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What Does Your Task List Say About You

What Does Your Task List Say About You

Hello there! I am your task list. I am one of the biggest contributors to your overall productivity, and I have something to tell you. Now hear my voice!

1. But I don’t have a task list!

Do you actually like being reactive and constantly in fire-fighter mode? Not having a task list probably causes you to have problems seeing the big picture and setting priorities in your life. When was the last time when you felt truly proud of your accomplishments?

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2. But I have problems accessing it!

Think about any moment of the day. Home. Work. Shopping. How long does it take you to access your task list? Does it take five seconds, or maybe a minute or two? “I need to go upstairs, open my laptop, log in, open a browser, log into this great portal and then I have it”. Face it, you are rarely using it, and you don’t really believe it is helping you. It helps you to avoid forgetting things, but it has never actually made you productive.

3. But there isn’t any fun!

Scan through your list of tasks. Be honest: are you experiencing any positive emotions? Do you feel any excitement about any of these? If not, let’s face it–you are just living a boring life. Your face is probably sad for most of the day, and you probably read a lot about this “procrastination” stuff. Think of ways you could add some fun to your tasks, and you will immediately notice the difference!

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4. But I do not know what to do!

Look at every task on your list. If you were supposed to complete any of these tasks right now, would you know exactly what to do? If not, it means you are too quick. You can catch a glimpse of an idea, but you never get down to structure, and thus, the tasks lack clarity and precision. They are just floating on the surface. If you just slowed down a little bit and worked on details, your tasks would call for an action. Otherwise, your list just becomes a home for old tasks.

5. But there are so many old tasks!

Now think about the moment when you added each of the tasks to the list. What is the average age of each task? If it is weeks or months rather than days, you are probably a great planner, but you’re not being realistic. Your favorite word may be “tomorrow” or “later”. The thing you desperately need is to be clear and precise, to add more fun or to simply SIT DOWN AND DO IT RIGHT NOW!

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6. But I don’t know what is most important!

Open your task list and explain to others what the difference between “urgent” and “important” is? If you can’t, you probably have never sat down and established priorities in your life and in your work. When picking the next task to execute, you simply take the most urgent first. The truth is, without priorities you can be good, but you will never be great.

7. But I don’t have any “Done” category!

When you finish your task, it immediately disappears from the list. You probably like to run fast, but you do not stop or slow down to do any kind of retrospection on the last week, month or year. Are you sometimes doing the same mistakes over and over again? What if you spent just five minutes going over the list of tasks you accomplished last week and delete them just after? This is a great way to be proud of yourself and actually learn something.

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8. But I do not track delegated tasks!

Do you simply delete tasks that were delegated to others? Then you are probably a “not my problem” type of person and people rarely trust your accountability. Or maybe you keep track of the tasks forever and ask about updates every day. Now you know why people are so annoyed with you. Ideally, you should keep track of the delegated tasks and react only when necessary.

Now spend one more minute looking at your task list, is there anything more that it is trying to tell you?

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Piotr Nabielec

Author, CEO, Consultant

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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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