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Micro-productivity: Accomplishing Major Goals With Minor Effort

Micro-productivity: Accomplishing Major Goals With Minor Effort

    When I’m not writing for Stepcase Lifehack, I spend my time crafting microfiction. I am the author of a 365-part fiction serial running at MargeryJones.com, and I have a piece of microfiction being featured in an upcoming HarperCollins fiction anthology on sale this June.

    So I know a little something about getting a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. For example, sitting down and creating a novel is intimidating. But by focusing my efforts into writing a daily serial, I’ll have a novella complete by the end of the year with very little time invested per month. Some of the precepts of writing microfiction can easily be applied to any situation to help you reach a major goal or milestone.

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    I’m not the first person to write about this kind of “micro-productivity”. The Friendly Anarchist wrote a blog post about making the most of those 5-minute windows of time we all have in our day. He suggests that when you have a spare couple of minutes with nothing to do, you should use it to do something worthwhile, something productive: “Create cool stuff: Edit some photos, skribble some sketches, jot down an outline for your next essay, write a haiku.”

    He argues that we sometimes psyche ourselves up when reaching for major goals or blocking out time for creative pursuits. By working in small chunks of time, “your old buddy procrastination has no chance to hit, if all you got are five minutes. And who knows, maybe…you’ll get an effortless 20 minutes of action, without even having to struggle.”

    So, if you’re interested in accomplishing big projects with just a little bit of effort, here’s the basic process to follow.

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    1. Set a major goal

    This is the time to dream big. Maybe you want to write a novel, get in shape, or earn some extra income with a side business. Decide what major life goal you have been putting off for years, and make a commitment to make a dent in the work required to make that goal a reality.

    2. Break down that goal into micro-tasks

    Say your major goal is to get rock hard abs by the end of the year. You might decide that the way for you to accomplish that goal is to do 100 crunches a day. If you’re committed to writing a novel, break down the work of writing into a set number of pages, chapters, or words.

    The important thing isn’t how you break down the work leading towards successful completion of your goal, but rather that you break down the work into small, manageable micro-projects. Think about what you can conceivably get done in a 5 or 10 minute period of time, or what you can do over several such blocks of time without major fits and starts.

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    3. Set a schedule

    For example, say you’re still planning on working on your abs, and want to do 100 crunches a day. You break down those 100 crunches into 4 groups of 25, making your goal easy to achieve during the commercial breaks of an hour long TV show.

    Or maybe you’re dead-set on finishing a novel, so you dedicate three of your coffee breaks at work each week to scribbling a few passages into a notebook.

    4. Get ahead of schedule

    How do you do that? Simple. Just make an effort to use any 5-10 minute chunks of free time that you would otherwise “waste” to work on your project. I mentioned working your goals into TV commercial breaks above. Other great places to sneak in a little productive time include your morning commute (assuming you are a carpool passenger or subway rider), or while you’re making dinner (while waiting for water to boil or the microwave to ding).

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    And when you’re ahead of schedule (which is easy to do when it only takes 5 minutes to make progress), you’ll find that your this boosts your confidence. And when you feel good about your project and your goals, you’ll be more motivated and more productive.

    Conclusion

    Obviously you shouldn’t use every spare 5-minute chunk of your day towards your goals. Everybody needs a little down time to veg out and recharge their batteries. But by making a conscious effort to spend a few minutes per day working towards a major life goal, you will make slow, measured progress that might not be possible otherwise.

    And even if you don’t have a major goal you’re working towards, using several 5-10 minute blocks of time towards a productive goal each day can really do wonders for both your personal and professional life. In an older post here at Lifehack.org, Leo Babauta wrote a great list of ways to make productive use of these small chunks of time. Those tips included balancing your checkbook, networking with your professional contacts, or even earning extra money by freelancing on the side.

    Big goals are scary. You can easily get derailed working on major projects if you get frustrated or anxious about working on them. Working on a project for 5-10 minutes at a time can keep you from becoming your own worst enemy. And when you aren’t getting in your own way, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

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    Last Updated on February 21, 2019

    7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

    7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

    Forgot a name? Misplaced your keys? Taking longer to find the right words? Don’t panic. There’s plenty you can do to improve your memory.

    You’re probably expecting us to reveal 7 little known and newly discovered herbs from the forests of the Amazon, the peaks of the Himalayas and the Arctic tundra. No such luck.

    Despite Americans spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on Ginkgo Biloba, Ashwagandha, Periwinkle, Bacopa, Vitamin B’s, Omega 3’s and memory boosting supplement cocktails, there is very little scientific evidence they actually work. [1]

    Instead, we’re going to offer you 7 completely natural memory boosters, backed up by scientific research. It may take a little more effort than a magic memory pill, but the benefits will transcend your memory and improve your overall quality of life as well, making you more fit, energetic, happy and sharp.

    How Do We Remember?

    The first process in remembering is creating a memory.

    This is where our brain sends a signal, associated with a thought, event or piece of information our mind is processing, over our brains neural pathways, called synapses.

    Think of our neural pathways like roads and information like trucks. The better the roads, the more trucks can be driven.

    The second step in remembering is memory consolidation.

    Consolidation is when the brain takes that thought, event or piece of information and actually stores it in the brain. So now we’re talking about taking delivery of the trucks and storing its contents in the warehouse.

    Consolidation helps us store information and label it properly, so its organized and easy to retrieve when needed.

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    The last step is memory retrieval.

    That’s the step whereby we try to retrieve the information stored in our brains. You know when you have the name of someone on the tip of your tongue.

    You have the information; it’s been stored, but you just can’t find it. Our memory recall is typically better the stronger the memory is and the more often we’ve used it.

    Memory decline is a normal part of aging. However, new scientific research is discovering many new ways for us to improve memory creation, consolidation and retrieval–no matter our age.

    7 Natural Memory Boosters

    So how to work on memory and boost your brain power? Here’re 7 brain boosters backed by science that you should try:

    1. Aerobic Exercise

    Aerobic activity is about as close as we get to a magic pill for our memories. Exercise helps your brain create new capillaries and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which creates new brain cells and connections. To put it in plain english, aerobic activity changes our brains and helps it grow.

    Studies have shown that exercising increases the size of the hippocampus and improves memory. In fact, even if you start exercising as an older adult, you can reverse cognitive decline by 1 to 2 years and protects against further decreases in the size of the hippocampus, which is essential for memory. [2]

    In another study, reviewed by Dr. Ian Robertson of the University of Dublin, they looked at a group of people of 60 years and older, who engaged in “active walking” for four months.

    They compared them with another group of people who only stretched over the same period of time. After testing both groups before and after the 4 month period, the walkers improved their memory and attention considerably more than the stretching group.

    So which exercises are best and how much do we have to exercise?

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    Turns out, it doesn’t really matter whether you run, swim, row or bike. What does matter is that you push yourself beyond your current abilities, keep doing more, keep getting better. Set yourself short term goals and keep pushing the goal posts.

    2. Sleep

    You need your sleep. The deeper the better. Sleep helps improve your procedural memory (how to do things, like how do I navigate my iPhone) and declarative memory (facts, like what’s my password). [3]

    Even short naps from 6 to 45 minutes have been shown to improve your memory. In one Harvard study, college students memorized pairs of unrelated words, memorized a maze and copied a complex form. All were tested on their work. Half were then allowed to take a 45 minute nap. They were then retested. Those who took a nap, got a boost in their performance. [4]

    Another study showed that getting REM (deep) sleep can increase your memory and mental performance by 33% to 73%. Getting a deep sleep helps the brain consolidate memories through dreams and “associative processing”. However, the study also revealed that heart rate variability in deep sleep also contributed significantly to increased memory performance. [5]

    3. MIND Diet

    Healthy eating, particularly more dark colored fruit, vegetables and oily fish has been shown to improve memory and stave off cognitive decline.

    The MIND diet is proven to reduce the risk of dementia. It’s a mix of the popular Mediterranean diet and the low blood pressure DASH diet. [6]

    The study kept track of the diets of almost 1,000 older adults. They were followed for an average of 4½ years.

    The study concluded that “people whose diets were most strongly in line with the MIND diet had brains that functioned as if they were 7½ years younger than those whose diets least resembled this eating style.”

    The study also showed that people who followed the MIND diet in the study reduced their chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease in half.

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    So what does the MIND diet consist of? Lots of vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil, whole grains and wine.

    4. Relax

    We all know that stress is bad for our health. It can raise our blood pressure, impact our immune system and interrupt our sleep. Stress also impairs our memory.

    When our body gets stressed, it releases cortisol into our blood stream, which can cause short and long term physical changes to the brain. While cortisol has sometimes been shown to cause increases in short term memory, it can actually decrease our long term recall memory.

    To help reduce the stress in your life, try relaxing with meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. Unplug–even for just a few hours. Stop checking your emails, social accounts and news. Release some endorphins with some exercise.

    Bottom line, the more anxious and stressed we are, the less clearly we think, the poorer our memory works.

    5. Continuous Learning

    The mind is like a muscle. The more you challenge it, the stronger it gets. The more you learn, the more you can learn.

    Research shows that learning can actually change the physical makeup of your brain. Not too long ago, we used to think that you were born with a fixed amount of brain cells, which declined with age. New research now shows that we can actually increase the number of brain cells we have throughout our life.

    Aside from staying physically active, learning new skills and studying can actually keep our brains healthier. Consider taking a continuing education class, studying a new language, learning a new instrument, playing new card games. [7]

    Studies show that the more complex the task, the more benefits for your mind. Simply showing up to class is not enough. You need to be actively engaged. Anything that forces you to focus and learn something new and get out of a rote routine will help you sharpen your mind and boost your memory.

    6. Stay Social

    The more deep and meaningful social connections you maintain, the more you protect your brain. Bottom line, the more friends you have, the more people you work with, the more you’re forced to use your brain.

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    Social isolation and loneliness are significant risks of dementia. Without interacting with others, our brains wilt. Isolation and loneliness lead to depression, physical and mental decline. [8]

    In a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, seniors with a full social calendar did better on memory, reasoning, and processing speed tests. [9]

    What to do?

    Party! Seriously, get together with friends as often as possible. Have family dinners. Choose social activities or sports like tennis, golf, cards or go for walks with a friend. Bottom line have fun, build meaningful social relationships and stay connected. Not only will it make your mind sharper and your memory better, you’ll be happier, too!

    7. Wakeful Rest

    This one is getting harder and harder to do. In a world where we can’t sit on a bus, go up an elevator or go to the bathroom without our phones, doing absolutely nothing to distract our minds is becoming increasingly difficult.

    But, the results are in. Doing nothing is great for your memory. Quietly resting for 10 minutes, after you learn something will help you remember and help you create more detailed memories. [10]

    What we do minutes after we learn something new has a significant impact on how well we retain the new information. In another study, it didn’t matter what you did after you learned something new, as long as you weren’t distracted by outside factors. In other words, you could be thinking of your day, making a grocery list, or thinking of a story. In either case, wakeful rest for a period of 10 minutes helped the brain process and consolidate your memories so that you were better able to recall the information at a later date. [11]

    Conclusion

    You don’t have to spend a dime on cocktails and supplements promising a quick boost to your memory power. There is very little conclusive scientific evidence suggesting supplements will help improve the memories of healthy individuals–not for Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B, fish oils, Vitamin D, Folate or other supplements claiming they a secret formula.

    There are far cheaper and more effective ways to boost your memory: exercise, rest, eat well, learn, love, laugh and relax. Who wouldn’t want that prescription?

    More Resources About Boost Brain Power

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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