is usually the hardest part. Sometimes the work is not hard, it is just thinking about it that makes it seem that way. Start with a few easy tasks, you will be surprised at where your laziness went by the time you get to the harder ones. This is because once you decide to get started, the decision is over and it goes only forward from there. To increase productivity, starting with identifying where and what to start is a must.

5. Not Prioritizing

Effective planning is the best way to avoid failing to complete your work. You must prepare a list of “to do” items when you are assigned a job. We have to complete the everyday tasks to avoid the pressure of completing the requirements at the end of the project or work. We must start by creating longer-term plans, say for the month, then for the week and finally for each day. This practice will keep our focus on the bigger picture and we will know that we are accomplishing something bigger than 30 days of individual tasks. You must know the value of your job. Your goal should always to be on time or before, make sure you have been sensible about your goals. Ensure that you plan to your capacity with the resources your have access to (time, money, people, knowledge, etc.). You must know the amount of work you can do each day. Most of us overcommit and under deliver, if you can master overcoming the 8 deadly traps in this article you will reverse this trend. As mentioned before, accountability is an important principle to demonstrate what you can do.

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6. Procrastinating

Procrastination is the natural assassin of success. Keep the consequences of failing to get your work done in mind when you start the task or project, not as you approach the deadline. Maintaining this mind-set, and the image of success, is a good combination to fuel your motivation. The main reason we procrastinate is that we are swimming in a sea of distractions. With access to the world using a computer keystroke or a swipe of a phone screen we can be instantaneously transported into almost any alternative world, and expect that this trend will continue to add to our distractions.

7. Missing Deadlines

The first thing to recognize is that almost all deadlines are arbitrary. This does not me you can ignore deadlines but it does mean you can question them. However, the questioning needs to happen at the beginning of the project or activity, not as the deadline approaches, this just makes you look incompetent. Failing to complete our work often ties to the practice of delaying the most important tasks and performing the least important ones. This practice can cause serious problems for your success and for the organization. Each time we delay the projects of our internal or external clients, we provide another sliver of doubt in their mind for the next project. Getting clients and building trust takes a long time to develop but can be lost in just a moment. Delivering just a bit faster than needed or faster than your competition, is what will distinguish you and continue the contribution to trust building. Plan for delays, don’t react to them, this contingency planning is critical. Our human desires push us to postpone activities which do not entertain us, once again this is where accountability distinguishes the poor from the great performers. Fight the urge and stay accountable.

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8. Overlooking Effectiveness

You must be effective in addition to being efficient. Efficiency is all about faster, better, and cheaper. Effectiveness is all about putting the right plans in place so your don’t have to force yourself to work faster, better and cheaper. We can always put in extra-long hours, but it comes at a cost somewhere to you, your family or to your organization, Time is a finite commodity, the longer hours you are working, are hours in which you are not doing something else. Make sure the trade-offs you are making are conscious ones and not because of your ineffectiveness. Procrastinators always try to postpone their work as they think they have enough time on their calendar. This avoidance behavior places your potential success at risk. We all have to work smarter and not harder Effectiveness is the key to smarter work. Planning up-front allows us a more reasonable pace when we are in the throes of doing the work.

So when you start your day tomorrow, do everything you can to avoid the 8 deadly traps that will cause you to fail in completing your everyday work. Your organization will thank you for the accountability and for your work accomplishments.

Featured photo credit: Penguins/ Marc Lombardi via marclombardi.zenfolio.com

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Dr. Kevin Gazzara

Senior partner at Magna Leadership Solutions

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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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