Chris Bailey, a graduate of Carleton University, experimented on himself throughout the whole year to study the limits of productivity. He worked 90 hours a week, meditated, used the smartphone for no more than an hour a day for three months, woke up at 05:30 and lived in full isolation for 10 days. The result of the research was published in the blog and the book “My Productive Year: How I checked the most famous methods of personal effectiveness on my own“.
When you procrastinate, a fascinating internal battle rages in your brain. First you are trying to come up with a reason why it’s okay to watch one more episode of the “House of Cards”. Then you remember how last year you needed to file the tax return and almost missed the deadline because of the new season release. You might be also tempted to check Facebook and postpone completing the return. These thoughts are the tug of war between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex of the brain.
“The Procrastinator’s Digest” – merry science of the brain
The limbic system is the emotional, instinctive part of the brain. Our pleasure center is located in the limbic system. From an evolutionary point of view, the limbic system is older than other parts of both animal and human brain. Limbic system pushes us to instinctive actions, inclines us to succumb to emotions and temptations. This is the part of our brain that forces us to postpone filling out the tax return on time and watch several episodes of the “House of Cards” instead.
The prefrontal cortex is the logical part of our brain – it is the part that wants to make us start filling the tax return. Among other things, it is responsible for logic, reason and helps us keep long-term goals in view. If you carry out useful tasks, it happens because your prefrontal cortex won the brain battle. If you postponed doing something necessary, yet totally boring, the limbic system prevailed.
The tug of war between the emotional limbic system and the logical prefrontal cortex precedes every decision that we make during the day. It is what makes us human. If the prefrontal cortex triumphed every time, all our decisions would be perfectly logical but we wouldn’t be very different from the Vulcans from “Star Trek”. Our decisions would be based on pure logic and reason, without taking our own or others’ emotions into account. On the other hand, if the limbic system was constantly winning, we would not be any different from animals that are guided by instincts in everything.
Restoring control over your brain
Productivity programs have such a powerful impact because they allow you to combine subconscious urges with conscious intention to achieve more. Productivity is mainly associated with the formation of a strong prefrontal cortex. It can suppress the impulsive desire to check your email once again, directing attention to high-impact tasks instead.The interaction of the prefrontal cortex and limbic system allows us to do things that are both necessary and fun, interesting and meaningful for us and achieve long-term results and follow your vocation.
The most productive people manage not only to refuse to work on autopilot, but also learn how to use prefrontal cortex primarily and minimize the influence of the limbic system. When you read these words, your prefrontal cortex is in an active state, extracting the meaning behind the words and establishing links with the previously read. Activating the prefrontal cortex is exactly what you need to get the upper hand over the limbic system and concentrate your attention on the activities that are accompanied by the maximum impact.
Even after you schedule the most important tasks for yourself and form a firm intention to tackle them, there is still a high probability that you will linger and stall before you actually get on with the tasks, even if you have a stronger prefrontal cortex than most of us. Fortunately, there are several strategies that work miracles, allowing you to change the situation to your advantage. If you spend some time planning, you can do even the most boring things like filling out a tax return as captivating as watching a new season of “House of Cards”.
Easier said than done: How to tip the scales?
As soon as you notice that your brain started an internal discussion about whether to proceed now to actual work or, worst of all, “I will do it when I have more time” is a signal that the task before you is classified as emotionally unpleasant and it is necessary to do something in order to significantly enhance its attractiveness. Since filling out a tax return is such an unpleasant business, a whole industry emerged (only in US it employs 320,000 people). And this is not surprising: if you fill out tax returns was as fun as hugging puppies, this industry simply would not exist. PDFfiller Platform repeated users statistics, among other things states, that helping the taxpayer with tips and step-by-step manuals makes filling out tax declarations less boring and annoying. That consequently makes almost a third of taxpayers who used to stall with filing tax declarations, switch the internal schedule and deliver them on time.
New point of view on boring tasks
Understanding which triggers cause delays, and drawing up an appropriate plan, you can increase the attractiveness of any task. For example, if I see that I postpone filling out a tax return, I sit down and decide that I will remove the effect of negative triggers in the following ways:
- The task is boring and monotonous: I need advanced tools that will reduce my workload and help me finish the task faster.
- If the task is boring: I’ll go to my favorite cafe on Saturday and fill out the tax return with a cup of some exotic coffee.
- The task is extremely routine, with sense of fruitlessness: I set a timer on a smartphone and work on taxes for exactly 30 minutes. Over 30 minutes I work only if the case the job is on the eve of completion and I feel that I am able to continue.
- When performing the task it is impossible to feel satisfaction from the process itself, there is no intermediate incentive: for every 15 minutes that I spend working on taxes, I authorize myself to spend two and a half dollars on some caprice or reward myself with some other significant way for performing a certain stage.
I agree that filling out a tax return will most likely never be as exciting as watching Netflix. But all the tools and tricks move us closer to the goal, don’t they? The disabling of procrastination triggers allows one to kill two birds with one stone: to reduce the aversion to an unpleasant task and simultaneously prepare the prefrontal cortex to fight the limbic system. If your prefrontal cortex still needs an additional push, here are three more ways to regain control of the situation and start the most unpleasant cases.
Three important tasks
Every morning we have a whole list of tasks before us. First, we do the tasks that are easiest to do. And this is wrong because it is better to leave light tasks until the end of the working day when we get tired and cannot give our all to the task. Every morning, give yourself five minutes to identify the three most important tasks. Focus only on the most important tasks.
The TDUG formula, which helps divide all cases into four groups:
- Trash it Ruthlessly delete the cases, which will not bring any special results. Say “No!” to such tasks. And be firm in your decision.
- Delegate it These are the things that need to be delegated to other people. Without regret, give them to someone else.
- Until better times This is a list of those tasks that do not require urgent execution. They can be postponed with a quiet conscience. Define in advance the time when you proceed to them.
- Get to it!!! These are the important projects that need to be done right now. So get down to it! Don’t look for excuses.
Set the timer
Another good thing to help me focus is setting the timer. Many writers set timers to work faster and more efficiently. I’ll also tell you about my favorite application called “Forest”. It is arranged on the principle of a timer and at the same time, it controls that you do not get distracted by pop-up messages. The chip of the application is this: while the timer is counting down, a tree on the screen starts to grow. If you turn off the application to respond to a message, the tree dies. Strangely enough, but it works very well!
In order to be maximally focused, you need to forget about multitasking once and for all. If our brain is compared to a computer, then the things we are trying to do at the same time are simultaneously running programs. What happens to the computer when many programs are running on it? That’s right: it works slower. It is much more productive to turn off all background tasks and perform a list of cases consistently. No one has ever been more precise and focused on doing a few tasks.
Just get down to business!
If you have serious and extremely unpleasant things like putting things in order in the basement of your house, just get down to it. Try setting the timer for 15 minutes, then allow yourself to stop and do something else. If after 15 minutes of work you feel that you can continue – continue. Do not worry if you do not want to continue working. Every time by just started doing something, even if only for a few minutes, it turns out that the task was not as unpleasant as we’ve imagined. Often, it takes more time and energy to feel fear of doing something, than doing the thing.
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