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How to Be More Productive in Anything and Everything You Do

How to Be More Productive in Anything and Everything You Do

Picture this: Two people—let’s call them Billy and Betty—both work at the same marketing firm. They have the exact same job description and work load and they both sit at their desks and perform pretty much the same sets of tasks. But at the end of the each day, Betty always outperforms Billy. She makes more calls, closes more deals, and delivers better results.

Is Betty smarter than her co-worker? Not really. Is Billy given fewer hours each day? Nope. After all, one of the indisputable laws of the universe is that every person on Earth, regardless of the amount of money they have or where they are in the world, gets 24 hours in each day.

Betty gets more things done each day because she knows how to use her time well. She applies specific productivity techniques and time management strategies that let enable her to get things done quickly and easily.

How would you like to be the Betty of your workplace? Follow the tips below and you’ll be well on your way to becoming more productive and doing more in less time.

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Jot down your goals

Develop the habit of writing down your goals and tasks. Write down your tasks every morning (or the night before) and let that to-do list guide you throughout the day.

Do the same thing at a larger scale. What do you plan to accomplish by the end of the month? Where do you want to be in 6 months or a year’s time? Think about the answers to those questions, cook up a plan on how to achieve them, and put that plan on paper.

Having your goals on paper and keeping them in front of you helps you stay focused on what you need to do. Your to-do list will give your day more structure. It will help keep you on track so you won’t deviate to doing unnecessary tasks or things that aren’t part of your plan.

Break things down

Got a big major task sitting in front of you? Don’t stare helplessly at it. Instead, bring out your (metaphorical) samurai sword and cut that assignment down into bite-sized pieces.

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The key to not getting overwhelmed with the whirlwind of tasks sitting on your plate is to break them down into small, manageable tasks. Focus on one part at a time, and finish doing each part before moving on to the next one.

Think of it this way: If you’re planning a wedding, it wouldn’t be wise to select your officiant, choose a caterer, book your venue, and send out your invitations all in one day right? (Unless you want to go crazy.) Nope, you handle those tasks one by one by taking care of the most pressing ones first, like selecting a venue, before moving on to the next task.

Don’t multi-task

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’ll get more things done faster if you do them all at the same time. Doing so only leads to confusion and overwhelm so avoid multitasking when you can.

Instead, do only ONE thing at a time and stick to that task until you’re done with it.

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Automate

Make a list of the routine tasks that you perform and see which ones you can automate. For instance, I use a service that automatically shares my latest blog post on Facebook and Twitter, so I don’t have to manually do so.

Get rid of all that clutter

Clutter is one of the top enemies of productivity. All those scattered post-its, paper scraps, and magazines on your desk are distracting you (both at a conscious and subconscious level) and keeping your from getting things done.

A tidy work environment is conducive to productivity. You’ll find that neatness and efficiency go hand-in-hand, so always be vigilant when it comes to cleaning up the clutter around you.

Do tasks in batches

I picked up this tip from Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Workweek, and I have to say, it works like a charm. Doing tasks in batches means grouping similar tasks together and performing them within the same time frame.

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For example, when paying your bills, it’s better to round up all your invoices and pay them in one sitting, rather than choosing to pay your phone bill in the morning, your internet bill in the afternoon, and your credit card the next day.

Batching helps you accomplish tasks quickly and more efficiently because it saves your body the time and effort from having to switch gears from one task to the next.

Use tools if you need to

There are numerous productivity tools out there designed to help you save time and get more things done. Check out the productivity category of your app store and see which apps can help you be more efficient.

One of my personal favorites is RescueTime, a software that keeps track of your computer’s activity to help you determine how effective you are in managing your time. Then there’s Evernote, the app that lets me keep save and track my tasks and notes across multiple devices.

What do you do to stay productive? Do you use any special tools or apps? Share them in the comments 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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