Advertising
Advertising

Unplug For Greater Productivity

Unplug For Greater Productivity

Power Plug

    We’ve all experienced those days when we sat down at our desk with a long list of things to do, and yet somehow hours later we realize that we haven’t done much, aside from checking our emails 5 times, spending hours at Lifehack.org, and instant messaging everyone we know.  For those days, when you can’t seem to beat the buzz, the greatest possible way you can ensure productivity is to disconnect from the electronics.

    Advertising

    Now I’m not against the use of electronics to aid in productivity, far from.  In fact, I probably couldn’t live without my Blackberry.  But sometimes a disconnect from electronics all together will allow for a clearer mind, a mind which can become a productivity machine.

    Remember paper and pens?  Well they’re making a comeback.  It turns out that when we disconnect we don’t have to fight our own minds trying to distract us.  There is no email on your Moleskine, no instant messenger on your legal pad.  No, here all we have is a blank paper waiting for you to create.  And there is something liberating about filling a page in a notebook with your own work.

    Advertising

    Here’s a strategy that I use when my electronics fail me.  First I have a notepad on my desk labeled “Distractions.”  I write down every thought that is distracting me from my task at hand, and during my scheduled breaks I can knock out the distractions, or make notes of my next action on each.  This allows me to safe keep the ideas that come during productive moments, but allows the moment to stay productive.

    Next I use an old fashion to-do list.  Generally my Blackberry serves this purpose well, but unplugging is unplugging, so I use my Moleskine for this task.  For my to-do list I take into account my energy levels, the amount of time each task will take, the lengths and times of each scheduled break, and anything else that needs to be addressed during my “analog” time.  This ensures that nothing will take me away from peak productivity.

    Advertising

    Finally, there are a few things that you just can’t get around, as far as a digital disconnect goes.  For these tasks I use as rudimentary tools as possible.  Obviously you don’t want to hand write a large amount of text, especially if it needs to be in digital format.  So why not pick up an inexpensive netbook, disconnected from the internet, for these tasks.  Or at the very least, use a minimalistic text editor like JDarkRoom to minimize your distractions.  By keeping things as simple as possible, we allow for less distractions and more productivity.

    Even if you can’t unplug completely, there are easy ways to decrease the noise and get things done:

    Advertising

    • Schedule the times you check your email, and limit this to 2 to 3 times per workday.
    • Take a media fast; you already know the economy isn’t doing well, how many articles do you really need to read about it?
    • turn off the music; it might be soothing, but music with lyrics tend to take our attention away from our work, and even the little distractions can kill productivity.
    • exercise the 2 call rule;  if someone calls twice consecutively, it’s probably more important than a regular call.
    • Let all other calls go to voicemail;  if you are in a position where you can call people back at scheduled times, let them know this in your voicemail greeting and stick to that schedule.
    • turn off all notifications;  alarms, instant messages, email notifications, and any other notifications that will pop up and distract you from your work.
    • Schedule unplug times;  You may require the use of a computer for your job, but you could probably get away with unplugging the ethernet for a scheduled period of time (if all else fails, act like you don’t know how it got unplugged).

    Like I said, when used properly the digital world is one of the greatest tools man has available.  But this great tool can also lead to distractions that keep us from our work.  Unplug when the need arises and create those precious moments of peak productivity.  When you  find those extra hours eachday, you’ll be thankful.

    More by this author

    15 Signs You’re In The Right Relationship Managing Your Social Network Addiction 13 Surprising Ways to Make Happiness a Habit How To Have The Relationship You’ve Always Wanted 5 Things You Should Know About Personal Finance

    Trending in Productivity

    1 The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) 2 What to Do When Bored at Work (And Why You Feel Bored Actually) 3 6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills 4 How to Concentrate and Focus Better to Boost Productivity 5 15 Productive Things to Do When Bored (So Time Is Not Wasted)

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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]

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next