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Beat Procrastination and Get Stuff Done in These 3 Steps

Beat Procrastination and Get Stuff Done in These 3 Steps

Procrastination is a vicious fiend that can destroy your productivity with murderous intent. If you want to get stuff done, you need to apply these three tips today.

1. Begin (even if you don’t want to right now).

If I told you I always feel inspired to write, that would be a lie. But funny thing about that: without fail, after I grunt through an hour or two of work despite not feeling like it, I find myself in a state of flow where I lose track of time and keep on going until I have no words left to express. I often end up wondering, “What was all that procrastination about? This is a much better way to spend my time than what I was doing before*!” Your mind will resist your efforts to take action with all of its might. Please understand that your thoughts are convincing liars that will try to prevent you from doing things that will prove to be fun and fulfilling (don’t listen to them!). Prove me wrong. I dare you.

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*This morning, said “thing” was wasting two hours on Twitter. And that’s a convenient way to lead into…

2. Concentrate (even if that means avoiding all temptations).

Below is a list of my biggest time-wasters:

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  1. Twitter (I am a news junkie and that is where I get my fix).
  2. Netflix (If I get sucked into a show, House of Cards for example, heaven help me).
  3. Reading (Not a bad thing in itself, but I’m a very curious person, and can consequentially end up with 10-20 browser windows open at a time, which is very bad for my productivity as a writer).

I deal with these temptations by banning the use of social media while I write; saving Netflix for lazy weekends when I have nothing to do (and can have a guilt-free marathon); and opening my publishing platform in full screen mode immediately after I find what I’m looking for.

I used to have more temptations than those, but have removed most of them without mercy. Below is a list of the ones you might know well and how I dealt with them:

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  • Answering texts as soon as you get them = Phone stays silent unless you’re expecting an important call or are flirting with a person you love (or just have a really big crush on).
  • Refreshing your inbox obsessively = Set three specific times to check email in morning, afternoon, and evening.
  • Distracted by social media = Disable all text and email notifications, or use a concentration app if you can’t control yourself.

3. Deliberate (even if that means taking a step back from the daily grind).

“Priorities” isn’t a sexy concept to consider, but it could be the key that will unlock your productive power. It’s amazing how taking a step back can improve your perspective and make you understand what is really important. Below are some questions you should consider:

  • What is the point of my work? Why does it matter?
  • Is there a way to combine related tasks in a more logical manner?
  • Am I putting the needs of others before what makes me feel happy and fulfilled?

If you don’t see any purpose behind your work, it’s no wonder you don’t feel like working. Imagine the impact you hope to make in the lives of your readers, customers, or clients. What pain do you hope to help them deal with? What problem do you hope to help them solve? What goal do you hope to help them achieve?

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If you are performing tasks in a haphazard fashion, it’s no wonder you can’t get anything done. It is more efficient to group similar tasks together than it is to multitask without thought process.  Could you do all of your dishes, run all of your errands, pay all of your bills, answer all of your emails, or return all of your calls at a specified time?

If you constantly concern yourself with what other people expect from you, it’s no wonder you aren’t fulfilled. Understand that your ability to take care of others will be severely diminished if you don’t take care of yourself first. If you open your email inbox as soon as you wake up, you’re setting yourself up for a day that is ruled by the demands of others.

What helps you get stuff done? Tell us in the comments.

Featured photo credit: lazy sunday/David Urbanke via flickr.com

More by this author

Daniel Wallen

Daniel is a writer who focuses on blogging about happiness and motivation at Lifehack.

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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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