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How To Be More Productive

So let’s ask a different question: what’s stopping you from being productive? By fixing those things, we’re well on our way to accomplishment.


Whenever you’re not getting stuff done (or not getting the right stuff done), ask which of these 5 is the problem and apply the solution…


Problem 1: Priorities


Sometimes you do get a lot done… but they’re not the right things.


Whenever you hear or say, “I don’t have time” — it’s a lie. Often a well-intentioned one, but whatever. We all have 24 hours in a day. Period. The accurate statement is, “It’s not a priority.”


You need to be realistic. Often, that means being a little bit cynical. Do you usually get to the bottom of your to-do list? (Optimism Setting: OFF) No, you don’t. So everything is not going to get done. Accept that. Okay, so what has to get done?


Ask yourself, “What’s important?” The 80/20 rule says that you often get 80% of your results from 20% of the things you do. So doing more of the 20% is the best way to move the needle in terms of accomplishing things.


And this is where procrastination can help. Paul Graham says there’s a good type of procrastinator: the people who put off unimportant things in order to get important things done:


There are three variants of procrastination, depending on what you do instead of working on something: you could work on (a) nothing, (b) something less important, or (c) something more important. That last type, I’d argue, is good procrastination. That’s the “absent-minded professor,” who forgets to shave, or eat, or even perhaps look where he’s going while he’s thinking about some interesting question. His mind is absent from the everyday world because it’s hard at work in another. That’s the sense in which the most impressive people I know are all procrastinators. They’re type-C procrastinators: they put off working on small stuff to work on big stuff.


But maybe you do have your priorities straight. Heck, maybe you’re a productivity Superman — but interruptions are your kryptonite…


Problem 2: Context
Research shows open-plan offices are a productivity disaster. Why? Distractions.


What does research show the most productive computer programmers have in common? Not smarts. They all had employers who created an environment free from distraction.


So what do you do when the interruptions keep coming?


Find a place to hide. Book a conference room for an hour and get the real work done where no one can interrupt you.


But eliminating distractions isn’t everything. Not doing bad things doesn’t mean you will do the right things. So how do you avoid wasting your time with unproductive habits?


Problem 3: Habits
“Well, I was going to start on that big project but whenever I sit down at my desk, the first thing I do is check my email. And in my inbox there were 1000 screaming requests I had to handle so…”


All too often you have a plan but something triggers a habit which casts a mind control spell over you and makes you do something else. And that triggers another habit, which leads to another habit and…


What’s the problem here? Your brain. When I spoke to UCLA neuroscientist Alex Korb, he said the way our grey matter is wired can be a problem.


When it comes to the choices you make and the things you do, Alex says there are 3 regions of the brain you need to be concerned with. You don’t need to memorize the names. It’s just important to realize they all get a vote:


•The Prefrontal Cortex: The only one thinking about long-term goals like, “We need to prepare that report for work.”

•The Dorsal Striatum: This guy is always voting to do what you’ve done in the past, like, “When it’s time to work we usually start by checking email 9 times, then Facebook, and then Instagram.”

•The Nucleus Accumbens: The party animal of the three. “Email, Facebook and Instagram are fun. Work sucks.”
So guess what you end up doing? Yeah… Ouch.



But when you exert effort, the prefrontal cortex can override the other two and do the right thing. Repeat this enough times and you rewire the dorsal striatum: “We usually start reports quickly. I vote we do that again.”



So how do we start the rewiring?

First, identify the bad habit. Next, make it a pain in the ass to do.



You don’t want it to be easy to flow from one bad habit to another. That’s how hours get eaten up checking email, then Facebook, then… If your habits aren’t good, you want to strictly follow a plan.


When a CEO works more hours, the company’s sales increase. But when you dig deeper in the research you find that the sales only increase as a result of more hours spent on planned activities.


Still not as productive as you’d like? Okay, ask yourself, “What happens if I don’t get this done?” If the answer is “Nothing”, well, Houston, we have all kinds of problems…


Problem 4: Stakes
This is why long term goals can be so challenging. There’s no pressing reason to work on them today instead of tomorrow. What are the two magic words when it comes to weight loss?


“Wedding photos.” Many people suddenly become experts at sticking to a diet and hitting the gym when the ceremony is looming. Why? Stakes.


When I spoke to Tim Ferriss about how to learn skills quickly, he said you need an incentive to keep practicing. Or, even better: a penalty if you don’t practice. Here’s Tim:


Stakes is arguably the most important piece. By stakes, I mean consequences. Some type of reward or punishment to keep you on track and accountable. To prevent yourself from quitting, you need incentives.


So how do you increase the stakes? Here’s where things get interesting…


For dull or simple tasks, offering yourself a reward (or having someone else offer you a reward) is pretty effective.


But when it comes to complex or creative tasks, they’re not optimal.


When we see the results of our work and know it makes a difference, when we feel we’re helping others or making progress — BOOM. That’s when we get motivated and get productive.


All of this has been pretty straightforward and logical. But we humans aren’t always so straightforward and logical. So what else might be getting in the way of supreme accomplishment and causing you to procrastinate?


Problem 5: Mood
Yup, your mood matters a lot. Research shows a lot of procrastination is caused by not feeling so great. When you’re in a good mood or when you don’t think you can improve how you feel, you screw around a lot less.


So what to do? Do something quick to make yourself happy. Yes, it’s that simple.


From The Happiness Advantage:

Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.


So this is the part when people’s minds go blank and they can’t think of anything that makes them happy. Really, it’s absurdly simple:


Take a moment to look at puppy pictures on the internet. (If this doesn’t make you happier, you probably have much bigger problems.)


Crazy as it sounds, looking at puppies has been shown to increase performance, as well as reduce stress — which Alex the neuroscientist said can help your prefrontal cortex take control and get you back on track.


Remember: every time you hit a share button an angel gets its wings.

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