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Can Happiness Be Created with Proper Time Management?

Can Happiness Be Created with Proper Time Management?
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If Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Matt Killingsworth  are right, we should be paying far more attention to how we spend our time than to the stuff we accumulate. They argue that it’s not the activity we choose to do that’s important to our happiness: that turns out to have little to no effect on our state of mind.

Instead, it has everything to do with the quality of our mental focus in the moment.

Both of these researchers are students of human happiness, and have come to similar conclusions from different directions: Killingsworth’s work has uncovered the fact that we are substantially less happy when we indulge in mind-wandering. The activity we are engaged in almost doesn’t matter. Being on vacation in Jamaica isn’t an opportunity to mind-wander—that only makes us unhappy. The same applies to a boring meeting that’s going nowhere.

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Csikszentmihalyi discovered a similar result: that we are happiest (and most productive) when we are able to enter the flow state—an ecstatic experience of total concentration that requires our complete attention due to its difficulty. He found that this is more likely to happen when we are at the office: we often derive more enjoyment from work than from time off, due to the fact that we feel “skillful, and challenged, and therefore feel more happy, strong, creative and satisfied.” It’s not because work is inherently better, but it is well-structured.

It appears that we are confused about what real happiness is and what it looks like from one moment to the next. We tell ourselves that we’ll be happy when we win the lottery, not understanding that after the money is in the bank, we’ll be just as unhappy as before if we allow our minds to wander.

Instead, we need to be careful about how we manage our time. It’s not a bad idea to set up our days, whether we are at work, holiday or vacation, to move from one flow opportunity to another. Or, in other words, we should use time management methods to limit the amount of time we spend mind-wandering.

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Unfortunately, there are many who act in the opposite fashion, and don’t plan their days at all. They suffer in situations like long commutes with the habit of allowing free, unhappy mind-wandering. Their days are sometimes spent bouncing from one interruption to another, fighting fires, and never able to enter the flow state. According to research conducted at King’s College in London
workers distracted by phone calls, emails and text messages suffer a greater loss of IQ than a person smoking marijuana.

Others make open-ended lists of items that can’t be accomplished within several days, and feel burdened whenever they have to confront these lists to find the next item to work on.

How To Enter the Flow State

The best approach seems to combine daily foresight, continuous improvement, and a high level of awareness.

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We aren’t born with a natural ability to achieve flow, and to avoid mind-wandering. Instead, productivity and happiness need to be fabricated each day, which means working with our calendar to carve out blocks of time in which we intend to enter the flow state.

These blocks of time won’t be created on their own on a regular basis, so we have to learn how to improve the habits, practices and rituals that make up our time management systems: this is the only way to produce these opportunities reliably, even as we overcome obstacles such as the noise and visual distractions that make rooms stuffed with cubicles such unproductive environments.

A high level of awareness is important so that when we are in the flow state, we know it. With self-awareness, we can interact with the world to sustain it, as we ignore the ringing of phones or the alerts from tablets because we are “Flowing.”

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These skills (daily foresight, continuous improvement and high awareness) aren’t only for the office. They also apply to leisure activities such as talking with your spouse, playing with your kids, engaging in a hobby or worshipping in church. Entering the flow state in these activities can be an intentional act that is planned beforehand, and perfected in the moment.

People with good time management skills can get into these states as often as they want. They aren’t distracted by all the other stuff they could be doing, as they know its all being properly managed. This takes practice if it’s to be implemented at work or at play, but in the end, it could give us exactly what Csikszentmihalyi and Killingsworth predicted in their research: more happiness.

Featured photo credit:  Vintage pocket watch and hour glass via Shutterstock

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Francis Wade

Author, Management Consultant

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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