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9 Ways To Work Smarter Than Others

9 Ways To Work Smarter Than Others

Do you ever have lots of work to do and not enough time to get it all done? That’s not unusual. Many people complain about having a never-ending to-do list with items that never seem to get ticked off. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are ways to improve your daily experience and get more work done more quickly and more efficiently. With a couple of simple changes to your day, you can turn yourself into a powerhouse of productivity and efficiency. The best place to start is with your goals.

1. Know your goals

If you are clear about what you want to achieve, that’s a great start. People who don’t define their weekly, monthly or yearly goals end up being the busy fools, frantically racing from one task to the next without really knowing which one is their priority. Having clearly-defined goals eliminates this possibility. Knowing what you are aiming for helps when deciding what is your top priority and what you should be working on each day. Once you decide which tasks have priority, the next step is to schedule them.

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2. Schedule your time

My number one tip for beating procrastination and staying focused is to use your calendar. What gets scheduled gets done, or at least doesn’t get forgotten about. Once you schedule something into your calendar, it will get done sooner or later. So often people complain that urgent daily tasks push out what they had scheduled. This may happen at times, so when it does, reschedule your planned task for tomorrow or your next available slot. But remember to always ask yourself which task has priority. Sometimes tasks appear urgent but they could actually wait for tomorrow.

3. Turn stuff off

Ever get disturbed by a text message while you are writing a report, or by an email notification while concentrating on important documentation? If you want to be smarter than others, the wisest solution is to switch off your phone and gadgets and close any programs on your computer that you are not currently using.

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4. Use a task management system

You need a place to store and prioritize your tasks. Don’t use your inbox as a to-do list. If you do, you will always be reacting to the work other people want you to do instead of what you have planned to do. Use a task list and your calendar to schedule the work you choose to do.

5. Work with your energy

Some of us are night owls, while others are early birds. Know which one you are and work with your energy and focus. Plan the difficult work for the times when you have the most energy. The post-lunch slump is never a good time for brainstorming important projects. Most people are more alert and focused in the morning.

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6. Get enough sleep

Sleep is vital for focus and productivity. If you want to work smarter, make sure you are getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep affects the neurons in the brain and makes Jack a dull boy!

7. Get plenty of exercise

Branson’s number one productivity tip is exercise, so make it your first priority. Exercise creates energy and focus. It reduces stress and increases well-being. Try to get some exercise daily — not only will you work smarter, you will feel great too.

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8. Drink water during the day

Because our bodies are said to be made of 70% water, being low on water will affect every cell in your body. If you want to work smarter, you better be sure the cells in your brain have enough water. Dehydration will drain your energy and affect your brain’s ability to focus.

9. Don’t skip meals

Lack of energy and low blood sugar are two states you want to avoid if you are trying to focus and get things done. Regular meals throughout the day will reduce the possibility of an afternoon or midday slump, or a slump at any time of the day. Eat a substantial breakfast and try not to eat too large a meal in the middle of the day. This will maintain your energy levels throughout the day and keep your brain on high alert.

Try any of these ways to work smarter and you will get a lot more work done while feeling more focused, energetic, and maybe even happier, too.

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Ciara Conlon

Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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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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