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The Productivity Family Tree

The Productivity Family Tree

Famous families are all around us, from the Clinton dynasty to Mylie and Billy Ray Cyrus. They evoke in us so many things because we can relate, on some small level, to them. Not that many of our daughters are famous pop singers or that many of our parents are presidents. Sometimes we hate the very mention of family and at other times the thought warms our heart.

The Criteria
With family in mind, I decided to have some fun and sort through the top productivity bloggers on the Internet. To “make the grade”, each had to fulfill certain criterion:

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* Must have a full-fledged productivity website
* Must blog about productivity on a regular basis
* Must do work that relates that directly relates to or enhances productivity
* Must be known as an expert in her/his field

Right off the bat, this knocked several major contenders out of the park. David Allen is a genuine player, but is “too big” for our consideration. In addition, he blogs for Huffington Post (no small gig) but not for his own site. I wanted to create a family tree of folks who are on the front lines and may or may not have totally made big on their career goals. With this said, let me be clear in saying that there are plenty of folks who could arguably be on this list but for subjective reasons didn’t make the grade. As an example, I read 43 Folders regularly but find that there are occasionally posts that are too casual for my taste.

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The Tree

The Responsible Mom: Laura Stack, The Productivity Pro
Laura has written three fantastic books on productivity, travels the world as a productivity expert and has made a name for herself as a specialist in productivity. Her blog posts have a nice lean towards her published work and her newsletter is of top quality.

The Brainiac Dad: Matthew Cornell, Matthew Cornell
Matthew is a work-flow consultant and has made “the leap” from corporate life to self employment. His blog posts tend to be highly thought-provoking and he writes as a clinician rather than a hobbyist. Matthew also puts in the time to post on many other blogs, gaining a reputation as a genuine practitioner of productivity.

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The Go-Getter Daughter: Susan Sabo, Productivity Cafe
Susan has been featured on HGTV and is the Founder and President of Organizers Inc. Her e-book, Managing Email and Paper Mail is an excellent resource for those looking to streamline and get leaner when it comes to your productivity system.

The Up-and-Coming Son: Mark Shead, Productivity 501
Mark is the mastermind behind Productivity 501 and is excellent at meme-generation and community building within the productivity network. Productivity 501 is arguably the most stylish productivity website on the Internet and features a handy ‘store’ feature of Mark’s favorite products for getting more done in less time.

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The Fun Uncle: Leo Babauta, Zen Habits
Leo is perhaps the best example of what careful planning and creative writing can do — his Zen Habits blog climbed the Technorati top 100 list and currently sits at #43. With nearly 50,000 subscribers and his first book ready to hit bookstores, Zen Habits is a genuine source for practical advice on keeping lean and staying productive. He’s an avid runner, prolific writer and all around nice guy.

The Rich Uncle: Mark Sanborn, Sanborn & Associates
When Mark’s book The Fred Factor, hit the bookstores in 2005 it propelled Mark beyond other public speakers and married productivity with customer service. Mark is values-based and sets high standards for organizations and their interaction with customers.

There were two neighbors who live down the street from our productivity family. These are not full-time productivity ‘experts’ but nonetheless get some serious nods due to their budding prowess as effectiveness bloggers. These include Lisa Hendey of Productivity at Home and Stephen Smith of Productivity in Context. Both deserve some love and contribute to the productivity community in marvelous ways. I can picture Lisa hosting a neighborhood bar-b-cue and Stephen helping you move that heavy couch from one room to the next.

Whether you’re in the Productivity Family Tree or aspiring to make a name for yourself in the productivity world, all of us can learn a great deal from these fine professionals. From Laura Stack to Mark Sanborn, getting things done takes on new meaning for everyday life.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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