I remember when I was at school, I often would study with friends. We always had such a great time and a lot of laughs. But I also remember that it seemed like the knowledge we gained during our time together didn’t last that long. We would often spend hours studying, but after we finished, I would go over the material again. You may say that we were perhaps poor students, but I think it was more to do with focus.
Leaving my school memories aside, even now if I sit down to do something, without any specific plan, I find I spend a lot of time on doing things which may not necessary be helping with achieving the desired outcome.
If you are stressed, your focus and concertation can be impaired, sure. Our brain can only store so much information and then it gets overloaded. The more and more decisions we need to make, the sooner we reach the limit of how many we can make. A decision fatigue is a common sight that we are done for the day.
Why we procrastinate
Have you ever found yourself saying that you just wash the dishes, walk the dog or pop quickly to the shop right before you were meant to start working on a project? It may seem important that we clean the dishes right now, or that we walk the dog at this moment, but deep down those are just excuses. It is easy to get side-tracked by all the other things that need to be done, especially if we are under a lot of stress.
Yes, you guessed, you are procrastinating.
Either you do it voluntarily or not, you are delaying the moment when you know you will have to sit down and tackle that project. Quite often we associate procrastination with laziness, but it is not that simple. After all we are doing things, the only difference is that none of the actions we are taking get us closer to the finish line.
If you find yourself procrastinating a lot, being swept by activities which you may not even remember doing, then it means you are using procrastination to cope with the stress you experience. Most of the time the activities you undertake bring you instant relief from the bigger problem which causes you stress.
But the bottom line is that you are not productive. You may still be busy and overwhelmed with tasks, and you may even think that this project which you dedicated only two hours to, is taking now four and you can’t see any results.
Let me help you out.
Neuroscience shows that although our brain is like a computer, it has some limitations. Our brain cannot recognise what is a priority and what is not, it can only see a list of tasks to complete. And because our tendency is to go for what is the easiest, we rarely pick the challenging thing as a first task for the day.
Have you noticed that when you say that you do something later, it never happens? The day gets from under you and your time is gone? This is because our brain does not do well with ‘vague’. We like clear, straightforward and straight to the point instructions. If you say that you will fill out that paperwork later, your brain doesn’t understand the ‘later’ part because it is not specific enough. However, if you say that you do something at 2pm, your brain is on board with you, because it can recognise what you mean.
The untold secret to productivity
I hope that by now you can see how using neuroscience can help you to crack the code on productivity. We know that just being busy, for the sake of busyness does not necessarily make us produce outstanding results.
Stress can easily alter our productivity. And if we add procrastination to the mix, then we neither have time. But the funny fact is that our brain is not concerned how much time things take as much as we are. If you ever said that things take as much time as they need to, you were spot on.
And that is why you need to put a deadline on anything you do.
If you say to yourself that completing a task will take you 30minutes, then it will. But if you tell yourself it will take two hours, then you are right again. Putting a deadline makes you more productive. Having the time limit pressure, we focus and concentrate better, and as a result we get more done in less time. Still be realistic with the timeframe you need, to deliver your best work but eliminate any time wasters which don’t add value.
But deadline can be used not only to increase your productivity. I remember, when I was still working in my corporate job, I had an awful argument with my work colleague. Unfortunately, but anger and frustration often make us to rehearsal the event in our head over and over again. We may even complain about it and talk endlessly about it. This is a way our mind uses to cope with the situation, but if we don’t interrupt that spiral, we may find ourselves feeling full of resentment. And not any nearer to a solution, may I add. I put a deadline on my complaining time. I gave myself two days, where I was allowed to complain, rehearsal, lament and obsess about, but when the deadline came, I stopped.
This strategy of putting a deadline on a worry we have, an unresolved emotion or a frustration, can help us move pass it. It is the emotional relief, that we gave ourselves time to deal with it, and now it is time to move on onto more productive tasks.
Stress can severely impact our productivity. We may have the best of intentions to get things done, but if we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, it may be tricky to sit down and do the work. A common sign of stress is procrastination. It doesn’t mean we are lazy. It means we can’t cope with the current level of stress, and we are looking for instant relief.
Neuroscience tells us that our brain does not operate well on vague. Saying that we will do something later, or not specifying how long a task will take, is hard for our brain to understand. However, if we put a deadline on a project, we will get more things done in less time. We will be more focused and able to concentrate on completing the task within the timeframe given.
Putting a deadline is like using a magic wand. And you can put a deadline on virtually anything. You can interrupt the spiral of worry, unresolved issues, or even emotions which may alter your productivity. So, once your worry time is over, you can shift your focus to things which will move you forward.