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Enhance Productivity and Stop Over-Thinking: 3 Quick Ways to Get out of Your Own Way

Enhance Productivity and Stop Over-Thinking: 3 Quick Ways to Get out of Your Own Way
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Concerned about your productivity? If your to-do list stresses you, consider that you might be more productive if you don’t get in your own way. Worrying and over-thinking your task list decreases your effectiveness and wastes time.

Eliminating over-thinking begins with careful planning. Commit to spending ten minutes a day planning your daily tasks, either the evening before, or first thing in the morning.

During your planning session, prioritize your tasks for the day into three groups: Must Do Today, Do If I Have Time, and Do Later.

Aim for just three to six tasks you MUST do today.

Next, experiment with the following processes.

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1. Describe the project, then chunk your tasks down.

Stress and over-thinking develop if you’re not clear on what a project or task entails. When you’re given a new assignment or project brief, describe it in your own words and write down your description.

Then contact the person who assigned the task, and ask them whether you’ve covered everything: “Just to be clear, I need to_____ (describe the project in your own words.)”

Although this tactic is simple, it works. When both you and the project assigner know what you’re doing not only will you eliminate procrastination, you’ll zoom through tasks faster.

Is it a project, or a task? Chunk it down.

If you’ve been procrastinating on a project, think about your reasons.

Do you have all the information you need?

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Have you chunked the project down into tasks, and those tasks into sub-tasks? “Writing a book” for example is a huge project. Chunk down once, and then again, and again.

I like to chunk projects down so that no task takes longer than 20 minutes to half an hour. It’s hugely satisfying to tick off tasks in a big project because you’re assured that you’re making progress. You’re confident, so you’re eager to get to the next task, and the next one after that.

When you get stuck on a project or task, allow your subconscious mind to help.

Albert Einstein said that: “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

Let your subconscious mind do the work if you’re stuck. A flash of insight for a solution which allows you to move forward will dawn on you. I get my best inspirations when I’m walking my dog; some people get them in the bath or shower.

2. Give yourself half the time you think you’ll need for a project.

Although this tactic sounds weird, it works. It stops you over-thinking, and getting in your own way.

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When you’re assigned a project, estimate the time you’ll need. Then cut the time in half.

For example, let’s say that you’re asked to create a presentation which you’ll deliver at an upcoming meeting. You need time to research, create the presentation, and rehearse it.

You estimate the project will take you six hours. Give yourself three hours.

Although this is a fake deadline, you’ll be amazed at the results. Clever time-saving ideas will come to you, and you may find that you deliver better results when you work faster.

3. Time everything: time really is money.

Get a timer, and use it. I use Repeat Timer Pro on my iPhone and iPad.

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Repeat Timer Pro

    Use your timer for everything. If you’re dealing with email, and you estimate you’ll need 90 minutes to clear your Inbox for example, give yourself 45 minutes, and set your timer. You’ll hesitate less. You’ll delete with abandon.

    Tip: create boilerplate text for email, and then use a text-expanding app, so you can type an abbreviation which expands into a complete message. I use TextExpander on my Mac. If you’re on Windows, I’ve heard good things about Breevy.

    Try the three tactics: describe your projects and chunk them down. Then give yourself a fake deadline–see if you can get it done in half the time. And finally, time everything.

    You’ll be more productive, and happier too, when you stop over-thinking.

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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.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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