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How to Create, Keep, and Grow More Time

How to Create, Keep, and Grow More Time

Time, why do you punish me? Like a wave crashing into the shore, you wash away my dreams.

Hootie and the Blowfish

I remember listening to this song for the first time, circa 1995, and thinking to myself, “What garbage.”  Wasted time, at least for me as an undergrad, didn’t really mean that much at the time.  I don’t really know the exact moment that time became precious, but it seemed to happen overnight.  In one instant, that which was plenty all of a sudden became scarce.  Work, family, friends, and that little selfish individual inside were all conveniently requesting a share.  In a second, I was left with just an empty pie tray and no pie. Hootie’s words came ringing in my ear, “An hour only lasts for one second, one second”…damn them!!!  I decided that I will respect time and make it a friend.  After much thought and meditation, I began exploring all things productivity.

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Here are a few simple things that I implemented immediately, some of which I still do:

I carried post-it notes wherever I went to capture any ideas, tasks, appointments, and reminders.  For about 5-10 minutes every day, I would organize those notes into a journal to keep track of what I needed to do that day or the following day. Once the journal started becoming a hassle to maintain, I upgraded to a software tool. Eventually, I found GTD. For those who don’t know what GTD is, it is a bestselling book by David Allen called “Getting Things Done,” and it can help you organize and manage your life.  It’s one of the best books on productivity that I’ve ever read.

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This was a great start, but eventually I came up with three things that MUST be done—in addition to the above suggestions—to really become productive day in and day out.   I call them the three Hows. The three Hows are very basic: How do I create more time, How do I keep more time, and How do I grow more time?

How to create more time

This is, of course, not an all-inclusive list, but it’s a good start to reclaiming some time back.  These were some of my biggest time-wasters:

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  1. Television – just stop it.  Besides the occasional news, a movie every once in a while, some documentaries, and Shark Week, I found it to be a huge time-waster.  That’s not to say that there aren’t some quality programs out there, it’s just that you’re not watching those programs. You’re watching a rerun of Wipeout.  Let me spoil it for you: they all wipe out.
  2. Internet/web – It’s really become the new television, and as such, an equivalent waste of time.  Ask yourself this, “Do I really need to see another cat video?”
  3. Email – This was a more difficult one for me since responding to emails made me believe that I was being more productive. However, responding to emails all day was actually making me less productive by taking my focus off things that I really needed to get done.  I now limit my time and frequency of responding to emails.

How to keep more time

  1. Outsourcing – Pay someone else to do something that will take you more time to do. Your time is precious, so if you can afford to pay someone to do the gardening or house-cleaning, do it. Using virtual assistants to accomplish certain tasks like research can also be an invaluable tool to save time.
  2. Time management system – It’s a must.  Get yourself some type of time management system that will help organize tasks.  There are a lot out there to choose from with many different features that range in price, so try a few and decide which one will match your needs. A good task management system will save you hours every week.

How to grow more time

I have no idea. Obviously, nothing you do will add a second more time to your day or your life, so I would be remiss here if I provided any advice on that.  What I really mean is how do I ensure the quality of the time that I have just worked hard to create and keep?  I have found that being surrounded with great people who are smarter and more productive than me always helps.

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Also, there is something that is intrinsically mystical about being around those you love and respect, and those that love and respect you.  It’s indescribable. Those moments seem to transcend time and just stand still, in all excitement and in full clarity.  Those moments never seem to be affected by time.

Teach yourself to be aware of time and remember that time is not your enemy – so don’t fight against it, but use it wisely.

 

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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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