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The 12 Psychological Tricks You Can Use to Improve Your Productivity

The 12 Psychological Tricks You Can Use to Improve Your Productivity

Do you want to increase your productivity in such a way that you get more done in less time and get more done with less work?

So often, when we think about productivity, we think about time management tricks, ways to work faster, and how to get motivated. It’s all about more, more, and more. Which works in the short run. Those temporal things help us work faster and get more done in the short run.

But in the long run, we can burn out. We do too much, too fast, and our bodies can’t keep up. Or our minds get overworked and that can take 6 months to 2 years or more to reverse.

So what if we were to use another route to get the same – or better – productivity, rather than using these tricks and faster, faster, faster techniques?

I believe the answer lies in our underlying core motivation, our internal desire and drive, and the real-world implementation of the most important things. And one way to achieve these internal states of mind that lead to real productivity without the drawbacks of working faster is to influence our own psychological state.

So today I’ll share with you 12 psychological tricks that can help you influence your own psychological state in such a way that you reframe your mindset to create a mental environment that safely results in increased productivity.

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1. Recognize that most of what you do doesn’t matter.

If you take a look at what you have done in the last 40 hours of work, you’ll likely see that about 30 of those hours were spent on things that were either unplanned, unnecessary, or even downright unproductive. And it’s not just the last 40 hours of your work-life, it’s a week-in week-out problem.

If you don’t believe that that is the case with you personally, take the time to do a 15-minute interval diary for the next 40 hours of work. Write down what you work on for each 15 minute period. Tally up all the periods at the end of the 40 hours. You will likely be amazed at the unproductive tasks in which you are engaging, even if you believe you are 80%+ productive right now.

You will likely see that becoming more productive might not be so much a matter of adding something to your day, but instead first eliminating everything that doesn’t belong in your day. Once that happens, and you have pared a 40 hour week down to 10 hours, then it makes it easy to add a little more in. For example, adding 10 hours of truly productive work to your schedule after paring your 40 hour week down to 10 hours, means you get two times as much done in half the time, with half the stress, and with a reduced risk of burnout and other negative effects of trying to do more and more and more.

2. Do what you know you need to do as soon as possible

We tend to spend much of our mental energy putting things off. But if instead you were to prioritize things that need to be done, and do them as quickly as possible, you may be amazed at what happens to your productivity. You see, when you are using negative energy on worrying about doing something you don’t want to do, that energy can’t be used on being creative or productive.

Now there is one caveat to this: these “need to do” things should be done AFTER your MIT – your most important task of the day. You see, your most important task, when done first, tends to definitely get done each day. The first thing you do tends to get done!

So your productivity schedule for the day is this:

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1) Most important task (MIT)

2) Most needed to be done task

3) Everything else, bounded by a limited time frame (for example, 2 hours per day on these “everything else” tasks)

3. Postpone your rewards

Give yourself a reward for doing something great, and give it immediately after the something great occurs. This programs your brain to believe that you will reward it for tasks well done, on time, and on priority. When you do this consistently, you’ll likely find that you are more motivated to do your MIT each day, and to do the most needed tasks. You may even find it’s easier to just not do the less important tasks – and they may just disappear!

4. Make sure that you have a clear conscience

If your mind is dragging with negative thoughts, worry about what you need to do, or even shame or guilt over things you are doing wrong, you simply can’t be as productive. So get rid of those negative thoughts, fix the things that lead to a negative conscience, and get your mind clear!

5. Congratulate yourself for what you accomplish.

Your mind will subconsciously work harder when it believes that it will be appreciated. But the only way to train your mind to believe it will be appreciated is to appreciate it. Do this once a day for 30 days and you may be amazed at how much clearer your thinking is, and if your thinking is clearer, your productivity should increase!

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6. Focus on what you can do

This is a huge key to productivity. Simply focus on what you are good at, and do the things you are good at. Prioritize them. You may find that the things you aren’t good at simply resolve themselves, or you may find that when you have done everything that you are good at, there is only a small part of the project left, and the motivation of being “nearly finished” will drive you to finish faster. When you focus instead on what you are not good at, if may be a small part of the project, but the act of focusing on it makes you feel like it’s a huge part of the task, and demotivates you to get the task done.

When you get the bulk of the task done before focusing on your weaknesses, it simply becomes easier and faster to complete it.

7. Concentrate on how to help those who will use your product or service

When you focus on how you are able to help others through what you are doing, it gives your mind a much-needed reason for finishing quickly. Our minds don’t like to work on things that have no purpose, and if what you are doing is helping someone else, then it gives your project purpose, which leads your mind to get the job done.

(Note how so much of what I am discussing is this idea of giving your mind the ideal environment to be productive, instead of focusing on productivity. When you give your mind the ideal environment to be productive, it will do it for you, instead of you having to focus so much on productivity itself to be productive.)

8. Strive for balance

This goes back to the idea of doing too much of the wrong things, and this limits your productivity. When you, instead, strive for balance in your day, doing more of the right things, and getting rid of the 30 hours a week of non-productive work, you become more productive with less effort.

9. Stay connected with people

Sometimes when you work totally alone, your productivity goes down, your creativity goes down, and your effectiveness goes down. As humans, we are social, and if we take that away, you may find you can’t focus as well. So you may need to increase your social time during work, and find that the rest of your time is more productive.

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The flip side of this is that if you are spending too much time with other people, your productivity may go down. So use good judgement. Look around and see what needs to change.

10. Change your environment

When you change your environment, you release your mind to be more creative, which often leads to increased productivity. Here’s why: when you change your environment, you release your brain to be more curious (looking around at things that are not the same as before) and when you release your mind to be creative about your surroundings, you release your mind to be more creative about what you are working on. And when you are more creative about what you are working on, you tend to get better results with less work – hence increased productivity!

11. Avoid perfection

Ever been 90% done with a project that has taken 10 hours already, and then it takes 20 more hours to do the last 10%? Is that last 10 % really worth it? Or could you sand the edges of the project, do some last minute dusting, and have a finished project in just one more hour instead of 20 more hours?

You have to use judgement. If you are a heart surgeon or you rebuild engines, you probably have to go 100%. But if you are writing an article, writing a book, teaching a class, or doing many, many other things, you may be 99% at 90% completed. So just do the last 1%, make 91% your very best, and leave perfection alone and you may find your productivity soars!

12. Keep track of your time

When you keep track of your time, you become intimately aware of the time you are losing through doing unnecessary things. One of the most effective ways to get more productive is to simply track your time. Know what you are doing each 15 minutes, and over time, that awareness will yield additional results.

Tie all this together

What is the #1 tip on this list that resonates with you? What could get you the most increase in results, the fastest? Do that tip first. Next week do the next one down in line. Incorporate 6 of these tips over the next 6 weeks, and you may see your productivity – meaning what you get done each day – double, without any increase in effort, and possibly even a reduction in effort!

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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