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How To Get More Done In a Day: 7 Ideas That Really Work

How To Get More Done In a Day: 7 Ideas That Really Work

Many of us have the urge to reach for more caffeine, work longer hours to get it all done, and feel defeated before even reaching the computer in the morning. That’s just the reality of modern workloads, right?

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it’s possible to get more done in a day without feeling overwhelmed or defeated by the herculean effort you put in. When you follow these simple suggestions, you’ll be able to reclaim more of your energy and maybe even take some much needed time away from your work on a regular basis.

1. Start with a Full Tank

The most important piece of the productivity puzzle is how you enter the ring, are you already tired and zoning out? It’s totally normal to have off days and to feel burned out if you’ve been going at it without proper rest for awhile. Do you ever wonder why you get more done after you come back from a vacation? It’s because your tank is full, and you’re able to work at an improved energy level.

What if you can’t take a vacation right now, or you’ve got a pressing project that needs to get done? Take time away from work by fully unplugging in the evenings, and getting a solid 8 or 9 hours of sleep. Most of us run on far too little sleep, and the day to day meetings, tasks, and other demands can really take a toll.

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Another idea is to take a fully unplugged day per week, like Saturday or Sunday, where you don’t check email, social media, or do any work. It can be difficult if you’re not used to it, but you’ll come back with more energy for your work every time.

2. Don’t Overcommit

As humans, we constantly overestimate what we can achieve in one day, and underestimate what we can achieve in one year. Set big goals for yourself in life, but set small achievable goals for your day to day activities.

Breaking down bigger projects and tasks helps you do the hardest thing of all: start it. Once you start on a project, you’re more likely to finish and to feel good about your progress. This is more motivating than writing down the same task you were supposed to do yesterday on tomorrow’s to do list, because you underestimated how big it was. I’ve been there, with a big task showing up on my to do list day after day for weeks, when I should have just taken the first step, then the next, etc.

3. Focus on Fewer Projects at a Time

This one is important, and we’re all guilty, but once you start putting it into place you won’t look back. To explain this idea, let me use the analogy of a highway. When you have a highway with just a few cars on it, everyone can go fast and get to their destination. But once you add more cars, things start to slow down until you get a traffic jam.

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It’s the same with the number of projects we take on at any one time. If you’re trying to work on too many projects at once, they will each progress at a slower pace than they would have if you had taken them on one after another.

This doesn’t mean that you can only have one project at a time, but it does mean not biting off more than you can chew. Do you really need to have 5 major endeavors happening simultaneously? Or can you schedule 1 for the next few weeks, the next two in one month, and the final two a few months from now?

Once I really “got” this in my life, I started to put everything on a big wall calendar in my office so I could see what major projects I had in the works during each part of the year, and it changed everything.

4. Schedule Chunks of Uninterrupted Time

Disruptions are costly. According to a study by Microsoft, it takes the brain 15 minutes to re-focus after losing your train of thought during your work. Every time you’re interrupted, whether it’s by a “ping!” from your email or a text message, someone calling you on the phone, or you checking your stock prices… you’re robbing yourself of the focus you need to get the work done.

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There are ways to get around interruptions, even if you’re responsible for them, by installing simple scripts on your computer to block the internet like Freedom or Concentrate. You can also start to train friends and family members to use asynchronous forms of communication, which means they can leave you a message and you’ll get back to them after your focused chunks of time. The key is to stick to your own schedule, so that people take your boundaries seriously and don’t expect to get an email or a call back within minutes of leaving a message.

5. Use the Pareto Principle to Eliminate Overwhelm

Any discussion about getting more done in the day needs to cover the high priority tasks, and not just the busy work. Busy work is the reason most of us feel so overwhelmed, and why we look back at the end of the day and wonder why we didn’t get anything of real value done.

By applying Pareto’s principle and focusing on the 20 percent of the tasks that yield 80 percent of the results in your work, you can prioritize the important work first. We all have tasks that need to get done, but that honestly don’t bring a lot of value to our work. Maybe it’s getting back to your vendors about some questions they had, filing your taxes, or writing reviews. If you schedule these toward the end of your day, you’ll be prioritizing the high impact work that will move the needle in your business and career.

6. Close The Loops & Capture Stray Thoughts

One easy tip for how to get more done in a day is to make space in your mind, so you can focus. Sometimes while you’re at work, or maybe before you fall asleep, you’ll have a stray thought: remember to finish XYZ, or follow up with ABC. These are important little bursts of thought, and if you don’t write these things down then a part of your brain will be working hard to make sure you don’t forget.

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Instead of keeping these stray thoughts in your head as you go about your day, or hoping you’ll remember when you wake up in the morning, jot them down in a notepad. Then each morning or evening, simply review your notepad and transfer any ideas or tasks into your regular to do list system. This way, you’re sending a strong message to your brain that you’re taking care of business, and to keep sending these important reminders, but not to worry because you’ll get them handled.

7. Leave Breadcrumbs for Yourself

This is a tricky one: have you ever found yourself working on something, then needing to do some research to complete the task… and losing track of where you were when you left off?

The simple solution is to leave breadcrumbs for yourself, so you can come back to your original work without having to start from the beginning. This often happens to me when I’m programming: I need to look something up, and when I resurface from my research haze, I forget what I was originally trying to solve or achieve. Now that I leave breadcrumbs for myself, I don’t waste any time jumping back onto my original train of thought.

Which of these 7 ideas are you going to implement to help you get more done in a day? Which ones were you already doing? I’d love to know, leave a comment below.

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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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