Don’t Procrastinate – If You Dread It, DO IT!
Not all tasks are of equal importance and not all are enjoyable. It’s easy to procrastinate on the difficult ones. When you’re working with your list of daily tasks, take a moment to figure out what is really important. Which items on your list must get done? Once you figure those out, put a star by them and do them first.
When you do your hardest or most important tasks first in the day, it ensures you’ll get them done with your most energy and focus. You’ll also avoid the urge to procrastinate any further.
Is there something on your list that you dread? Then that’s the thing you need to put first. Typically, we tend to procrastinate on the things we dread or dislike. This sets up the pattern of checking email, replying to a few letters, or doing any of a number of low-priority tasks to avoid the harder ones. It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we’re checking things off our task lists, but we’re really killing time. This is a recipe for suddenly realizing in shock that it’s noon and you haven’t accomplished any of the things you really should have done.
Invariably, the tasks we dread are important ones. (Because if you don’t like it, and if it isn’t important, then why are you doing it at all?) Tackle these first. Get them done. You’ll go into the rest of your day with a feeling of great accomplishment because of all you got done already. This is one of the reasons why I’m a big fan of exercising first thing in the morning—then it’s out of the way, and I don’t have to spend any time worrying about it. Plus, doing it feels great.
And once you finish that important task, what should you do next? That’s right…probably the next-most-important task on your list. Do this and, at the end of the day, even if it turned out to be one of those days when you can’t possibly accomplish everything, at least you will have knocked out the most important things. And you will have given them your best focus and energy, because you did them first.
Multi-tasking Is A Lie
What if I told you multi-tasking wasn’t a virtue, but a practice that could be holding you back from success?
Let’s face it… modern life can be extremely distracting if you let it be—and maybe even if you don’t let it. The constant updates from email, phone calls, social media, and all those interesting videos and articles that friends keep recommending can really put a drain on your focus. Add TV and video or casual games to the picture, and the constant exposure to digital stimuli can be overwhelming.
As a result, we are constantly inundated with distractions. Many of us call this “multi-tasking” but in reality, the research says that there is no multi-tasking. Computers may have multiple processors, but human beings can only concentrate on one thing at a time. What people call multi-tasking is actually switching between tasks quickly without getting as much done in a given time period. This is a terribly inefficient practice. It takes time to regain your focus each time you are interrupted from your task or you switch tasks.
People who try to multi-task have also been found to be distracted more easily than those who work on one thing at a time. A study published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance found that test subjects lost time every time they switched between tasks, and the more complex the tasks, the more time they lost.
Beyond the time lost on any one activity, this constant onslaught of cell phone vibrations, messages, Internet media, web videos, and social media create a constant state of anxiety and distraction. As we acclimate to this level of constant stimulation, we crave it—constantly checking for messages in a vicious circle of distraction. Like the famous frog in the pot who is gradually warmed to a boil, we don’t easily perceive how bad our life has become while we’re in the middle of it.
The Power Of Positive Thinking
Every morning, right when I wake up and before getting out of bed, I practice positive thinking. I keep my eyes closed and spend a few minutes in that space between being asleep and awake thinking about the many things I’m grateful for in life. Call it a meditation, a gratitude exercise, an affirmation, or counting my blessings, this simple habit starts my day off on a very positive note.
It turns out this “positive thinking” habit is also validated by research. Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk (and also a biotechnologist by training), suggests that two opposing thoughts cannot occupy our minds at the same time. As an example, we can’t shake hands and concurrently deliver a blow with those hands. Thus, by replacing anger, jealousy, or spite, we can train our minds to consciously replace those thoughts with acceptance, generosity, or forgiveness. Here again, science from universities in Madison, Wisconsin, and Berkeley, California, has validated this opinion. Monks from Ricard’s order who had done thousands of hours of mind training and meditation tested four standard deviations higher than the average on a brain-scan measure of happiness when they meditated on “compassion.” This measurement is basically off the bell curve.
So, science shows us that engaging in positive thinking from the moment we wake up can have a measurable impact on our brain waves and on the quality of the rest of our day. I encourage you to try this exercise!
Over the years, I’ve had friends share some really helpful ideas about staying positive, like keeping a “gratitude journal” by their bedside, jotting down important thoughts or touch points that help them stay in a state of positive gratitude. What do you do to practice positive thinking? Share your progress with us via the comments section below. I’m always looking for additional ways to appreciate and express gratitude. Aren’t we all?
The #1 Habit Fit People Share To Lose Weight
If your goal is to lose weight, then tracking your progress is just as important as listing your tasks. For example, if you are following an exercise program to reach a fitness goal, you’ll find that writing down your progress on each exercise day helps keep you more motivated. For people trying to lose weight, simply writing down everything you eat has been shown to be a highly effective weight loss tool, even if you’re not actually dieting!
Several studies have shown that when a person writes down the foods they eat regularly, they lose weight at a higher amount than those who don’t keep a food diary. A study performed at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research and published in 2008 found that the more the subjects tracked the foods they ate, the more weight they lost. While this is a great tip if you want to lose some weight, I mention it here because I think it applies to the progress improvement you can see in any goal you undertake by writing down your actions and accomplishments. Weight loss is just a convenient way to measure the effect of this over long periods of time for challenging goals.
Journaling your progress keeps it in the forefront of your mind. In the case of food, people who track their food consumption in a food journal are more aware of the food they eat. This awareness makes it easier to maintain controls during tough times and feel the reward of sticking with their goals. Tracking exercise progress has a similar effect, in my experience.
People have long debated whether it’s better to measure progress frequently or occasionally. Some believe that it’s better not to focus too much on tracking progress, because it could make people obsessive (especially about goals like weight loss). Others argue that consistent monitoring is more effective, because it maintains awareness. In fact, research in this field indicates that frequent monitoring is far more effective than occasional monitoring!
The Positive Side of Being Selfish
Being “selfish” isn’t always a bad thing, especially when you are practicing “generous selfishness”. I’ll explain this concept in a moment, but first remember that all progress comes at a price. You will need to make some decisions and stick with them if you expect to see changes. That price is often in time or commitment. The rewards for living your best life are immense, so I encourage you to figure out the price.
Change is rarely comfortable. Even positive decisions—such as exchanging four hours of daily TV-watching for extra sleep, exercise, and social time—may still feel hard to actually do in the beginning or on challenging days. Setting goals and envisioning the rewards can help you stay focused.
To live your best life, you will have to practice what I call “generous selfishness” and protect your health. Being selfish in this way does not mean being anti-social or petty with your time. By selfishly guarding the time and priority you give your health, fitness, nutrition, and sleep, you will be generously protecting those who love you and rely on you. Maybe you are providing for a family. Maybe you have children or parents who rely on your care. Maybe you just have people who love you and want to spend time with you. Your ability to do all of these things depends on your health.
When you dedicate time, energy, and focus to your health and well-being, this is both selfish and generous. It’s selfish because you aren’t necessarily helping others while you are out on your walk or taking extra time to prepare a healthy meal with fresh ingredients. But it’s generous when you look at the big picture: Staying healthier lets you be there for others longer, molds you into better shape mentally and physically, usually puts you in a better mood, and maybe even makes you a better provider for you and your family.
The Best Detox Is Digital.
I strongly recommend a digital detox- a vacation from cell phones, social media, websites, twitter, TV, and any other form of digital entertainment. If this sounds like a shocking idea—something impossible to actually do – then that’s a great indication that you may desperately need one. Ironically, if you feel that going without all these devices for a week would be a piece of cake, then you may not need a digital detox. This practice is gaining popularity in crowded and stressed-out cities like Tokyo and Korea, where “forest bathing” (spending time in forests) is actually prescribed by some psychologists for their patients. And the research is building that social media overload has negative effects on mental health.
Try it for a few days over a weekend, then for a week. Stop using the Internet, social media, and the rest. (You may want to post a status message saying that you’re taking a week off from the Internet so people don’t worry that you were abducted.) If your work requires email access, limit it to one session of reading and answering emails per day.
The first thing you’re likely to learn is how hard this can be. You may initially get a new appreciation for how much you were hooked on digital device stimulation. However, after a week of adjusting to an existence less fraught with constant pings and buzzes, many people report feeling less distracted and more productive.
After you’ve completed a digital detox, you may want to keep up your regained focus with a weekly digital day off. A digital day off is a one-day mini-digital detox without any devices or email. Saturdays and Sundays make terrific digital days off. This lets you set aside the constant hum of digital life to focus on what is really around you. For me, a digital day off each week lets me retune my focus.