TIME Time management

6 Ways to Take Control of Your Schedule

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Reduce your stress levels with these important tips

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This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

By Jordana Jaffe

Way too often, we feel like our days and hours guide us, rather than vice versa. Our schedules are the master and we their abiding servants.

But not only does that arrangement not feel great, it can also only last so long. When you and your energy, needs, or desires aren’t aligned with your schedule, you will crash and burn sooner rather than later. To help you avoid that crash, or even better, to stop the madness once and for all, here are some things that you can start doing right now to finally feel in control of your time.

1. Take inventory.

Get super clear on what’s going on in your day right now. If you already have an organized calendar, get clear on where your time is spent. If you don’t, spend the next few days keeping a time journal: write down everything you do and to the minute how long each task takes you. It may feel a bit tedious, but the results will astound you.

2. Identify what’s not working.

Where is too much of your time being spent? What do you absolutely dread doing? What are the time wasters in your calendar? Make a note of all of these things and also jot down how much time you currently spend on all of them.

3. Write down what you would rather be doing.

Have you been craving going to that yoga class? Are you longing to catch up on weeks’ worth of your favorite shows on DVR? Write a list of all of the things you would love to start including in your schedule as well as the time commitment for each.

4. Reevaluate.

Now it’s time to make some changes. Look back to what’s not working in your schedule: how can you delegate or outsource some of these things?

Here are two great resources for outsourcing:

  • Fancy Hands: For $45/month, you are given 15 virtual tasks that you can delegate. From setting up doctor’s appointments to booking tickets for a show to researching where to find that dress you love, this resource is a must (note: it may seem like all of these tasks shouldn’t take you very long, but trust me, they add up).
  • Task Rabbit: This is for all of those tasks that you need an actual person to help you with. For example, building the baby’s crib, dropping those envelopes at FedEx, or even picking up groceries.

Now think about all of the time wasters you can eliminate all together. If you’re having a problem prying yourself off of Facebook, ask yourself why. What is Facebook giving you? Entertainment? Connection? Consider seeking those feelings from something more fulfilling.

5. Makeover time.

Now it’s time to start including all of that stuff you’ve actually been wanting to do. Fit these activities in the white space you now have thanks to eliminating the time wasters and outsourcing everything you don’t absolutely need to be doing.

6. Live into it.

Making a change takes time, no matter how badly you may want it. See how your new schedule is working out. Figure out what is working really well and what needs to be adjusted, and then shift things accordingly. Above all, make sure to be gentle with yourself. Progress always trumps perfection.

TIME psychology

5 Fool-Proof Ways to End Procrastination Today

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Understanding what causes us to put things off helps tame the beast

“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done the day after tomorrow,” quipped Mark Twain. Waiting until later is one of life’s guilty secrets, but chronic procrastination is linked to poorer health, work and relationship outcomes. Thankfully there are some straightforward ways to put off putting-off, and the way you think about a task can impact your desire to get it done.

In one psychological study, participants were given a 15-minute head start on a math test, during which time they could choose to practice for the test, play a video game or work on a puzzle. When the math test was introduced as an important measurement of cognitive ability, those with a propensity to procrastinate spent more time playing video games or doing the puzzle than others. But when the math test was described as a fun game, there was no difference in the amount of time procrastinators and non-procrastinators spent playing the video game or puzzle.

Understanding what’s causing us to procrastinate helps tame the beast. Research has shown there are five main reasons people leave things until later:

  1. Complacency, which comes from an overly strong sense of self-confidence. It can appear as laziness or general lack of concern. This is when you tell yourself, “It’s easy to do so I’ll fit it in later.”
  1. Avoiding discomfort, a type of procrastination that focuses on the unpleasantness of an activity, particularly compared to a more favorable activity. When you’re avoiding discomfort you tell yourself, “I’d much rather do something easier instead.”
  1. Fear of failure, when the fear of not succeeding inhibits you from moving forward. This is when you don’t step forward for a promotion or avoid asking someone on a date because you’re afraid you’ll be turned down.
  1. Emotional state, when you’re too tired, too hungry, too stressed to get anything productive done. Think about when you tell yourself, “I’m just not in the mood to do this right now.”
  1. Action illusion, where you feel like you’re doing all the right things, but no real progress has been made. For example, if you are a keen project planner, this could mean that every time the project gets behind, the plan gets updated, but no progress is actually made.

Next time you recognize yourself procrastinating in one of these ways, think again. There are times when the way an activity is set up can make a big difference to your approach. In those instances, it is even more useful to have some general tactics to try to remedy procrastination. Here are five:

  1. Strive for five – the five-minute start

Five minutes is nothing—it’s just three hundred seconds. It’s the length of a song or a TV commercial. Pick up a project you’ve been putting off and give it just 300 seconds of your time. Once the five minutes is up, stop and reassess. After awhile, the momentum of beginning the task will carry you forward.

  1. Home run – set goals and rewards

During the day, set goals and rewards. Each time you hit a goal, you earn the reward: a short break, a hilarious YouTube video, or some other incentive. It’s important the goals are realistic and the rewards are in proportion. Make sure you select a time to review your progress and adjust your targets accordingly.

  1. Be good to yourself – me today versus me tomorrow

Sometimes, when you find yourself buried with work, you feel upset with yourself for not having started earlier. Imagine a conversation between ‘you today’ and ‘you tomorrow’. If ‘you tomorrow’ could chat with ‘you today,’ what would he have to say?

  1. Set creative punishments – negative consequences

Make the consequences of inaction so unbearable that you have no choice but to get busy now. You could write a check to someone or something you really dislike: a rival team, if you’re a sports fan, or to the opposing political party. Give the check to a friend with strict instructions to mail the check if you do not achieve your goal. The more you dislike the other party, the stronger the incentive to get the task done.

  1. I was there – witnessing accountability

Going public with a goal increases your support and accountability. Consider going on a diet: Is there more pressure if you don’t tell a soul, or if you announce it to all your friends, with strict instructions to refuse if you ask for a chip? It may seem an obvious way of making yourself feel guilty, but it can also be highly effective. Be careful with this tactic, as some research has found that making intentions public gives us a false sense of progress and thereby reduces the likelihood of success – it’s the action-illusion issue I mentioned earlier. So here’s the trick: ask for support, but don’t kid yourself that support equals progress.

Procrastination is the silent killer of dreams. Everyone suffers from it. By seeking to understand and fix your procrastination, you’ll discover you jumpstart many areas of your life.

Dr. Sebastian Bailey is a bestselling author and the co-founder of Mind Gym, a corporate learning consultancy that transforms the way people think, act and behave at work and at home. His next book, Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently, will be out on September 9, 2014. The book gives readers actionable ways, based on years of research, to change their way of thinking to achieve more, live longer and build better relationships. Connect with Sebastian on Twitter @DrSebBailey.

TIME psychology

How to Increase the Number of Hours in Your Day

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Nothing can actually increase the hours in the day. That’s impossible. But you can do things to trick your brain into feeling you have more time.

More often than not, that’s really what we want: relief from the stress of time pressure.

Time is immutable. Time perception, however, can be downright funky. And we can use it to our advantage.

Car Crashes and Getting Old

People often say that during car crashes and scary situations “time slowed down.” They’re not crazy.

When we’re afraid, our brain attempts to remember as much about the situation as possible so we can avoid things associated with it in the future. That biological hard drive starts working double time.

Because of this, our perception is distorted and life seems to slow down.

Via The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver:

Chess Stetson, Matthew Fiesta, and Eagleman believe that this sensation of time slowing is a by-product of the fact that our brains simply remember more information during traumatic experiences. Just as your computer hard drive occasionally backs up every single piece of data you have, traumatic events kick the brain into a type of hyperdrive where the tiniest details are stored for later use. Thus when you go bungee jumping or skydiving, time runs at the usual pace but it seems slower because your brain is filling in so many details that the experience seems to expand and your later memory of it is also particularly detailed.

You know how older folks say “time speeds up as you age”? They’re not crazy either. Studies show it really does subjectively feel like that.

Via Oliver Burkeman’s Help! How to be slightly happier and get a bit more done:

We all know that time seems to speed up as we grow older – but according to studies at the University of Cincinnati in the 1970′s, this effect is so pronounced that if you’re 20 today, you’re already halfway through life, in terms of your subjective experience of how time passes, even if you live until you’re 80. And if you’re 40 – again, assuming you live to be 80 – your life is 71% per cent over. Basically, if you’re older than about 30, you’re almost dead.

So, yes, you have some inaccurate beliefs about time. (And, no, men do not think about sex every 7 seconds.)

Perception of time and how you react to it just aren’t as straightforward as you think:

  • Researchers believe we may experience life in 3 second chunks. Hugs, goodbye waves, infants’ bouts of babbling, breathing, nervous system functions… all average around three seconds. Multiple studies among humans and other species point to 3 seconds as one of the most fundamental units of life and what defines our feeling of “now.”

Okay, enough theory and trivia.

How can we use this info to improve our lives?

Two things have been shown to make us feel like we have more time:

1) Use Time to Help Others

Ironic, huh? A good way to feel less busy is to give away some of your time.Spending time on others makes us feel less time-constrained:

Four experiments reveal a counter-intuitive solution to the common problem of feeling that one does not have enough time: giving some of it away.

So if you absolutely feel like there are not enough days in the week, then you should probably devote one of those precious days to volunteering.

2) The Experience of Awe

Maybe this is related to the car-crash-effect, I’m not sure. Research by Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker (author of The Dragonfly Effect) and colleagues found that experiencing awe makes you feel less crunched for time.

Wray Herbert (author of On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits) summarized the results:

…those who were primed to feel awe—those volunteers also saw time as much more expansive, less constricted. They felt free of time’s pressure.

I’m guessing people who live near the Grand Canyon probably feel like days never end…

So what if you really don’t have enough time?

Sounds like an efficiency issue. Here is everything you need to know about increasing productivity. There’s also plenty of research showing how you should spend your time in order to increase happiness.

And it’s helpful to know when the optimal times to do most things are.

Via Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There:

  • Best time to get a human being on the phone when calling a company’s customer service line: As early as possible (lowest call volume)
  • Best day of the week to eat dinner out: Tuesday (freshest food, no crowds)
  • Best day to fly: Saturday (fewer flights means fewer delays, shorter lines, less stress)
  • Best time to fly: Noon (varies but pilots say airport rush hours coincide with workday rush hours)
  • Best time to have surgery: Morning (4x less likely to have complications in the morning than between 3-4PM)
  • Best time to exercise: 6-8PM (body temp highest, peak time for strength and flexibility)
  • Best time to have sex: 10PM-1AM (skin sensitivity is highest in late evening)

One last thing: there are moments where your perception of time is dead-on accurate.

For instance, people really do take longer leaving a parking spot when they see you waiting for it.

 

Related posts:

How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME career

How to Manage Your Email Like a CEO

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Answers by David Shin, Jimmy Wales, Raul Gutierrez, Steven Walker for Quora

Answer by David Shin, High Frequency Trader

When I worked at Google in 2006/2007, Larry and Sergey held a Q&A session, and this exact question was asked of them. One of them answered (I don’t remember which) with the following humorous response (paraphrased):

“When I open up my email, I start at the top and work my way down, and go as far as I feel like. Anything I don’t get to will never be read. Some people end up amazed that they get an email response from a founder of Google in just 5 minutes. Others simply get what they expected (no reply).”

Answer by Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder and Wikia co-founder

Jeff Bezos once told me that he tells everyone that if you email him, you’ll get an answer either within 10 minutes, or never. He’s a funny guy, so this was a joke, but in my experience, only halfway a joke.

Answer by Raul Gutierrez

Slightly off topic, but I met Steve Jobs at a Paris Review party for his sister in the 90’s (Next era). I followed up via email which started a series of occasional exchanges that lasted a few years. He answered every email. Emails I sent during the day would often take many days to get a response, but if I emailed late at night (past midnight) I got an almost instant response. If I was up and would respond back, he would again respond… like modern chat. Once, I asked him about how he had the time and he said that he liked to get some unfiltered feedback and thought it was important to hear what regular people were saying.

Answer by Steven Walker

Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon, handles all of his own email. One of the most efficient emailers I’ve ever seen. He uses inbox zero with Omnifocus in a highly efficient manner. In the earlier days we used to try and come up with ways to make this more efficient by setting rules in Mail that filtered emails into different boxes based on how much time they sat. Most were his ideas. Last time I knew his process is it had been simplified to simply starring emails and relying heavily on Omnifocus. He would sometimes email you back in less than a minute. If you ask anyone that has worked with Andrew they’ll note his thoughtful responses paired with his incredible response times.

This question originally appeared on Quora: How do Bill Gates, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey manage their email? More Questions:

 

TIME psychology

How to Motivate Yourself: 3 Steps Backed By Science

You make goals… but then you procrastinate.

You write a to-do list… but then you don’t follow through.

And this happens again and again and again. Seriously, what’s the problem?

Why are we so good at thinking of what to do but so terrible at actually doing those things?

The problem is you’re skipping an essential step. Here’s what it is…

The Mistake Every Productivity System Makes

Productivity systems rarely take emotions into account. And feelings are a fundamental and unavoidable part of why humans do what they do.

We can’t ignore our emotions. Because of the way our brains are structured, when thought and feelings compete, feelings almost always win.

And we can’t fight our feelings. Research shows this just makes them stronger.

Via The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking:

…when experimental subjects are told of an unhappy event, but then instructed to try not to feel sad about it, they end up feeling worse than people who are informed of the event, but given no instructions about how to feel. In another study, when patients who were suffering from panic disorders listened to relaxation tapes, their hearts beat faster than patients who listened to audiobooks with no explicitly ‘relaxing’ content. Bereaved people who make the most effort to avoid feeling grief, research suggests, take the longest to recover from their loss. Our efforts at mental suppression fail in the sexual arena, too: people instructed not to think about sex exhibit greater arousal, as measured by the electrical conductivity of their skin, than those not instructed to suppress such thoughts.

So what does the unavoidable power of feelings mean for motivation?

In their book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath say that emotions are an essential part of executing any plan:

Focus on emotions. Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people (or yourself) feel something.

We need to think to plan but we need to feel to act.

So if you’ve got the thinking part out of the way – how do you rile up those emotions and get things done? Here are three steps:

1) Get Positive

When do we procrastinate the most? When we’re in a bad mood.

Via Temptation: Finding Self-Control in an Age of Excess:

So procrastination is a mood-management technique, albeit (like eating or taking drugs) a shortsighted one. But we’re most prone to it when we think it will actually help… Well, far and away the most procrastination occurred among the bad-mood students who believed their mood could be changed and who had access to fun distractions.

Meanwhile, research shows happiness increases productivity and makes you more successful.

What does the military teach recruits in order to mentally toughen them up? No, it’s not hand-to-hand combat.

It’s optimism. So how do you get optimistic if you’re not feeling it?

Monitor the progress you’re making and celebrate it. Harvard’s Teresa Amabile‘s research found that nothing is more motivating than progress.

Via The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work:

This pattern is what we call the progress principle: of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most powerful is the opposite of progress—setbacks in the work. We consider this to be a fundamental management principle: facilitating progress is the most effective way for managers to influence inner work life.

(More on how to get happier here.)

Okay, so negativity isn’t making you procrastinate and holding you back. But what’s going to drive you forward?

2) Get Rewarded

Rewards feel good. Penalties feel bad. And that’s why they both can work well for motivating you.

Research shows that rewards are responsible for three-quarters of why you do things.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Researchers find that perceived self-interest, the rewards one believes are at stake, is the most significant factor in predicting dedication and satisfaction toward work. It accounts for about 75 percent of personal motivation toward accomplishment. – Dickinson 1999

So treat yourself whenever you complete something on your to-do list. (Yes, this is how you train a dog but it will work for you too.)

Having trouble finding a reward awesome enough to get you off your butt? Try a “commitment device” instead:

Give your friend $100. If you get a task done by 5PM, you get your $100 back. If you don’t complete it, you lose the $100.

Your to-do list just got very emotional.

(More on how to stop procrastinating here.)

So you’re feeling positive and there are rewards (or penalties) in place. What else do you need? How about nagging, compliments and guilt?

3) Get Peer Pressure

Research shows peer pressure helps kids more than it hurts them.

(And face it, you’re still a big kid, you just have to pretend to be an adult most of the time — and it’s exhausting.)

Surround yourself with people you want to be and it’s far less taxing to do what you should be doing.

Via Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real.

The Longevity Project, which studied over 1000 people from youth to death had this to say:

The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path of change.

And the research on friendship confirms this. From my interview with Carlin Flora, author of Friendfluence:

Research shows over time, you develop the eating habits, health habits and even career aspirations of those around you. If you’re in a group of people who have really high goals for themselves you’ll take on that same sense of seriousness.

(More on the science of friendship here.)

So we’ve got all three methods going for us. How do we wrap this all together and get started?

Sum Up

Got today’s to-do list? Great. That means the most rational thing to do now isstop being rational. Get those emotions going:

  1. Get Positive
  2. Get Rewarded
  3. Get Peer Pressure

You can do this. In fact, believing you can do this is actually the first step.

What’s one of the main things that stops people from becoming happier? Happiness isn’t part of how they see themselves so it’s harder to change.

Think of yourself as a motivated, productive person. Research shows how people feel about themselves has a huge effect on success.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

For most people studied, the first step toward improving their job performance had nothing to do with the job itself but instead with improving how they felt about themselves. In fact, for eight in ten people, self-image matters more in how they rate their job performance than does their actual job performance. – Gribble 2000

Still unsure if you’ll be able to beat the procrastination demon? Then skip right to #3, peer pressure.

Forward this post to at least two friends and start holding each other accountable.

Now you’ve got something outside of yourself that’s watching and motivating you. And everything is easier — and more fun — with friends.

Join 85K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

How To Achieve Work-Life Balance In 5 Steps

8 Things The World’s Most Successful People All Have In Common

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME

This Is the Ultimate Secret to an Email-Free Life

Photo: Shutterstock

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This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article below was originally published on The Muse.

There’s no doubt that a large chunk of anyone’s job involves reading and responding to dozens of emails every day. Tasks, promotions, email newsletters: Your inbox is never given a break—and neither are you.

But what if there was a way to stop stressing about all of those work emails? Or, what if you could do the impossible: quit emailing cold turkey?

This is exactly what entrepreneur Claire Burge recently did. After using RescueTime to track her workday activities and realizing that, because of email, she was productive for only about 23% of the day, she decided to stop emailing altogether for 10 months.

How? Burge realized that there were three different types of email she was receiving through the day: task-related, push notifications (just “FYI” sorts of emails that required no action), and collaborative messages. All of these messages, she concluded, could be communicated through other means, like a simple phone call, a tweet, or a task management system.

Additionally, Burge found that an email inbox isn’t as efficient as having specific and targeted task management systems. “With an inbox, everything flows into one pool; there isn’t any difference in any intelligent way,” she told Fast Company. “Using task management systems or social media platforms, messages are automatically sorted and are handled during times specified for those tasks.”

While Burge didn’t end up cutting out email for good after the experiment, she found a way to tame, reduce, and manage it, making email the exception, rather than the rule.

Don’t think you can kick email altogether? There’s still a lot you learn from Burge’s experiment. For one thing, start thinking of ways you can cut unnecessary email time out of your life. Make it a point to only check email a couple times a day or stop when you leave the office or by a certain time every night. (Let’s be real here: Would you rather be answering emails or watching the latest episode of Suits?) Or, like Burge, figure out if there’s a better way to get your tasks and messages across to others. A task management system or other app could in fact be saving you time and stress.
What can you do today to start cutting email out of your life?

About the author: Lily is co-founder of The Prospect, a college admissions and high school and college lifestyles website. In addition to her work with The Muse, she also does work with Her Campus, HelloFlo, and the Huffington Post, all while balancing being a student at Wesleyan University. You can follow The Prospect on Facebook and Lily on Twitter.

Read more from The Muse:

What to Do When You’re Just Not That Into an Idea Anymore

The Best Ways to be Productive When Your Energy is Gone

What Your Facebook Profile Says About Your Personality

TIME

Undivided Attention: 6 Ways to Focus That Will Make You Happier

Give me your undivided attention for a second. (It’ll make you happier, I promise.)

You create your world with what you pay attention to.

There are a million things happening right now: some good, some bad.

Pay attention to the good, you’ll feel better. Pay attention to the bad, and, well … you get it.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

the things that you don’t attend to in a sense don’t exist, at least for you. All day long, you are selectively paying attention to something, and much more often than you may suspect, you can take charge of this process to good effect. Indeed, your ability to focus on this and suppress that is the key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being …

Research shows that paying attention to positive feelings literally expands your world. Focusing on the negative makes it tiny.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Based on objective lab tests that measure vision, Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, shows that paying attention to positive emotions literally expands your world, while focusing on negative feelings shrinks it — a fact that has important implications for your daily experience.

As Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman famously said, “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.”

As research has shown, lottery winners aren’t as happy as you might guess and paraplegics aren’t as unhappy as you might think. Why?

For each, being rich or being paralyzed eventually becomes one small piece of their very big life. In other words, they stop focusing on it.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

“People think that if they win the lottery, they’ll be happy forever. Of course, they will not. For a while, they are happy because of the novelty, and because they think about winning all the time. Then they adapt and stop paying attention to it.” Similarly, he says, “Everyone is surprised by how happy paraplegics can be, but they are not paraplegic full-time. They do other things. They enjoy their meals, their friends, the newspaper. It has to do with the allocation of attention.”

And controlling that attention can be the key to your happiness.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Kahneman says that both the Dalai Lama and the Penn positive psychologist Martin Seligman would agree about the importance of paying attention: “Being able to control it gives you a lot of power, because you know that you don’t have to focus on a negative emotion that comes up.”

So in a world of buzzing iPhones and relentless emails and text messages, how can you better control your attention and make yourself happier?

Here are six tips from research.

(I still have your undivided attention, right? Just checking.)

1) Reappraisal

How you react to things is more important than what actually happens.

Research pioneered by Arnold and Lazarus shows reappraising situations, focusing on the good elements of “bad” events, can be a huge step toward staying positive.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

direct your attention to some element of the situation that frames things in a more helpful light. After a big blowup over an equitable sharing of the housework, rather than continuing to concentrate on your partner’s selfishness and sloth, you might focus on the fact that at least a festering conflict has been aired, which is the first step toward a solution to the problem, and to your improved mood.

Sound like denial? Self-deception?

It is. And it works like a charm.

That’s why people happier than you do it all the time.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Directing your attention away from a negative experience not only is not as maladaptive as many of his peers think but, according to the Columbia psychologist George Bonanno, can be a superior coping strategy. Indeed, he finds that in the wake of an upsetting event, “self-deception and emotional avoidance are consistently and robustly linked to a better outcome.” Even when you’re reeling from a severe blow, such as a loved one’s death, diverting your focus from your grief can boost your resilience.

As I’ve posted before, more thinking can cure bad feelings. Meditation can increase your attention span.

2) Focus On Those Who Believe In You

How do politicians and salesmen stay so positive?

Part of it may be acting but they also have a tendency to selectively pay attention to positive reinforcers.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Individuals of sanguine temperament, such as certain politicians, CEOs and salesmen, seem naturally to excel at directing their focus away from negative targets. Research shows that when they confront a potentially unpleasant situation, such as some unfriendly faces at a gathering, these extraverts are apt to shift their attention rapidly around the room and zero in on amiable or neutral visages, thus short-circuiting the distressing images before they can get stored in memory.

3) Seek Flow

You don’t need more time “doing nothing” to recharge, you need more challenges that you find engrossing.

Flow” (being so wrapped up in what you’re doing that the world falls away) is an active state of attention that research shows we like more than endless hours in front of the TV.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

In a stunning example of the kind of mind-set that undermines good daily experience, most people reflexively say that they prefer being at home to being at work. However, flow research shows that on the job, they’re much likelier to focus on activities that demand their attention, challenge their abilities, have a clear objective and elicit timely feedback — conditions that favor optimal experience.

4) Make Boring Things Into A Game

Even dull jobs can be more compelling if you change the activity into a game and make it a challenge.

This increases your engagement and makes you happier.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

With some thought, effort, and attention, says Csíkszentmihályi, you can make even an apparently dreary job, such as assembling toasters or packaging tools, much more satisfying. “The trick,” he says, “is to turn the work into a kind of game, in which you focus closely on each aspect” — screwing widget A to widget B or the positions of your tools and materials — “ and try to figure out how to make it better. That way, you turn a rote activity into an engaging one.”

5) Schedule Challenges For Your Leisure Time

Schedule things in advance that draw you in and you’ll find yourself enjoying your free time more.

Most of us seek unscheduled free time for our leisure but given your brain’s lazy nature, you’re likely to waste that time doing what’s easy vs. what’s really fun.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Summing up, Csíkszentmihályi says, “If left to their own devices and genetic programming, and without a salient external stimulus to attract them, most people go into a mode of low-level information processing in which they worry about things or watch television.” The antidote to leisure-time ennui is to pay as much attention to scheduling a productive evening or weekend as you do to your workday.

6) Take Time To Savor

Take time to pay attention to and appreciate the good things in life.

Yes, “take time to smell the roses” is more than a cliche.

This is one of the secrets of the happiest people and it’s part of the basis for one of the most effective happiness-boosting techniques.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

One group was told to focus on all the upbeat things they could find — sunshine, flowers, smiling pedestrians. Another was to look for negative stuff — graffiti, litter, frowning faces. The third group was instructed to walk just for the exercise. At the end of the week, when the walkers’ well-being was tested again, those who had deliberately targeted positive cues were happier than before the experiment. The negatively focused subjects were less happy, and the just plain exercisers scored in between. The point, says Bryant, is that “you see what you look for. And you can train yourself to attend to the joy out there waiting to be had, instead of passively waiting for it to come to you.”

Results?

And what are the results of more focus and undivided attention?

Focused work and focused leisure not only make you happier in the moment but your selection of challenges to overcome are what forge you into the type of person you want to be.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

Over time, a commitment to challenging, focused work and leisure produces not only better daily experience, but also a more complex, interesting person: the long-range benefit of the focused life. As Hobbs puts it, the secret of fulfillment is “to choose trouble for oneself in the direction of what one would like to become.”

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME sleep

How Procrastination Is Messing With Your Sleep

How Procrastination Is Messing With Your Sleep
Tim Platt—Getty Images/Collection Mix: Subjects RM

Whether you’re a night owl or an early riser, sometimes it can be hard to stick to your bedtime. You know, those times when you mean to go to sleep but instead you stay up to watch just one more episode of Orange Is the New Black. Before you know it, it’s 1 a.m. The next day, you’re probably groggy, tired, and—let’s face it—cranky.

Health.com:11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep

“Bedtime procrastination” is the name researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands have given to this phenomenon. They define it as “failing to go to bed at the intended time, while no external circumstances prevent a person from doing so.”

Translation: Unlike insomnia, which is when you can’t fall asleep, bedtime procrastination is when you could go to bed, but you willingly put it off and, as a result, you don’t get enough sleep.

Health.com:12 Ways We Sabotage Our Mental Health

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Parenting

What Single Policy Could Ease Americans’ Time Crunch?

Work-life balance is at the core of why we all feel so overwhelmed. Here are some solutions from thought leaders and experts for how to remedy that.

You’ve probably seen that “Poolside” Cadillac commercial, which debuted during the Sochi Olympics, where a dad looks over his infinity pool and notes, “Other countries – they work, stroll home, stop by the café, take August off.” High-fiving his kid and handing a newspaper to his wife, he tells us why “we” aren’t like that: “Because we’re crazy-driven, hard-working believers, that’s why.” The ad was meant to provoke, but it also illustrates how Americans work hard, play hard, and still expect a warm family and manicured yard as part of living the American Dream.

And yet, 53 percent of working parents in a study published by the Pew Research Center last year said they found it very or somewhat difficult to balance their work and family life. Thirty-four percent of those parents say they always feel rushed, even to do the things they have to do. This is only one of a slew of studies that illustrate how overwhelmed many Americans feel trying to “have it all.” In advance of the Zócalo event “Why Can’t Americans Balance Love, Work, and Play?”, we asked experts what single cultural or policy change could ease American’s time crunch?

1. Retool school schedules and expectations

It seems to me that one cultural shift that has gone way too far is the expectation that parents will be intimately involved in the workings of schools and the goings-on of classrooms.

I realized it had escalated way beyond normality when the parent group at my kid’s elementary school organized not teacher appreciation day but teacher appreciation week. Each day, kids needed to remember to bring in something different: a rose, say, on Monday, and a card on Tuesday, and Wednesday we needed to contribute an item to the teacher’s breakfast–this, on top of endless committees having to do with art contests, silent auctions, book fairs, etc.

Most of it seems to fall on mothers. It just adds to the overlong to-do list. Parents need to say no–and I did, much of the time–but schools, and parent committees, should also ask themselves whether this or that event or request for classroom involvement is necessary. Related to this, of course, is the culture of extracurricular events, which is also its own kind of arms race: travel soccer, camps, teams, fees. There needs to be some sort of cultural pushback, some sort of ratcheting down of the number of things that parents have to do with regard to schooling.

Even more important is a whole scale re-envisioning of the school day and a culture-wide effort to have school sync up better with parents’ work schedules. More school aftercare would help. Also, what would help would be to have the above-mentioned extracurriculars incorporated into the afterschool day, so that it can happen on school grounds, and parents don’t have to do all that driving and organizing. We need a Steve Jobs–somebody obsessed with simplicity and ease of use–to tackle and vanquish the level of complexity that has come to define the raising and education of children.

Liza Mundy is director of the Breadwinning and Caregiving Program at the New America Foundation. A journalist and book author, Liza most recently wrote The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love and Family.

2. Hold employees accountable for results

Americans need to work less. As I chronicled in my book, Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, overwork is not only diminishing Americans’ quality of life outside the office, it’s making us less effective inside the office, too.

It may sound counterintuitive, but when we work more than 40 hours per week, study after study has shown we actually become less productive. Knowledge workers have four to six hours of solid productivity in a day. After that, productivity starts to decline until eventually we enter a negative progress cycle, which means we’re creating more problems than we’re solving.

Many of us know we should work less. But that’s hard to do in a culture where “full time” often means 50-plus hours a week (not including the commute), and part-timers are treated as slackers (even if, hour for hour, they are in fact the most productive people on the payroll). Roughly half of all jobs in America are compatible with working from home part-time, yet many companies still frown on this practice. Commitment to one’s job is still measured not by effectiveness, but by how many nights and weekends one works.

A simple but powerful change businesses can make is to hold employees accountable to results, rather than fixating on how many hours or days they spend at a desk. One exciting trend management experts talk about is “results-only work environments” where managers stop acting like babysitters and instead, they empower employees to decide when, where, and how to best get their work done. Businesses reap the benefits in increased productivity and morale, and decreased turnover.

Our state of overwork is bad for our health and bad for business. If companies want a competitive edge, they must create environments where employees can thrive—even if that means for many of us, working less.

Katrina Alcorn is a writer, consultant, and public speaker. Her first book, Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, tells a deeply personal story about “having it all,” failing miserably, and what comes after.

3. Make work schedules flexible – and don’t ding workers for taking advantage of that

Simply put, today’s workplace is not designed around today’s worker. Instead, it clings to the 1960s notion of an “ideal worker” – someone who is available to work whenever needed while someone else holds down the fort at home, and who takes little or no time off for childbearing or child rearing. Structuring work in this fashion marginalizes caregivers, men, and women alike.

Women who take family leave or adopt flexible work schedules to have more time with their children often encounter “maternal wall” bias, which is by far the strongest form of gender bias today. A well-known experimental study found that mothers were 79 percent less likely to be hired, half as likely to be promoted, offered an average of $11,000 less in salary, and held to higher performance and punctuality standards than identical women without children. Mothers face assumptions that being committed to work makes them bad mothers, and that being committed to motherhood makes them bad workers.

Meanwhile, men face a different type of “flexibility stigma” because childcare, fairly or unfairly, is still seen as being a feminine role. Men seeking to take family leave, for instance, are not only seen as bad workers, but also as bad (i.e., less manly) men. In other words, the flexibility stigma is a femininity stigma.

This is a sobering message for employers: creating flexible work policies is only half the battle. The next step is to eliminate the stigma that all too often accompanies such arrangements. Happily, change may be on the horizon. Many, if not most, talented young men and women want to combine meaningful work with a fulfilling personal life. As the Millennial generation gains influence in the workforce, we can only hope that their values will lead to a change in workplace culture.

Joan C. Williams is Hastings Foundation Chair and Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California (Hastings). She has authored or co-authored over 90 academic articles and book chapters, as well as authored or co-authored 8 books, the most recent being What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know. You can also follow her work on Twitter @JoanCWilliams and her Huffington Post blog.

4. Teach employees how to be their best on and off the job

We need to recognize, as a culture, that we have to train people to fit work and the other parts of their life together. It’s a modern skill we all need to succeed that most of us don’t have.

According to our research, most of us are flying by the seat of our pants trying to get everything done even though the boundaries that used to tell us where work ended and the rest of life began have all but disappeared.

The good news is we have more flexibility in how, when, and where we can get our jobs done. The bad news is that no one is showing us how to capture that work-life flexibility, intentionally, and use it to be our best, on and off the job.

According to the results of our recent national survey of full-time employed U.S. adults, 97 percent of respondents reported having some form of work-life flexibility in 2013 when compared to the previous year; however, only 40 percent said they received training or guidance on how to manage it. Not surprisingly, 62 percent of respondents reported obstacles to using or improving their work-life flexibility such as increased workload or having no time, and fears of job and income loss.

Teaching people the basics of how to manage the way their work and life fit together makes a difference. For example, we showed a group of 40 employees in a large medical testing lab how to choose small, but meaningful work, career, and personal priorities and focus on these actions for the next seven days, a technique in my book, Tweak It. They planned when, where, how, and with whom they would accomplish those “tweaks.” At the end of six weeks, 92 percent of participants said they were better able to prioritize all of their responsibilities and goals, and 88 percent felt they more actively managed what they had to get done at work and in their personal lives.

Cali Williams Yost is a flexible workplace strategist and author who has spent two decades helping organizations and individuals partner for award-winning flexible work success. Her “how to” work+life fit advice for individuals can be found in her new book Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day (Center Street, 2013).

5. Five mindset changes that leaders should adopt

The pressure to work more hours and to work faster is real. Over 70 percent of both men and women say that they have to work very fast, and roughly 90 percent say that they have to work very hard, according to our research.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we’re going to help ease Americans’ time crunch among the rank and file, the leaders at organizations will need a major mindset overhaul when it comes to how they think about work for themselves and for their employees.

Mindset #1: Priorities, not balance. Balance is static, but life is not, so accept that every day is different, and anchor your day-to-day in your overall priorities.

Mindset #2: Dual centric, not work centric. Don’t put work before everything else all the time. Our research shows that executives who prioritize work some of the time and prioritize personal life some of the time – what we call being dual centric – are less stressed, have an easier time managing work and personal demands, have advanced as high or at higher levels than those executives who were work-centric, and feel more successful in their home lives.

Mindset #3: Better, not perfect. Expecting perfection limits your ability to ask for help, so set expectations that allow for getting better and you will grow.

Mindset #4: Team, not individual. Going it alone limits your options, so get the whole team work it out together. That means the team at home as well as the team at work.

Mindset #5: Rest and recover, not flat-out. Making decisions in a constant time bind affects performance, so step away before diving in.

Leaders and managers at all levels who adopt these mindsets for themselves will both ease their own time crunch and improve their performance – and change the culture at work for everyone.

Anne Weisberg is senior vice president of the Families and Work Institute and an executive who has designed innovative practices to build effective, inclusive work environments. She co-authored the best selling book Mass Career Customization: Aligning the Workplace With Today’s Nontraditional Workforce and directed the report on women in the legal profession Women in Law: Making the Case.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

4 Ways to Stop Procrastinating

Ways to Stop Procrastinating
Merve Karahan—Getty Images

Choices are never easy, especially when it comes to life’s big ones. Phoebe, 39, came to see me one day, distraught after learning from a doctor that she might not be able to conceive. “How long have you been trying?” I asked. “On and off for eight months,” she told me. Even though she had always wanted a baby and had been married for seven years, she confessed that she’d had a lot of trouble committing to getting pregnant. She didn’t understand why; in fact, she’d had a similar problem deciding whether or not to marry her (very) long-term boyfriend, to the point that she almost lost him.

Of course, getting married and starting a family aren’t decisions you enter into lightly, but Phoebe had a major case of life procrastination. That’s what I call voluntarily putting off something you truly want to do, despite knowing that you’ll probably be worse off because of the delay.

People tend to think of procrastination in terms of concrete to-dos—waiting until the last minute to turn in a work report, say, or paying bills late. But it can also take hold when making life decisions both small and large, from Should I join a gym? to Do I ask for a raise? These missed opportunities can damage your career or relationship and also give you a nagging, frustrating feeling that you’re stuck in a rut of your own making.

Health.com: 12 Ways We Sabotage Our Mental Health

Research shows that about 20 percent of adults are chronic procrastinators, but many more of us occasionally put off until tomorrow what we need—and even want—to do today. Yet for the most part, we don’t realize that it’s happening or that, in the process, we’re undermining our own happiness. Procrastinators tend to be far more stressed than those who don’t have this habit; they get sick more often, too. If you can suck it up and act, however, you’ll find your day-to-day a lot more pleasant and rewarding: Your mind will be released from all that ruminating and second-guessing, paving the way for other opportunities. After all, life is richest when filled with milestones and accomplishments—not with regrets of what you should’ve and would’ve done, if only.

So why would a woman push off a marriage or baby she really wants? Why would someone stay in a job she no longer likes? It’s not that they’re lazy or overly laid-back. Life procrastinators may dread failure. They may have a fear of success, an urge to be defiant, a perfectionist streak or a need to take risks—all of which can get in the way when trying to make a decision. Take my diagnostic quiz to see if you are a life procrastinator, then keep reading to discover what’s driving your indecision and find real-world solutions that will finally set you free.

‘I don’t want to fail’

If you’re so afraid of being bad (or, worse, just OK) at something that you’d rather not try it at all, here’s a news flash: You’re a perfectionist. Perhaps you hardly ever work out because you’d feel terrible if you killed yourself at the gym but couldn’t lose the last 10 pounds or hone that six-pack. Carrying this to the extreme, you may also believe that you are only lovable and worthwhile if your performance at everything is nothing less than outstanding.

Health.com: 19 Natural Remedies for Anxiety

Try this: The next time you’re hemming and hawing over something you could crash and burn at, take a page from Sheryl Sandberg and tell yourself, Done is better than perfect. Chances are, no one will notice if the results aren’t up to your exacting standards; they’ll just be impressed that you got results, period.

‘I’m afraid of being successful’

On the flip side, some of us become paralyzed by imagining that if we excel, we will be expected to keep performing at that level. Or we freak out that the achievement would change our lives in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways. Concerns you may have: If I ask for that promotion and get it, who’s going to help out with the kids if I have to put in more hours at the office? Are my work friends going to stop inviting me to lunch?

Try this: Accept uncertainty. The reality is that any choice you make (even if you decide to keep things status quo) will have upsides and downsides. Imagining the potential negatives (My friend at work will be so jealous) and telling yourself that it will work out (She’ll deal, or else I’ll find a new confidant) can help you stop obsessing and start doing. Worried that you’ll be less available for your loved ones? That’s a classic fear of success. Keep in mind that if and when you accept a new position or job, you can set boundaries at the outset. Thing is, you can’t do that unless you apply first.

Health.com: 15 Everyday Habits to Boost Your Libido

‘I don’t want to be told what to do’

You aim—fine, you need—to be in charge. You probably grew up with an authoritarian parent who was very controlling. Unfortunately, now you’re asserting yourself by delaying things that must be addressed, like making basic updates to your circa-1950s kitchen. Your story is: “Hey! No one can order me around!”—even though no one really is—”I’ll do it on my terms!” Which may be never.

Try this: When you find yourself resisting a change, ask yourself how you’re really feeling at heart. Indecision often masks anxiety, sadness or anger. Perhaps your parents were always fighting about money, so even though you have the cash to renovate, you feel stressed-out about spending it. Figuring out which emotion is stopping you from acting can make a decision clearer because it becomes more obvious that the conflict over taking action is coming from you. In other words, you are fighting only yourself.

‘I get a rush out of doing things last-minute’

Some put-offers aren’t anxious at all: They thrive on the excitement of scrambling to hit deadlines, often because they find the daily grind boring—and boredom terrifying. A thrill seeker who wants to go on some fantasy vacation, such as a boat cruise in the Galapagos, may delay purchasing tickets but keep checking to see how many spots are left until, finally, she is forced to commit because the trip is almost booked.

Health.com: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

Try this: If you’re always telling yourself that you’re at your best when under pressure, prove it (in a small, innocuous way). Do a task—like tossing in a load of laundry or completing your expenses at work—at the last minute, as usual. Then one day perform that same chore ahead of schedule. You’ll most likely notice that your overall routine seems a little saner and that you have more free time on your hands when you knock stuff off early. Even better: You’ll have a full underwear drawer—and a cool trip to look forward to.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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