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How to Maximize Productivity For The Perpetually Distracted

How to Maximize Productivity For The Perpetually Distracted

Most people in 2013 have a nasty habit of placing too much on their to-do lists. Each day, the list grows longer and we struggle to get even half of it done. Day in and day out we disappoint ourselves, and those around us, with our persistent lack of productivity and and palpable absence of achieved goals.

However, there are things you can do to make that to-do list an “all-done” list.

Why Can’t I Get Anything Done?

If you’re visiting this web site, you’re looking for ideas and inspiration. If you’re like me, you’re looking at this site when you ought to be doing something “productive.” If you clicked this article, you’re really trying to avoid some work. Is that you? It’s okay. It’s me, too.

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How was your drive to work this morning? Did you get stuck in traffic (if you didn’t and for some miraculous reason have never experienced traffic, bear with me)? Did you know that your brain acts in a similar way? It’s true—if you have too many things to process, it will clog up faster than the freeway during rush hour. How many times have you caught yourself just staring at your monitor, doing nothing in particular? Plus, the guilty feeling that follows isn’t very helpful, is it?

Well, guess what? Let it go.

Let Your Mind Wander

It seems counterintuitive, but if you have a hard time focusing on one particular task at a time, this method could work for you.

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If you have 8 tasks that need accomplishment in a given day, what’s your plan of attack? Do you order them from easiest to hardest? Hardest to easiest? In either one of those scenarios, there’s a point where you’ll freeze. A task that should take an hour now takes three or four because it’s hard to maintain your focus for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Don’t Fight Your Own Brain

Rather than try, futilely, to muscle through task #1 before moving on to task #2, allow yourself to move on to another project whenever your attention wanes. You’ll maintain your interest throughout the day and minimize the time you spend staring at your monitor. 

By cutting the “down-time” out of your day, you’ll get that list checked off a lot quicker. You may not check anything off until the afternoon, but as you wrap up your day, all your projects get completed with no feelings of guilt or wasted time.

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The Shower Principle

So—how and why does this work? Well, your brain never really shuts off. Your subconscious can work wonders when it’s not jammed up with unnecessary worry.

When your mind is otherwise distracted, your subconscious is freed up to process obstacles you might be trying to overcome. This method is referred to as “The Shower Principle,” and oddly enough, is best explained by Jack Donaghy, Alec Baldwin’s character on 30 Rock:

The Shower Principle is a term scientists use to describe moments of inspiration that occur when the brain is distracted from the problem at hand. For example, when you’re showering, if the cerebral cortex is distracted by showering then another part of the brain—the anterior superior temporal gyrus—is activated. This is the site of sudden cognitive inspiration.”

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Okay, granted 30 Rock is a sitcom, and “Jack Donaghy” isn’t actually real, but The Shower Principle certainly is. In fact, it works for me so frequently that when I’m writing on a deadline, I’ve taken up to 5 showers in a day. Other popular distractions include taking a walk, a drive, and even a quick nap.

So if you’re the kind of person who is constantly looking for a distraction (ahem, I caught you reading this so you’re already busted), try this technique. If you work in an office you might not have the opportunity to take a shower in the middle of the day, or your bosses might not understand just why they caught you napping underneath your desk, but allow yourself to take breaks when your attention span requires them. Watch a YouTube video. Do some jumping jacks. Find out what sufficiently distracts you and do it for five minutes. It’s like a reset button.

And if you get in trouble for doing jumping jacks at work, show this article to your bosses. While they are reading it, take a little nap under your desk. You’ll feel better.

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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