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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

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 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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