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The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

In my prior article, I advocated the end of “snake-oil” time management, where authors and trainers imply that implementation of entire new systems of behavior is easy or instantaneous. Instead, I said that learners need to break changes down into small steps, and then to arrange these steps into a conservative schedule of planned changes. In this article, I’ll show that you’ll need some support to implement your plan.

There is a delicate balance to be struck when you make a month-by-month plan for permanent behavior changes. It must be slow enough for you to build some momentum—moving from one success to another. Most people try to implement too many changes at once and then fail in only a few days, reverting to their original habit patterns especially after a moment of crisis.

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At the same time, it must be fast enough to keep your attention. You can’t make it so simple that it falls off your radar.

And no, you can’t simply copy someone else’s plan. The plan that you make to overhaul or upgrade your time management system is yours alone, built upon your unique personality and the profile of skills you have perfected over time. Knowing your starting point is an important beginning and an intelligent, customized plan to take you from your current habits to the ones that you want to manifest in the future is the next logical step. If you know how to construct such a plan, you can use this skill for any behavior change you wish to implement, even when the author/trainer stops short and implies that implementation is up to you… and that it should be easy.

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However, having a decent plan that has a nice balance between speed and challenge is just the first step. It’s not enough. Most of the changes that we wish to make aren’t one-shot actions, as the behavior change experts at Stanford have found in their work. They have distinguished between individual behavior changes that require a single action (such as changing your toothbrush) and others that require habit changes (such as flossing each day.) The first kind of change requires a single reminder. The second kind of change needs support.

In order to implement these changes you need to craft a habit change support system.

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The idea is simple. According to the authors of Change Anything, we can’t be trusted to implement habit changes using willpower alone. It’s a non-renewable resource that peaks at certain points (during training, for example) and dips at others (during times of stress.) Just deciding to change a habit isn’t enough—the authors are clear that we over-estimate our will-power, leaving us floundering when the inevitable dip occurs.

If will-power can’t be trusted, then what can we use? They also make it clear that we each need a specific support plan to suit our needs. Not only should our plan be unique, but it needs to have multiple facets that reinforce each other. For example, hiring a coach to call you at dawn is a great way to get to the gym on a regular basis. It’s also a good idea to set an alarm clock, and lay out your clothes the night before. The combined effect of these supports can help you overcome the 5 am fog that threatens to make you turn over and go back to sleep.

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There are a long list of change-supports we can use—the best ones don’t rely on our memory or our willpower, but operate on their own. Some use technology, others use people, but they all need a certain reliability and integrity that makes the action that’s being prompted hard to escape.

Putting together an effective support system for habit change requires some knowledge about yourself, and this is where we often fall short. In a way, we are trying to trick ourselves; to work around our weaknesses using external mechanisms that don’t rely on our memory or will-power. How we trick ourselves into doing what we need to do when our will-power is low: that’s an art and a science that can’t be copied from anywhere else. It’s information about yourself that only you can gather.

The scientific name for this particular activity is meta-cognition – learning how to improve your own learning. But theory isn’t needed. You just need how to work with, and around yourself to implement new habits. When you can, then implementing the habits required by a new time management target becomes a lot easier.

More by this author

Francis Wade

Author, Management Consultant

How To Manage A Post-College Productivity Dip Why You Need to Understand and Accept Your Productive Type A Tendencies The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It The New LifeHacking #6 – Staying Away from Harmful Gadgets The New Lifehacking #5 – Tricking Yourself into Making the Changes You Need

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Last Updated on July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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