“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tzu
When it comes to achieving our big goals, whether it’s at work, in bettering health, in managing finances, or even pursuing an unlikely dream, we sometimes find them elusive for one reason or another. These challenging goals test our resolve and stretch our comfort zone. When you prepare for a presentation rather binge on a weekend, save money rather than spend it, or eat broccoli rather than candy, what you are really doing is ensuring that future you will be better off. But to make this happen or achieving your other big goals is easier said than done. It requires right motivation, self-control, and a great deal of effort or will power to achieve them. Like, to accomplish a goal of losing weight, following a low-fat diet and regular exercise is the best way, but how do we ‘just do’ what we know is best? to eat healthy and to stick with an exercise program, you need to have strong self-control. And especially, when it comes to avoiding temptations, you require focused effort to get consistent results.
We all have this perfect vision of ourselves at some point off into the future once we attain our goals. But getting from where we are today to our desired destination requires consistent self-control, focused effort and strong will. We search for shortcuts, techniques, methods, and easy ways to motivate ourselves to get there. But on the way, we become impatient, impulsive, and give into the desire for immediate gratification, be it impulsive spending, or distracting our attention to games or social media rather than learning or hoaning skills we need, or giving into momentary eating at a cost to our well-being. This results in impatience and we get biased towards pleasure in the moment. The result is that most of us fail to stick with our daily goals by giving into desires for short-term pleasure.
Most of the times, we don’t feel the effects of our decisions immediately. What you choose to eat and how you choose to invest or spend your free time. These decisions often have different gains or losses in long-run. Eating that extra piece of cake might feel great in the moment but will result in weight gain later. Even though our minds come equipped with necessary tools to succeed, we foresake them and face problems when it comes ṭo delaying gratification, developing strong self-control, and cultivating perseverance. So how would you choose between working on your goals or giving into your immediate gratifications? The ability ṭo control your impulses matter in life. Whether it is studying, practicing, saving, exercising, or persevering in your goals, a willingness to sacrifice in the moment to gain greater rewards in the future can make all the difference.
Why you cannot rely only on your will power?
Most of the times, the value derived from achieving your desirable goal is mostly far off into the future that working on this goal just doesn’t bring you as much pleasure as spending time on other things that give you instant gratification. All the things that bring you instant pleasure makes you struggle to resist leaving you feeling conflicted between the big goal you want to achieve and these small pleasures you so desperately want to indulge in. The choice lies with you to choose either to move down the path of instant gratification or to choose to resist and focus on your goal. Resisting seems to be a rational choice, so you choose to muster up the will power needed to overcome your pleasurable urges in preference of your long-term rewards.
But relying only on your willpower doesn’t take you far as you only have one reserve of it, if you don’t agree, pick up an object and hold it up in the air. Now keep holding it there-forever, ofcourse you can’t do it. And yet, most of us try to do the same with willpower – keep exerting forever. Focusing on your work drains your will power, as does resisting the urge to eat junk food, as does making yourself get out of bed in the morning when you want to sleep. Each time you tap into your will power reserves for difficult tasks, or to maintain healthy habits, you end up depleting your will power reserves. And the more difficult the goal, the faster the rate it gets depleted.
Also using will power will help you only in the short-term as it fails to deal with the source of the problem. Most of the times, we also use techniques such as reason, distraction to keep ourselves from reaching back to what is tempting us to overcome cravings for immediate pleasure. Such habits can help you delay gratification without stress but in limited ways. And when your desires and values are in conflict, you will eventually get caught up on these temptations. So, instead of using willpower as the only source of fuel, it would be better off learning the art of self-control and applying it to goal achievement in a focused way. In an age of instant gratification, self-control seems to be an unusual and undervalued quality, but it is an important one to strive for to achieve your long-term goals.
So, what exactly is self-control?
Self-control is the ability to subdue or resist your impulsive urges, emotions, and behaviours for immediate gratification in order to achieve your long-term goals. Self-control is different from grit where grit is the ability to pursue long-term goals over years, self-control is the ability to resist temptation in the moment. It is the ability to say ‘no’ to yourself in tempting and challenging circumstances and also is the ability to know the difference between a need and a want. Self-control comes from a rational understanding of the consequences of your behavior so that you can sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term gain.
Why you need to have greater self-control?
The famous marshmallow experiment conducted back in 60’s reveals a clear correlation between self-control and the quality of our life. During experiment, kids were offered a choice between one marshmallow immediately or two marshmallows if they waited alone in the room for up to 20 minutes, during which the researcher left the room and returned. Some kids couldn’t resist the temptation and had the single marshmallow, other kids, however, waited for the researcher to come back into the room and received the second marshmallow as a reward to their patience. In the follow up studies, they found that the kids who were able to wait longer for the bigger rewards fared better in their lives. Those who couldn’t resist had shown more behavioral problems and tended to struggle with stressful situations.
Therefore, by practicing self-control, you can overcome unwanted impulses, thoughts, fears, obsessive, addictive or unsuitable behaviors. You will be better equipped to handle your emotions and can cope with stressful situations far more effectively. It improves your focus and brings a sense of balance into your life. By strengthening your self-control, you can improve your self-esteem and confidence. Lack of willingness to change and improve, or lack of self-discipline and lack of faith in yourself or in your abilities can weaken your ability to develop self-control. Sticking to your goals and to follow through your plans, you need to have strong control on your emotions to resist short-term desire and temptation.
So, How do you develop greater self-control?
Delayed gratification or self-control is a skill better learned as children, but for those of us who did not receive this form of guidance, it can be still learnt and can be improved with practice and persistence. Here are some ways to enhance your self-control.
1. Gain clarity and set specific goals that you want to control. Set concrete and specific goals like in which areas of your life you would like to enforce more self-control. For example, what goal do you have and what is your intent for accomplishing it? is it regarding health or time management ? would you like to spend less time on your distractions so you can use that time to work or study? or Do you want to follow a healthy diet? You can make an inner commitment by understanding the benefits once you implement those changes and plan ahead on how to go about achieving those changes. Think of how you are going to adapt in case things don’t workout as expected. Gaining clarity keeps you disciplined and focused.
2. Increase the value of your purposeful tasks. Being purposeful in your tasks makes your life more meaningful and significant and you will be driven intrinsically to give it your best. Since such purposeful action has an intrinsic reward tied to it, you see immediate benefit in taking that action. You will be also motivated by the long-term rewards that will result in future if your tasks remain purposeful. All temptations and distractions come with immediate gratification and draw you away from tasks that have no immediate reward attached with it. So, our minds have a tendency of discounting the value of future rewards. So by keeping your tasks more purposeful and meaningful, you can over-ride momentary impulses and can reduce the habit of discounting the value of future.
3. Find the balance. Having self-control is not about total abstinence. It is more to do with finding the right balance. Denying yourself or suppressing what you need is as bad as over-indulging. You can do so by asking yourself these questions. Do you often over-indulge in things you like? As soon as you get something, are you looking for the next? If you want something in large quantities, isn’t it going to affect your health or well-being? How far would you go to get what you want? Do you enjoy it enough to make it worthwhile or simply move on to wanting some more of it or something else? By knowing the difference between your need and want, you can strive for balance.
4. Use your emotions to achieve a challenging goal. Cognitive strategies such as will power, distraction, reasoning and the like do work at times, but they are not optimal. Using these mechanisms to suppress your desires for immediate satisfaction can work, but it gets stressful and requires much effort that can affect your well-being. Instead, using your emotions can be powerful for developing self-control. Emotions such as desire, sadness, or anger push you towards short-term concerns. But if you rely on emotions such as gratitude, compassion, persistence, cooperation or perseverence when temptations arise, you will be able to have a long-term view and these right emotions can nudge your mind to favorable future gains over immediate ones.
5. Gratitude boosts self-control . Feelings of gratitude encourage you to resist and overcome selfish temptations when dealing with others. Gratitude stems from recognising that others have offered us something of value. We feel grateful when we feel others have invested in us, which makes us willing ṭo return the favor in future. Whether you’re paying people back for their investment in you with money, time or effort, gratitude nudges you to sacrifice your own gains in the moment to build better relationships for the long term. Gratitude not only builds self-control but also in helping others you also help yourselves down the line.
6. Practice compassion. Like gratitude, compassion motivates you to care for about others. It starts a virtuous cycle by encouraging people to take that first step to sacrifice time, money or some other resource to benefit another even if other is their own future self. Care and compassion towards others and towards your future self drives your willingness to sacrifice in the moment and produces an effortless self-control. It decreases the value we attach to objects and events that offer immediate gratification and this makes it easier to persevere in ways that pay off in future.
7. Meditate regularly. Reflect on thoughts and beliefs that push you to behave in an uncontrolled manner. Practice forgiving and empathizing with yourself for failures as opposed to criticizing yourself. Set some affirmations to act with self-restraint and self-control. Even taking a little as ten minutes a day to focus on your breathing can improve your ability to resist disruptive impulses. By recognising your self-talk and reflecting on past-failures and writing your internal dialogue makes you less vulnerable to impulsive actions.
“Meditation and mindfulness training are essentially exercises in self-control. From controlling the focal point of one’s attention… to a controlled awareness of whatever is going on internally or externally at that particular moment”
Mastering self-control in various situations in your day to day activities takes consistent practice in small ways. It is important to gradually increase your ability to resist larger temptations over time.
The following questions can help you assess your self-control. What has been your biggest challenge when it comes to having self-control and what can you do to overcome it? Can you recall a time you demonstrated strong self-control? Can you recall a time you gave into your temptations or instant gratifications? How much self-control do you have when it comes to your diet or exercise? Does your spending and buying reflect self-restraint? What habits would you like ṭo change to strengthen your self-control?
Recognise the areas where you are struggling with self-control and, rather than giving into those impulses, use the above strategies to work your way up to resist them and strengthen your resolve. Also it is important to remember that to resist immediate gratification, do not ignore or suppress certain emotions. Find ways to embrace gratitude, perseverence, compassion, forgiving and empathizing with your future self. The more self-control you exercise, the more freedom you experience from the irrational impulses that could take you away from your goals.
We all procrastinate and put off doing important tasks by postponing our work to do tomorrow or later and this tomorrow never comes and before we know it, time goes by without any progress made on the set goals. “Procrastination is the thief of time” and affects your productivity. The habit of putting off important tasks can rob you of your hours of achievement and success. By delaying your important tasks because they take time or difficult to do, you in fact delay your dreams or goals. When you neglect your work, or delay a task given to you, chances are that you will continue to delay it unless you make some changes in your thinking or habits.
Procrastination is a chronic cycle. Slacking, hiding from work, doing unimportant tasks, putting off and then the loop repeats. You cannot find a solution to your procrastinating habit unless you realize that you are procrastinating. The solution lies in being aware of the reasons behind your procrastinating habit.
What happens when you Procrastinate?
We all have tendency to procrastinate because our minds naturally like to be in a relaxed state. Sometimes we have trouble focusing and we put off a difficult task for as long as possible. But when you finally get around to doing the task, you have tough time finding ways to push past your lack of momentum to get the task done.
Some people feel that doing things at the last minute creates urgency, which pushes them to act. They feel that this will help them to be more efficient without realizing that this wastes their precious time that could be otherwise used productively. It creates unneeded anxiety as deciding to put off the task for later only makes you think about it from time to time causing unnecessary worry. The continuous avoidance forms a distorted image of how intimidating the task is in your mind, compare to what it really is creating an exaggerated amount of fear of the task you are supposed to do.
By leaving little time for your important tasks, the final output will be always short of what you are really capable of as you’ve insufficient time to deliver quality results. When you delay or defer your important tasks to the later time, it snowballs into a huge impact on your productivity and well-being. Everything you do in a day, from the little decisions you make to the amount of time you allot to act on your goals, plays a big role in what you achieve. Delaying something by a day or a week may seem inconsequential as you experience short-term relief from not having to deal with immediately, but makes a big difference in the long run.
What is Procrastination?
The word Procrastination comes from the Latin word procrastinatus, which means “to put off till tomorrow, defer, delay.” It is a natural human tendency to avoid important tasks because either they are unpleasant, stressful, or difficult. We tend to replace them with less important tasks that are either easy, less stressful or because you find them interesting. It is a common belief that people with poor time management skills often procrastinate, but this may not be the only reason. Research shows that people who are poor in their emotional or stress management skills often resort to procrastination. This is mainly due to their inability to cope with their moods, or negative emotions like fear or self-doubt which makes them negative, uncertain, or unmotivated towards their tasks.
What causes Procrastination?
Procrastination is a kind of avoidance and at times and it can become a frustrating habit to keep delaying important tasks without knowing how to stop. When working towards overcoming your procrastinating habit, it is important to address on the primary root causes of the behavior rather than the habit itself. By truly understanding what causes you to procrastinate, you can uncover the real reasons behind it. We tend to procrastinate for multiple reasons and they differ from person to person. Here are Some common root causes.
- Lack of discipline or laziness or giving into your habitual urges to do something easier or more comfortable.
- Unwillingness to do hard tasks. Our minds focus on the hard parts of tasks that we are procrastinating on. We tend to label them as difficult, scary, time-consuming, and so on without being fully aware of the tasks.
- Procrastination is most of the times is about fear. Fear of failure, fear of uncertainty, fear of rejection, or fear of doing something in a less perfect manner or fear of being incapable. Once you are aware of your fears, you can see that they are misconceived beliefs and can immediately address them.
- Lack of motivation can fuel your procrastination habit. If your are not motivated, either intrinsically or extrinsically, you lack the desire to act on your task. Having an ideal vision that inspires you from within can motivate you intrinsically and you could create sources of extrinsic motivation to get overcome your procrastination habit.
- Not able to prioritizing your tasks. When there are too many things to be completed, in a conflict of what is more important and which task should be tackled first makes you procrastinate on important tasks. It is hard to know which tasks are important if you are not organised. By prioritizing, you can focus on what you need to and make time for thereby you can avoid getting caught up in less important tasks.
- Fear of missing out on something or need to be up-to-date on everything causes distractions and creates habitual urges to go to something easier and more comfortable spiraling you into procrastination.
- People who experience anxiety or lack of confidence in their ability to complete a task procrastinate in order to avoid failure in short-term. Procrastination is used as a coping strategy when stressed or overwhelmed or when we become anxious.
When you become aware of the root causes to your habit of procratination, you can work towards ocercoming it.
How to overcome Procrastination
Long-term procrastination is often associated with stress, difficulty with completing your daily tasks, reduced mental health, and lower levels of well-being. Putting off your important responsibilities leads to self-defeating behavior and underperformance affecting you personally and professionally. Overcoming your procrastinating habit is necessary for your productivity, emotional-wellbeing and time-management. Here are some strategies to overcome your procrastination.
Know your triggers.
Some of the common triggers for putting things off are confusion, boredom, frustrating, difficulty, unstructured, not intrinsically motivating, lacks meaning or purpose. When these triggers are set off, trying to resist the urges to procratinate may help you deal with them.
When you are getting started on a task and feel an urge to do something else, then try to curb your distraction by thinking differently. Finding an interesting way of doing a boring task can help you start a task you have been procrastinating.
Disabling digital distractions ahead of time gives you no choice but to work on what is important.
Reminding yourself of the purpose and meaning of the task can help you stay motivated. If there is mood issue or health concern that is contributing to procrastination, address the underlying condition to reduce your tendency to procrastinate. By identifying the triggers, you can replace self-defeating thoughts with more productive thoughts to overcome your habit of procrastination.
Structure your to-do lists
The other strategy to deal with procrastination is to structure your to-do lists. We often procrastinate when there are too many things to be completed, and we cannot prioritize. Writing your top “to-do’s” for the day can bring structure to your tasks and can keep you stay on track with your tasks.
Many people try to fill their lists with too many things and go haywire trying to complete all the tasks together and in the bargain, they will end up doing less important ones and end up procrastinating on the important tasks. Keeping your lists manageable, measurbale and meaningful can help you complete your tasks without putting them off for later.
Follow “one-three-five-rule” when putting together your daily list of things to accomplish. This means set nine daily tasks for yourself which should have one big goal to tackle, three medium tasks and five small tasks. This way you can keep your tasks manageble and you can prioritize your tasks to the things that matter most and also keeps you from feeling cluttered with an endless list of things to-do. One of the other ways to structure your lists is by keeping a “won’t-do” list. Write a checklist of things you plan to do and those you won’t do, but plan to do in the future. As you finish your “to-do” tasks, you can move onto “won’t-do” tasks.
To avoid procrastination on routine tasks that still have to be done, use the two-minute rule. Following this rule, you can avoid tons of unimportant things and you can focus on your priorities. If a task takes just 2 minutes of your time, do it right away. Don’t add it to your to-do list and don’t postpone it for later. There are tons of trivial tasks that take less than 2 minutes that you need to do every day. If it takes more than 2 minutes, start it and continue doing it to for at least 2 minutes. This way you will set a momentum for your bigger tasks.
Overcome yes but thinking
When you procrastinate, check to see if your thoughts include yes but thinking. ‘yes’ signals that you accept that task is important, and ‘but’ signals that you intend to put it off for some reason or the other. For instance, thoughts like yes, ‘but now is not the time to work on this’ or ‘but I am under stress’ or ‘but I am not keen’ or “but i am not ready.’
Yes but thinking may give you a short-term relief, but you end up getting caught in this thought trap. When you procrastinate, check to see if your thoughts include yes but thoughts and write down what buts you tell yourself to procrastinate working towards your goals. Maybe you are momentarily anxious about doing that task. Ask yourself “What is the very worst thing that could happen if I did it today?” Vividly picture how free you will feel once the task is completed. Free from anxiety.
When doing things which you are not so keen on doing, combine things you want to do with the things you should do with “temptation building”, that is, finding tasks you dread and pairing them with something you like. Combining two different but complementary activities increases the probability of doing things that you are not keen and thereby helping you to get used to a positive habit.
Most of us procrastinate in wanting to do our tasks perfectly. Perfection needs time and we often delay our tasks in search of that required time to perfect them. Perfecting things can be so intimidating that you dont even want to get started, even if you do you might lack your momentum to carry on with the task later. We often procrastinate to avoid having to deal with difficult tasks and having to make tough decisions.
Instead of always aiming for perfection, you can start working on your difficult tasks by just getting started. You may not come up with a perfect idea immediately, but it is easier to keep going with a task after you have overcome the initial jump of starting it in the first place.
Getting started on something forces you to work and you will find less triggers than you originally anticipated. By just starting on a task that has been put off, you can continue to process it and this makes you more likely to work later on and eventually you will be able to come up with better ways of perfecting the task.
Finally, Embrace your procrastinating nature
Come to accept that no matter how much you want to avoid it, there will always be times when you defer your tasks for later. We are natural procrastinators and no matter how much you want to avoid it, it is just our nature that whenever there is something that need to be done, our instincts are to start later or to put it off until tomorrow. you cannot overcome your habit of procrastination unless you know that you are procrastinating. Become self aware and accept it and find ways to overcome it.
Is there something you are procrastinating on in your life? your goals? work? health? Find small ways to to start on a task that’s been put off. This can reduce your chances of procrastinating on it in future. Develop an ability to organize your daily tasks and approach them in a desciplined way to achieve your time-bound goals. Have a strong desire that can act as a self-motivator to help you overcome procrastination.
Next time, when you find yourself procrastinating, Take five minutes to identify what is triggering you to put off your important task. Take coreective measures to curb your urge to delay the task for later. Action eliminates anxiety. If getting started is difficult, set a designated time slot to do the task. Don’t worry perfecting the task, what counts is effort and not the result. Set meaningful, measurable and manageable goals and follow the above strategies to overcome procrastination in order to achieve them. Do important tasks now before they become urgent.
“The really happy people are those who have broken the chains of procrastination, those who find satisfaction in doing the job at hand. They’re full of eagerness, zest, productivity. You can be, too.”
“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants, the question is, what are we busy about?” —Henry David Thoreau
Time is the greatest opportunity in our life among all. Those who utilise it well are the successful ones. Almost everyone these days have too much to handle and not enough time to get it all done. Most of us do lot of things which make you seem busy in a public manner like answering mails at all hours, or scheduling and attending meetings constantly, or instant messaging when someone poses a new question and so on. For many, there’s a comfort in such artificial ‘busyness’ of fast e-mail messaging and social media posturing, while actual work demands that you leave much of that behind. In such cases, your ‘busyness’ becomes proxy to your efforts in doing productive work. Such unproductive busyness leaves you discontent as there are always certain aspects that could be done better thereby forcing you to confront the possibility that your best is not that good.
Being ‘busy’ is not same thing as being ‘productive’
We find ourselves tackling too many things at the same time, spreading our focus so thin that nothing gets the attention it deserves. While many might be logging in long hours at work, or at home, but the same might not always end up in doing quality work. Because of this we often feel that we spending a lot of time on something, but don’t feel like been productive enough. One main reason for this could be the most important tasks are usually a bit more difficult and require more of our attention, time and focus. But most of the time, we get so caught up in the day-to-day distractions or ‘busyness’ of life and give either more or less attention to things than they deserve and lose the sense of being in control. We often cite the reason of being busy for postponing some of our important tasks. This habit of putting off important tasks on the back burner can rob you of your hours of achievement and success.
Think about the last time you felt highly productive. In productive state, you remain highly focused on what you are doing and make a noticeable progress towards a meaningful outcome. Whereas with ‘busyness’, you start to feel out of control, unfocused, confused and stressed out. The inability to manage your time properly leads to additional stress related issues and burnouts very early on. In the absence of clear goals, the visible busyness becomes self-preserving, and developing a belief that if a behaviour relates to being busy, then it’s good-regardless of its impact on our ability to produce valuable things. All of the social, digital, and societal trends only add to one’s busyness and do not directly add to the value of quality work one produces. With unmindful busyness,
• You waste time on doing unimportant tasks that could be used productively.
• It creates unnecessary anxiety as you put off the important tasks to later.
• It impedes your clarity and focus.
• By leaving little time for the important task, the final output is usually short of what you are really capable of.
• You cannot adopt to changing situations as busyness impacts your perspective of what’s really going on.
• You cannot plan on sticking to your deadlines for your projects.
• Leads to flawed thinking and distracted behaviours.
“The greatest enemy of good thinking is busyness.” –John C.Maxwell
How to overcome ‘busyness’ to become more productive
But if you’re willing to sidestep these comforts and fears, and instead deploy your attention to its fullest capacity to things that matter, then you’ll discover that you can create a life rich with productivity and meaning. To overcome ‘busyness’, one has to manage his/her time effectively to work on priorities. Making optimal use of time helps you in curbing the stress and burnouts. If you spend significant amount of time towards professional aspirations and goals, learning how to use that time optimally will help you achieve positive outcomes.
Here are certain strategies to overcome your busyness and become more productive.
Put first things first
Because of the busyness, we always have a reason to put off the important things. What fills up our time is a result of what we let into our days. When you don’t choose important things, your days automatically get filled with not so important ones. Prioritising helps you in making right choices. In order to rise above ‘busyness’, you have to know what your purpose is and should be able to define your goals. Before doing something, consider asking yourself
whether the tasks you are working on are important for your end goals. Unless you consciously take time out for your priorities, you will not be able to accomplish goals that are important to you. Start your day with a “To do list” and prioritise the vital few after picking them from the trivial many.
“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible. — Saint Francis of Assisi
We find that more we do, the more we add up to our to-do-task list and end up in multitasking. Multitasking has become a part of life for many of us where we believe that this is a way to be more productive. Science reveals that our brains actually can’t handle doing more than one thing at a time. With multitasking, your attention remains divided as there will be a residue of your attention when you switch from one task to another. This leads to poor performance. Whereas by working on a single hard task for a long time without switching, you can overcome non-productive busyness and can also maximise your performance.
Reduce your distractions
Many are permanently tethered to their work day in and day out, dealing with trends like answering emails at all hours, instant messaging, and active presence on social media. Of course certain mediums offer benefits to your social life, but none are important enough to what really matters to you. Always trying to catchup can claim your attention and time adding to only to your ‘busyness’ and not in producing work of real value. Learn to reduce your reactiveness to these distractions. Identifying factors that side track and deter you from achieving the task at hand. Consider blocking or create blackout periods over a day to free up your time. Try and fill up your free time with something of more quality and meaningful.
Many times we get drowned in the details instead if focusing on micro and macro. Details are important, but only those that will affect your end goal. You only have a limited amount of time a day. The end goal is to accomplish your task efficiently by way of optimal use of your time. If a particular task is taking too much of your time and it’s not the most important part of your work, delegating it to right people can help you overcome your ‘busyness’. Once you do this, ensure you trust the person and provide them enough room to get the job done. Using the right people, tools, and resources to is important in doing so.
Focus on being effective
Improve your overall quality, rather than trying to tick everything off your to-do list. It is important to understand when to say no by asking whether are these tasks necessary. If you say yes to everything, you find your schedules with things that keep you busy but don’t make you productive. Once you have set out to achieve your important tasks, ensure you say no to disallow things that hamper your productivity. Saying yes to the wrong things, even if they are small will eventually take up your time later on and add to your busyness’. Saying no to unimportant things will protect your time so that you can use it for the things that matter.
“If you want more time, freedom, and energy, start saying no.”
Schedule your day
Many of us spend much of our day on autopilot—not giving much thought to what we’re doing with our time. Because of this, it’s difficult to prevent the trivial from creeping into every corner of our schedule. But by scheduling your day, you can determine how many hours you’re spending in doing quality work.
Scheduling your tasks for the day helps you plan your work goals and removes the risk of losing out on important tasks. Doing this at the beginning of the day can get you more organised. If your schedule is disrupted, you should at the next available moment, create a revised schedule for the time that remains in your day. This will give you a careful gauge in your efforts and you can discover pockets of free time that go wasted.
Relax & Unwind
Unproductive ‘busyness’ often leaves you exhausted, bad tempered and stressed. You fail to gather momentum for next days’s work unless you recharge yourself. Once you are out of your working hours, inculcate unwinding yourself. The impact of unwinding is often underestimated and we fail to recognise that our minds need a downtime as well. Our productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax says David Allen in his book “Deep Work”. Only when our minds are clear and our thoughts organised can we achieve effective results and unleash our maximum potential. Mindfulness practice is a perfect antidote for ‘busyness.’ Taking some time to practice being in the moment helps you connect with your inner self and reduces feelings of tiredness and stress thereby creating space for you to become creative and productive.
Apply outcome thinking
You can’t really decide the right action until you know the outcome you’re after, and if your outcome is disconnected from reality if you are not clear about what you need to do to make it happen. Setting Goals or desired outcomes creates a cause-and-effect link in your mind about when certain goal-relevant actions will be taken. When you make plans ahead of time and decide what actions will be carried out, you can engage in doing productive work instead of being bogged down by unimportant tasks. Setting goals provides sufficient direction to move you toward your outcome rather than wasting your time in unproductive ‘busyness.’
Adopt next-action approach
Most of the times too many discussions in workplaces end with only a vague sense that people know what they are going to do. But without a clear decision that there is a next action, not much is accomplished. Forcing the decision about the next action prevents those issues that are important from slipping away thereby providing more clarity. Walking away from discussions with clarity of outcome makes each member involved in your discussions more responsible about the specific job assigned to them. This also reduces anxiety of undecided actions and increases your productivity.
Finally, Be willing to change your unproductive busy habits to do something more meaningful and productive work.
when you take up tasks, asking yourself,
“What does this mean to me” Or “ what’s the desired outcome?” “What are the pros and cons?” lets you identify things that aren’t necessary. This way you can align yourself to be productive instead of engaging yourself with everything that comes your way.
Are the tasks you are busy with right now add to your life’s purpose? Or are you being the victim of distractions and social trends? or can you find better and organised ways to do your tasks?
If you want to focus without distraction, achieve more in less time and be better at what you do, apply the above mentioned strategies. Getting past the unproductive busyness of your life not only helps you to become more productive but also provides a sense of fulfilment and gives your mind something to do meaningful.
“with simple thinking, we can maximise our focus with minimum distractions.”
Many things influence our lives and decisions we make. The primary influences being the perceptions and most of the times, the mistakes of perception leads to our complex thinking. we get used to the complex processes, procedures and matters in our day-to-day tasks which in turn add to our complicated thinking. We acquire habits, possessions, relationships, needs, etc., which are part of richness and enjoyment of life — but also are the reason of the complexity of our thinking.
We get continually bullied by opportunities which seem to be attractive and get pressurised by them thereby making our lives more complex. Sometimes fear of boredom leads you into a complexity of temptations and pressures of ‘have to do things.’ This makes our thinking a complex process driving us to busyness, approval of others, anxiety, performance and control.
Some of this complexity is created by us and some we accept and take on as part of our daily lives. Having things to take care of, people to deal with or processes to attend to, our thoughts create clutter giving rise to complicated ideas and create confusion and disappointments. We get caught up in the day-to-day complex tasks we have to get done and often run out of time to do the things that really matter and those that are essential.
We get so comfortable things being familiar and certain way that we don’t want to find simpler way of doing things. Simplicity in thinking is something that is deliberate and intentional and should be a choice you make. By adopting to a ‘simple perspective’ in your thinking, you can free yourself from all the distractions and you can maximise your focus on that which is essential, can eliminate complexities, create effective solutions and can reach your objectives or goals much faster.
Simplicity makes it easier to do things. But finding a simpler way is usually not that simple.
The perspective of ‘simple thinking’
Complex is something which is hard to understand, explain, or deal with and leads to inefficiency, wastage of time, attention and mental energy in unnecessary things. But there is always a much simpler way of doing things. The perspective of ‘simple thinking’ and doing is always possible and is very important to improve efficiency and to reduce stress, anxiety and frustration. By identifying areas, matters and procedures which seem unnecessary and replacing them with simple processes, you can learn to take action much faster.
“When we begin pursuing a more simple, intentional life, we obtain a new perspective.”
Perspective of ‘simple thinking’ is a value, a habit and an attitude of mind as much as it is a process. You accept something complex because you are not looking for simple solutions and your outputs also tend to be complex. Simplicity will not happen unless you are prepared to work hard and make a real effort to achieve it. The emphasis needs to be on simple perspective at every moment of your decision-making process.
‘Is there a simpler way to do this?’
‘Is this really necessary?’
‘Does this add to simplicity or complexity?’
By having the intention of making something simple, you can prioritise your actions towards simple processes.
Ways to achieve a ‘simple perspective’
Many of us consider thinking as a complex process because we have never made any attempt to make it simpler. We tie ourselves up in complex rules when in reality, most of our practical thinking takes place in ‘simple perspective’ and is mostly based on self-organising system of brain. So, We can design simple tools for thinking to improve productivity in number of ways and for a more focused effort.
You need not always depend on major changes to make things simple. You can Make slight changes in small things to simplify your efforts of doing difficult things.
Here are some small changes that can be made to achieve ‘simple perspective’ in your efforts of achieving your tasks.
One thing at a time
We are capable of thinking many things at the same time. But if you find matters getting too complex, then it is always better to pay attention to only one thing at a time. It does not mean that you cannot do more than one thing at a time — but you choose not to for the moment.
Express in words
Complexity is difficult to cope with while it remains out of consciousness and you will find it difficult to arrive at decisions. When something seems complex and difficult, verbalise why you are making that choice, the reasons behind your decision. This can simplify and clarify your decision-making process.
Complexity arises when you are trying to deal with more than one matter at same time. If there are two separate issues, separate them out and deal with each one on its own. Analyse and break it down to deal with it one at a time.
Take small steps
If the task is complex, it can be broken down into tiny steps. Certain tasks may seem impossibly complex on the whole, but if broken down to small steps, each step can be simple and doable. It is simpler to focus on the next step than to focus on the entire task.
Concepts are a broad and general way of simplifying things. They simplify the action into stages. Making use of concepts in thinking can simplify your efforts. Once the concept is formed, the details of the concept will still need to be worked out but they set the direction of the action.
Think in stages
Always have a clear objective in mind and figure out how to reach the objective.
• The direction to reach your objective.
• The concepts that can be used in order to move in that direction.
• The ideas that can be used to put those concepts into action.
Thinking in this kind of framework helps you arrive at possible action alternatives to achieve your complex tasks.
Do things slowly
If your mind is minimally occupied, as in doing things slowly, it will be more able to have new ideas. This also helps the mind to clarify or simplify things and requires discipline and concentration.
Things which were needed at one time may be no longer needed. Shedding approach simply involves throwing things out and putting nothing in their place. Sometimes things are ‘unnecessary’ or ‘redundant’. If these things add to clarity they should be retained, but if they add to the complexity of the situation, they should be shredded and thrown out.
Clarity and simplicity go together. What is the situation? What do we really need to do? What is going on? Questions of this sort can clarify and provide thorough understanding of the situation or process. The perspective of simple thinking comes from thorough understanding.
As a self-organising information system, our brain allows incoming information to organise itself into routine patterns. Once we identify with these patterns, we flow along with them without much effort. Setting up routines can simplify your perception and action.
Be determined to seek simplicity.
When things are highly complicated we do often wish for simple perspective. But when things are not complicated we rarely strive to make something simple. Always find simpler ways of doing things. Make the ‘simple perspective’ as part of your normal thinking process to free up time, reduce stress and to make better decisions.
Put yourself in ‘simple perspective’
• Be determined to make an active effort to make things more simple.
• Be motivated and creative to arrive at a possible simple, effective and practical solution to a problem.
• Have the willingness to simplify process instead of coping with complexity.
• Look for simple alternatives and be willing to invest time and effort in that search.
• Spell out in words what you are seeking to achieve. This creates a path to move in defined direction thereby avoiding unnecessary.
• Design the ideal simple process and then seek to work incrementally step by step.
• Consider all the things you are busy with right now and consider how few of these are really necessary.
• Take notice of your habits and cut back on clutter, distractions and focus on the essentials.
“Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” – Steve Jobs
Most people have too much to handle and not enough time to get it all done or to be able to fulfil their commitments. People add to their stress levels by taking on more than they can handle. Various options and opportunities bring with them the pressures of decision making. These pressures make people frustrated about how to improve their situation. By learning productivity you can organise and prioritise better and you can get your time back so you can focus on making progress and helps you improve your situation.
Planning and scheduling your tasks helps you gain more focus. In the process, you can create a positive work atmosphere and lifestyle practices that foster clarity, control, creativity and relaxation.
Better organisational techniques like planning and preparing can enhance your productivity levels. Thinking in more effective ways to handle different work situations can make things happen sooner, better and more successfully.
There is no single technique or tool to perfect organisation and productivity. However, there are certain simple processes that we can all learn to use that will improve our ability to deal more proactively and constructively. These tools can help you focus your energies strategically to create better thinking habits and working environment which otherwise keeps most people from burning out due to stress.
It is possible for you to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively and be fully present in the moment.
Here are some simple practices which can motivate you to become more productive.
Figuring out ‘why’
Why do you want to be more productive? Why are you putting up with a situation in your workplace? Do you want to be better at your job or do you want to get more things done and do more with your time?
Until you have the answer to your ‘why’, there is no possible way to come up with appropriate actions.
By having an answer to your why has following benefits:
• You can define success.
• You can make hard choices and take decisions.
• You can gather possible resources.
• You can be motivated and can have better focus.
Many people forget why they are doing something and what exactly they are trying to achieve – and a simple question like, “ Why am I doing that?” Can get you back on track. Finding the answer to your ‘why’ opens up wider possibilities and expands your thinking.
Figure out your purpose
All of us want to be better at what we are doing. So the main goal should be to find your purpose. To know and to be clear about the purpose can enhance your focus. Because it is easy to get caught up and let your real and primary intentions slip. Your purpose becomes a reference point for your time and energy spent.
Once you have the purpose defined, you can align your resources and can make your decision-making easier. Often the only way to make hard choices is to come back to the purpose of what you are doing. Just taking two minutes and writing your primary reason for doing something makes things clearer and clarifies your focus.
Find your time leaks
Doing things that bring you progress, getting better at your work, investing in compound time to develop your skills, and picking up healthy habits make you productive. Find out where your time is leaking in the process. Think of your top priorities and determine those activities that help you achieve or take you closer to your goals. That is your meaningful work. The rest are meaningless activities that steal your time.
Focus on what matters to optimise your efforts and where to allocate your time more efficiently. Being aware of all the activities that bring you closer to your goal and being aware of the ones that stall your progress help you get your time back.
Create and stick to your to-do list
Organise your daily tasks in order to get things done. Don’t get carried away by writing too long to-do lists. Being busy is not the same as being productive. Overloading your lists is not an effective to-do list format. If you always start with the easiest or most convenient ideas, you will end up pushing the best ones down the list.
Make sure that your to-do list has a purpose and other meaningful activities. Define your tasks related to your goals and order them by importance. If you do not manage to finish them all, move unfinished tasks to your list for the next day. Rinse and repeat. If you carry some tasks on for too many days in a row without working on them, get rid of those tasks completely.
Declutter & Prioritise
Decluttering your routine lets you devote your time to meaningful work. Write down your distractions and find multiple solutions to reduce them. For each distraction, figure out as many solutions until you find the one that works.
Prioritise your tasks according to your goals and choose those that most benefit your purpose.
It will be difficult to cut down your priorities when you have more on your plate to do than you can comfortably handle. Prioritise on the basis of your long term and short term goals, accountabilities, values, areas of focus and current projects. Combine the things you want to do with things you should do.
Get your routine done
It is very easy to start a task you want to do. But what about those tasks you have absolutely no motivation to do? The ones you procrastinate far too long over and never get around to doing? Putting off important tasks can rob your hours of achievement and can become a chronic cycle.
Slacking off and doing unimportant tasks, putting off other tasks makes you habituated to the same process. Then, the loop continues to repeat. You are avoiding the task either because you are not organised or because you are prioritising low value work. To avoid procrastination, identify what you are putting off and do those tasks right away. If getting started is the hardest part, set a designated time slot to do the task.
The majority of us fail at building life-changing habits because we start strong and give up easily. You need to put effort into accomplishing your goal. Even he tiniest of efforts, when consistently done, brings good results.
Figure out which skill to work upon in order to reach your goal and the task you need to do everyday. Once you have zeroed in on the skill and activity, mark the days you will be working on it and focus on growing your progress on the same. Do not break the chain of progress so that you become consistent with your talent/ skill.
Use your gap time productively
Gap times occur between meaningful activities. Optimise your gap time so you can further develop the skill you need to make you productive. Gap times are small breaks in your schedule or at work, or when you are on long breaks from your work.
Be as strategic about your breaks as you are about your day in general. To use your gap times productively, think about small projects you can accomplish like learning something new, planning your week/day, cleaning up or even working on your other ideas.
Finally, Stay focused.
Think about the last time you felt highly productive. You probably had a sense of being in control without too much stress. You were probably highly focused on what you were doing and you felt you were making progress.
Next time around if you get far out of that state—and start to feel out of control, stressed out , unfocused and bored—get yourself back into your “productive state.” Hopefully the above methods can inspire you to become more productive and work towards attaining your goals.