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Have Better Life Productivity With These 7 Tips

Have Better Life Productivity With These 7 Tips

Productivity in life seems to be something that we all struggle with and strive for. Even people who are well-organized and focused are always in pursuit of strategies to make their time even more productive, allowing them to get more done each day and to enjoy their non-working time more.

These seven tips will allow you to have better life productivity starting as soon as you implement them. And they’re easy enough to start now and to make into regular habits, so why not give it a try today?

List everything you need to do

I’m a big fan of paper lists, but you can use a to do app on your smartphone or tablet, or even just work in a notes or word processing document.

Write down everything that’s on your mind that needs to be done, from that phone call you need to make to finishing a project and getting a haircut. Whatever has been weighing on your mind, whatever deadlines you have looming, get it all down.

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We think that we’ll remember everything we need to do, but it isn’t always the case. Writing things down frees up your mind to work on the tasks and problems before you instead of just remembering that they exist.

Prioritize and pare down

Now that you know what needs to be done, how do you know where to start? First, look at the list with an eye toward things you can ignore, eliminate or delegate. Sometimes things are nagging us that aren’t really that important, and consciously letting go of those tasks can be really freeing.

Once you’ve dealt with any items you can delegate or simply cross off your list altogether, it’s time to prioritize what’s left. What needs to be done by a certain time or in a certain order? What do you really want to do? What will it make you feel great to have finished? There are lots of different ways to prioritize, including making a numbered list or lumping tasks into categories like “urgent,” “important” and “not pressing,” but this step is essential to making your life more productive.

Set a time limit

When you have your priorities in order, the next key is to think about how much time each task–or part of each task if it’s a big job you can’t do in a day–ought to take. Be realistic, but don’t allow yourself more time than you should reasonably expect to need.

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For example, I might set aside five minutes for an email response, 10 minutes for social media promotion, and an hour to write a blog post. Sometimes I’ll give myself just a little less time than I really think I need, set a timer and race myself. Often I’ll finish before the bell rings.

Do the most challenging thing first

The thing it would make you feel great to have finished is often a good place to start, because that task that has been nagging you or that feels like a really big challenge will end up being the thing that makes you feel super productive once you’ve finished it.

Often you’ll be surprised by how little time that supposedly awful thing actually takes. For instance, when we moved I put off changing my address on my voter registration just about as long as I possibly could because I was sure it would be a hassle. In reality, it took 26 seconds on the phone.

I know I spent a lot more that 26 seconds thinking about it and avoiding it, so attack the challenging thing first and you will feel amazingly energized for the next task.

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Automate where you can

Today’s world makes it easy to automate and schedule recurring items in advance. Whether that means having bills paid automatically, putting money into savings as soon as your paycheck comes in, or setting reminders in your electronic calendar to replace the batteries in your smoke alarms and schedule doctor’s appointments, the less you have to think about those sorts of tasks the less you will worry about them.

I always forget which months I’m supposed to pay estimated taxes, for example, so this year I’m adding reminders to my calendar so I won’t have to think about it other than those four times a year. Getting things out of your brain is one of the best ways to have better life productivity.

Set up today for success tomorrow

A big part of leading a productive life is setting yourself up for success. How you finish your day is just as important as how you start it.

At work, that might mean cleaning off your desk and setting your top three priorities for the next day, or doing one more of those nagging little things so you can finish the day off feeling productive and successful.

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At home it might involve setting out your clothes for the next day, programming the coffee pot and having a plan for breakfast and lunch. You could also write down what you’re grateful for or the best thing that happened that day to remind you of the high points.

Learn to say no

To end almost where we started, one easy way to feel more productive is to make sure some things never make it to your to do list at all. If you know what’s really important in your life, you will know what to focus on and what you can so no to–whether that’s a committee assignment for your child’s school, an offer to help a friend with work you’d usually get paid for, even a job–and really honor those choices.

The last thing any of us wants is to die with regret because we let those ultimately unimportant, small things keep us from what was really important to us. And being more productive, in the right ways and with the right things, allows us more time for those things that are really important.

Featured photo credit: Events Calendar/Yandle via flickr.com

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Sarah White

Freelance Writer, Editor, Professional Crafter

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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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