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Don’t Buy a Gadget, Change a Habit (or Putting the “P” in PDA Productivity)

Don’t Buy a Gadget, Change a Habit (or Putting the “P” in PDA Productivity)

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    A few months ago as I was travelling through LaGuardia airport, I caught site of a fellow traveller with his two hands clicking away on his Blackberry. What looked a bit different was the fact that both his hands were above his head, clicking away on the keyboard as he stared upwards at the device. What was truly bizarre was the fact that he was using the urinal in the men’s room at the same time… “multi-tasking.”

    Apart from the health and hygiene considerations that make most of us cringe (I figure that his hands had to touch his PDA and some other “P’s” before leaving the men’s room,) he probably was not a surgeon saving a life or a spy planning his escape to Paris, one step ahead of the mysterious guys in black coats.

    Instead, he was probably trying to save his skin because Morrison in Finance was trying to weasel his way in with the guys in corporate, taking advantage of an absence from the office. Only a well- timed email would thwart that devious strategy.

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    In other words, there was probably no life-threatening emergency at hand, and instead, our PDA-wielding professional was doing what lots of us do — use new technology to ruin our productivity.

    In the case of multi-tasking, it’s well known that higher productivity comes at the moments when professionals are able to accomplish that elusive state of complete focus described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow. According to the author, these are the times when professionals find themselves at their highest points of creativity.

    He also has found that it takes some 20 minutes to enter this focused mode, and another 20 or so minutes to re-enter it once it’s broken. The professional who checks email every 15 minutes throughout the day is never able to function at anything other than a low state. Neither is the guy who answers his cell phone whenever it rings, and continually checks it for text and voicemail messages.

    The one who spends an entire meeting checking email also does some damage, as does the person who reads their email and Tweets his buddies while you are talking with them on the phone.

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    In other words, their bad habits ruin their chances of being productive, and the latest technology only makes it easier for them to include others in the destruction.

    I worked with a telecom company once in the late 1990’s in which everyone had a cell-phone. That was not a problem by itself.

    Unfortunately, their executives developed a bad habit of answering the device whenever it rang, regardless of what else was happening around them.

    This meant that in any meeting, anyone could disappear into their cell-phones, even if they happened to be speaking. They’d simply stop in mid-sentence and answer their phone… without knowing who was calling.

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    The effect when they returned was predictable — “What was I saying again?” As a result, meetings would drag, taking twice as long as they required.

    When it comes to personal productivity, new technology is useful when it’s complemented by sound individual habits. In their absence, technology does create a few things that masquerade as higher productivity. The fact is, you’re not more productive because you can: 1. Listen to music on your iPhone instead of your iPod. 2. Take pictures of your friends with your smartphone instead of your camera 3. Read junk mail on the beach during your vacation in the Bahamas, instead of at work 4. Send email at odd moments in airport rest-rooms, under the guise of “multi-tasking”

    You might be happier in some strange way (I guess it depends on who is on the receiving end of the email sent at that odd moment) but poor habits are only made worse with the best, well- intentioned technology.

    I have a feeling that the creators of the Blackberry weren’t thinking to themselves “Let’s distract people so much, that they end up in fatal crashes that provide the punch-line for feature films.” (My apologies to you if you haven’t seen a very popular, recent flick starring Will Smith.)

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    What’s strange to me is that after spending a few hours searching, the only smartphone training I can find on the internet has to do with learning how to use advanced features such as Bluetooth.

    There is very little to help professionals to develop the habits that can take advantage of these new tools, and actually improve their productivity, rather than destroy it. They are on their own to find ways to invent time management systems that use the right blend of habits and technology that fit their individual circumstances. Checking Blackberry messages at 11pm each night might be a habit that works for you, while all it does for me is earn me the silent treatment of my spouse.

    Instead, I need to be savvy about the habit-technology blend I employ, and to understand how to craft solutions that meet my daily needs. For most of us, these include being more productive, staying out of trouble and un-learning strange habits we are starting to employ at odd moments.

    More by this author

    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

    How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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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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