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Increase Your Motivation by Framing Tasks

Increase Your Motivation by Framing Tasks

    In Getting Things Done methodology and most other personal productivity systems, dividing projects and large tasks into the smallest tasks divisible is considered a basic, fundamental concept. These systems tell us to divide a task into individual actions until we get close to a point where we can’t break things down into any further actions.

    The point is to focus the brain on something small enough to tackle right away. When we write up our task lists and throw in a fairly large task or project, we’re all prone to procrastinating on the task because they haven’t been defined closely enough and we’re unsure of where to start. This concept takes care of that problem and allows us to rapidly focus and begin working right away, as opposed to beginnning after lengthy, obtuse and inefficient thought processes in an attempt to digest the topic.

    However, it does have an ill side effect. Focusing in on individual actions can increase the mental distance between what we’re doing right now and what the end result is meant to be. When the end result, the goal, is obscured, motivation quickly falls because—subconsciously or not—there doesn’t seem to be a point to acting anymore.

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    Of course, the benefits to breaking tasks down into actions outweigh the disadvantages. Firstly, the motivation drain caused by focusing on small actions is far less detrimental than the motivation drain caused by trying to focus on too large or “impossible” of a task. Don’t get me wrong and assume that it’s best to focus entirely on large tasks, because it’s not—if anything, focusing too small is best. But more importantly, it’s impossible to fix the problems with focusing on too large of an area without breaking it all down—once we’ve broken our projects down, the fixes for the resulting issues are actually pretty easy.

    After all, we started breaking things down to solve the problem with tasks that are too big.

    Where Does the Problem Begin?

    The problem doesn’t begin in the project planning phase. Most often, we’ll format them something like this:

    Important Project Name

    1. Important action one

    2. Important action two

    3. Important action three

    So, as you’re preparing the project itself you’re reminded of the end goal at all times because the name of the project’s right there at the top of the list, and obviously, because the project itself is what you’re thinking of—and specifically, which actions are required to move towards that end goal.

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    The problem begins when you feed projects into your system and take actions from several projects to form a daily task list. The context of the list changes from individual projects and over to the general scope of things that need to be achieved in a day. The end result context is thus lost and here is where we can lose sight of the goal. We lose sight of the motivating factor, which is not just a factor in our own procrastination, but the quality of the end product as well.

    Most task management software with a Next viewpane works pretty well. In Things, the Next tasks for each project are grouped and listed under the project names themselves. You can see this in action here (I am not really organizing a shindig and nor am I writing a book on dung beetles):

      But when you go to create your daily task list, everything changes. You lose the specific framing of each task and they form one amalgamated list.

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      Now, you could use a similar format to the Things Next pane, but then you’d be restricting the order of the tasks and also using up more vertical space on the paper. In past articles on the topic, I’ve mentioned that while I don’t mind filling up horizontal space on my daily task lists, I like keeping a bit of vertical space so the page doesn’t fill up too much and become too confusing to work with. You don’t want to think about your task list much once it has been created; you just want it to guide your day. Having to read it closely line-by-line just because you’ve packed too much in there is thinking about it too much.

      The Solution I’m Trialling

      My solution, which I’ve been trialling for the past week, has been to add another vertical column and indicate the project an action belongs to just next to the task description itself. I try to abbreviate it and ensure that most of the focus of attention on each line remains with the task itself, but it’s important to make those abbreviations meaningful. You don’t want to find yourself going, “What did this code refer to again?” That defeats the whole point.

      It has been a week and I’ve found that I’m looking at each task more as a part of a whole leading to a goal rather than individual tasks that were preset during my weekly review. It feels a lot less like going through the daily motions of getting things done and more like working towards meaningful ends. I’m not actually working on anything more or less meaningful—it’s all in the way you think about these things—but it does seem to be helping with motivation. One can’t quantify this sort of thing, but it’s working for me.

      However, while I’ve found a method of framing tasks within projects that works, I’m not sure I’ve found the best, most efficient way to do this. It has only been through a week’s trial, after all! Do you do anything similar to keep yourself motivated about the end goal when projects start getting a little too action-oriented? I’d love to hear about your techniques and thoughts in the comments.

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      More by this author

      Joel Falconer

      Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

      Mastering the Art of Prioritization The Importance of Scheduling Downtime How to Make Decisions Under Pressure 11 Free Mind Mapping Applications & Web Services How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Your Advantage

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      Last Updated on June 27, 2019

      How to Use Observational Learning for Your Best Improvement

      How to Use Observational Learning for Your Best Improvement

      Someone walks over, introduces themselves and raises their hand out in front of you. How do you know what you’re supposed to do next?

      If this were the first time you saw this behavior, you wouldn’t have a clue.

      If you were from an Eastern culture, you might go to bow toward this person. But you know what to do because since childhood, you’ve observed many adults shaking hands.

      Observational learning is a learning theory in psychology that describes how we learn by watching and imitating others.

      In this article, we will look into what observational learning really is and how it helps you learn and grow.

      What Is Observational Learning?

      Children learn many of their behaviors and expressions through observation. We pick up things as fundamental as walking, playing, gestures, facial expressions, and body postures via observational learning.

      In the 1970s, psychologist Albert Bandura outlined a four-stage process of how observational learning occurs:[1]

      1. Attention: Notice something in the environment.
      2. Retention: Recall what was noticed (memory).
      3. Reproduction: Copy or mimic what you noticed.
      4. Motivation: Get reinforcement from the environment for completing the behavior (or punishment for not).

      Pretty simple, right?

      Neuroscience provides further evidence. Mirror neurons fire when one animal acts and another animal observes as if the neurons in one brain are mirroring the patterns of another brain.

      The result?

      You make a funny face at a baby. And the baby makes the same funny right back at you.

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      What Influences Observational Learning

      Observational learning doesn’t always occur, so it’s essential to understanding the conditions in place when it does.

      So when are we more like to imitate others? It happens when:

      • You doubt yourself and your abilities.
      • You are confused or in an unfamiliar environment.
      • You’re in a position of authority, like a boss, leader, or celebrity.
      • Someone is similar to you in some way: interest, age, or social class.
      • You see someone getting rewards for their behavior.

      For example, let’s say four people go out to an upscale restaurant. One person frequents this type of restaurant while it’s the first time for the other three individuals.

      The person who is comfortable in this environment knows what to do: when and where to place the napkin, how the place setting works, and how to communicate with the wait staff. Because he knows what to do, in this situation, he’s the authority.

      The rest of his company are in an unfamiliar environment. And when we don’t know how to behave, we tend to look around and observe the behavior of others.

      Somehow, we know who to observe by picking up subtle cues. So without having to think about it, the rest of the party subconsciously looks around and begin to discern who the “expert” is and what he’s doing. And this sort of process frequently happens throughout our development and the rest of our lives.

      Performing Your Best with Observational Learning

      Observational learning usually occurs subconsciously in social situations. That is, our basic need to belong, or “fit in,” drives us to adapt our behavior to the actions of others.

      But the real power of observational learning comes from making this process active and conscious.

      What does this mean?

      Once you understand how observational learning works, you can choose to apply it in ways that support your personal and professional development.

      Modeling

      Modeling

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      is another term for observational learning. Let’s say you want to become an expert presenter. No problem. Find a few presenters that you believe are highly skilled and watch what they do.

      Pay attention to everything:

      • How do they hold themselves?
      • When do they pause?
      • How do they emphasize specific points?
      • Do they use slides? Imagery? Sounds?
      • What gestures do they make as they communicate?

      Modeling the success of others is perhaps the fastest way to elevate your game and make rapid progress in your development.

      Shadowing

      In the workplace, observational learning is often called shadowing.

      By shadowing an experienced employee for a period, you’ll naturally learn how to perform the tasks this person does each day. This process works effectively in sales environments too.

      Apprenticeship

      If you study the masters of any field, you quickly learn that they had great teachers or masters from whom they learned.

      In Mastery, author Robert Greene points out that those who reach the level of mastery in any field submit to a rigorous apprenticeship to absorb the secret knowledge of those with many years of experience.

      Similarly, in The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle highlights that anyone who cultivates talent has a master coach who knows how to break things down and teach things in a way that accelerates learning.

      So if there’s any area of your life that you’re seeking mastery in, with who can you form an apprenticeship?

      Here in this article, you can learn more about apprenticeship at work: What Is an Apprenticeship and What Value Can It Bring to Your Career?

      Hijacking Your Behavior

      Our brains, in many ways, are like sponges. We absorb what we observe.

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      While this observational learning can be a powerful tool for our personal growth and development, it can also be a destructive force.

      How?

      Consider all of the bad behavior we witnessed when we were kids (and still today):

      The list goes on. And yes, we observed and absorbed these behavioral patterns too from our parents, teachers, family members, and friends.

      We also adopt behavior we observe on television and in the media. Studies show, for example, that teens who watched a lot of sexual content were more likely to start having sex soon after.[2]

      Does this mean that watching violent movies will make you act violently? Not necessarily, but these images are imprinted in our unconscious and often later express themselves under the right conditions.

      Here’s the bottom line:

      Be very conscious of the media you consume and with who you spend your time. Our minds are like computer hardware and what we observe is like the software. So choose positive and life-supporting software if you want your brain to mimic it!

      5 Ways to Use Observational Learning to Your Advantage

      Here are five tips to make observational learning work for you:

      1. Be Highly Selective on What, Who and When You Observe

      Remember, observational learning is taking place whether we want it to or not. To harness this powerful force, consciously select who you are observing and in what context.

      For example, if you know someone who’s highly productive in their work, ask to shadow them as they work.

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      But this individual may be an entirely different person when they aren’t working. So be mindful of what behavioral patterns you’re absorbing.

      2. Pay Attention to the Details

      Those who achieve mastery in any area of their lives do so by mastering the fundamentals and then continually improving on more subtle levels. To the inexperienced eye, it’s often difficult to notice what they do differently.

      In the case of negotiations, for example, a skilled negotiator knows how and when to disarm the other player. Sometimes these skills express themselves instinctively, so you may pick up on details in behavior the individual doesn’t even know they are doing.

      3. Maintain a Playful Attitude

      Many of us are conditioned to believe that seriousness is a valuable quality for learning. Psychologist Abraham Maslow, however, found that self-actualizing individuals,[3] or individuals with positive mental health, tend to have a more innocent, playful attitude when they are learning and developing.

      Research also shows that we learn up to ten times faster in the areas that interesting to us.[4] So stay curious, open, and ready to learn.

      4. Rehearse What You Observe in Your Mind

      Studies show that rehearsing specific patterns of movement in our mind’s eye can help our brains encode desired actions and behaviors.[5] Many peak-performance athletes and musicians use this form of creative visualization training.

      Visualization practices are extraordinarily powerful when you do it right before bedtime so your subconscious mind can process in the images while you sleep.

      5. Don’t Just Observe, Do

      To make observational learning stick, you must also do whatever it is you’re observing . Many companies combine shadowing experienced employees with hands-on training to accelerate the learning and development of new employees.

      The Bottom Line

      In the personal development space, observational learning is often called modeling the success of others .

      Perhaps as you’re reading this, you’re already getting ideas of who you can start modeling.

      Here are three questions to help you get started right now:

      1. What skills and behaviors to you want to learn?
      2. Who already possesses these skills and behaviors?
      3. How can you start modeling these individuals right away?

      Now, make it so!

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      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

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