MONEY Workplace

3 Ways to Keep Your Workload From Crushing You

For salaried employees, the typical workweek now totals 49 hours. lucas zarebinski

Feeling overwhelmed and overloaded at work? Here's how to take back your time.

So much for 9 to 5. The average full-time salaried employee is now putting in nearly 10 hours a day, according to a recent Gallup poll (up slightly from a weekly average of 47 hours in 2007). Even grimmer: 25% say they’re regularly working a 60-hour week.

Feeling overwhelmed and overloaded? There are some simple tactics that will help you keep your workday in check.

Get your priorities straight. “Do the most important or most difficult task first,” says Mitzi Weinman of professional development firm TimeFinder. Starting with the quick, easy jobs is tempting, but delaying the thornier tasks just increases the odds that you’ll need to stay late to finish.

Plug productivity leaks. Try tracking your activities: Write down everything you do in half-hour increments. You may discover that you’re spending more time, say, browsing social media than you thought. Set a limit for how long you can spend on any time-sucking activity and stick to it.

Manage messages. Email, while necessary, can be a distraction, says Patricia Thompson, a psychologist and career coach. Decide how often you need to check messages, then shut down your email program between checks (mute smartphone alerts as well).

TIME psychology

How to Be Efficient: Dan Ariely’s 6 New Secrets to Managing Your Time

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

It’s hard to be efficient.

Sometimes it feels like the world doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes youdon’t make any sense. And sometimes it feels like it’s all a conspiracy.

As we’ll see shortly, these are all, in a way, true.

Dan Ariely is the king of irrational behavior. Not that he’s more irrational than you or I, but he’s studied an impressive amount of it.

Dan is a behavioral economist at Duke University and the New York Times bestselling author of three wonderful books:

  1. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
  2. The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic
  3. The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves

Most recently he’s turned his attention to the irrationality of how we use our time and has helped create a new smart-calendar app, Timeful.

What’s great is the data from Timeful is helping us learn things about what works and what doesn’t as it relates to productivity.

I gave Dan a call to hear what he had to say about how we can improve time management, how to be efficient and how to get more done.

1) The World Is Working Against You

This isn’t a conspiracy theory and a tinfoil hat isn’t required, but we are spending more of our time in environments that have their own agendas.

Billboards and TV ads want you to buy. The links on the internet encourage you to click. Notifications on your smartphone beckon you.

Our default is now a constant, aggressive chain of siren songs from our environment.

Here’s Dan:

The world is not acting in our long-term benefit. Imagine you walk down the street and every store is trying to get your money right now; in your pocket you have a phone and every app wants to control your attention right now. Most of the entities in our lives really want us to make mistakes in their favor. So the world is making things very, very difficult.

If you followed every directive from your surroundings these days you’d quickly be broke, obese, and constantly distracted.

It’s like we’re surrounded by scheming thieves: thieves of our time, thieves of our attention, thieves of our productivity.

And how do pickpockets steal your stuff? Distraction.

Here’s Dan:

I have a friend who’s a magician and he pickpockets people in his show. He said when he started he used to tap people to distract them. He’d tap them, they would lose their concentration and he could take their watch. He said now he realizes that merely asking people questions is enough to make them lose the ability to focus.

(Short on time? Skip to 5:35 to see how easily distracted you can be.)

Not having a plan, goals or a system in today’s world is dangerous because the default isn’t neutral.

(For more on what the most productive people do to reduce distractions, click here.)

So what does this mean is the first big step to productivity?

2) Control Your Environment Or It Will Control You

We can’t control our environment everywhere we go, of course, but we have more control than we usually choose to exercise.

If you banish distractions and control your calendar you can make sure your environment is ripe for productivity.

Here’s Dan:

One of the big lessons from social science in the last 40 years is that environment matters. If you go to a buffet and the buffet is organized in one way, you will eat one thing. If it’s organized in a different way, you’ll eat different things. We think that we make decisions on our own but the environment influences us to a great degree. Because of that we need to think about how to change our environment.

What does research show the most productive computer programmers have in common?

It’s not experience, salary, or hours spent on a project.

They had employers who created an environment free from distraction.

Via Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking:

…top performers overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave their workers the most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruption.

Research shows distractions make us stupid.

Your surroundings should make the things you need to do easy and the things you shouldn’t do hard.

What happened when Google put M&M’s in containers instead of out in the open? People ate 3 million less of them in one month.

Here’s Dan:

Here’s an experiment that Google did recently. The M&Ms in their New York office used to be in baskets. So instead they put them in bowls with lids. The lid doesn’t require a lot of effort to lift but it reduced the number of M&Ms consumed in their New York office by 3 million a month.

(For more on how the most organized people stay on track, click here.)

Okay, so you need to manage your environment. How do you manage your calendar?

3) Write Everything Down

We all know how fallible our brains can be yet we routinely trust ourselves to remember and follow through on things. Bad.

What did research from the Timeful app tell Dan?

  1. Most people don’t write down the things they need to do.
  2. When you do write things down, you’re more likely to follow through on them.

If it’s important, write it down. Reminders, post-its, and calendars are all good tools.

Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker points to research showing that your calendar can make you happier:

Take the things that make you happy and energized and schedule them more often.

Sound stupidly simple? Research says we don’t do it enough. Here’s Jennifer:

…there is often a gap between where people say they want to spend their time and how they actually spend their time… once you identify the activities and people with whom you want to spend more time, calendaring your time thoughtfully becomes critical. When you put something on a calendar, you’re more likely to actually do that activity – partly because you’re less likely to have to make an active decision whether you should do it – because it’s already on your calendar.

(For more on how to schedule to-do’s like a pro, click here.)

So you’ve written down everything that needs to get done. Should you just run down the list in order? Absolutely not.

4) When You Do What You Do Is Key

All hours are not created equal. What did Dan’s Timeful research show about our most productive hours?

You have a window of 2-2.5 hours of peak productivity per day, starting a couple hours after waking.

Here’s Dan:

…it turns out that most people are productive in the first two hours of the morning. Not immediately after waking, but if you get up at 7 you’ll be most productive from around from 8-10:30.

how-to-be-efficient

Those are the hours when you should be working on your most cognitively demanding tasks. The big projects. The stuff that really moves the needle.

But what did Dan find that most people did with those hours?

Email and Facebook.

You need to guard those hours for important tasks. Designate that part of your day as “protected time.”

And Dan’s findings line up with other research. I’ve posted before that 2.5 to 4 hours after waking is when your brain is sharpest:

Studies show that alertness and memory, the ability to think clearly and to learn, can vary by between 15 and 30 percent over the course of a day. Most of us are sharpest some two and a half to four hours after waking.

When I interviewed willpower expert Roy Baumeister he said that early morning is also when you’re most disciplined:

The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen. Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast or in the middle of the morning. Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight.

In studies of geniuses, most did their best work early in the day.

(For more on the schedule very successful people follow, click here.)

So you need to shape your environment and protect your peak hours. What should you avoid doing?

5) The Four Horsemen of the Productivity Apocalypse

Dan’s research found 4 things that were the biggest time wasters:

1) Meetings

We all know how meetings waste time and multiply like rabbits. The solution?

Schedule your work time on your calendar. Have a presentation to work on? Block out hours for it.

If people try to put a meeting there, you can say you have a conflict. You do. Your work matters.

A calendar should be a record of anything that needs to get done — not merely of interruptions like meetings and calls.

2) Email

Most people simply spend too much time in their inboxes to accomplish anything of substance.

Here’s how to stop email from taking over your life.

3) Multitasking

Put aside the distractions and do one thing at a time. Across the board, multitasking lowers productivity.

4) “Structured Procrastination”

What’s structured procrastination? It’s doing little things that give us thefeeling of progress instead of deep work that really makes progress.

Here’s Dan:

So making to-do lists and crossing them off is an example of this. Because those things are easily measurable, they make us feel as if we’re achieving things. But real achievements take time. Progress is not always linear. Big projects aren’t always immediately rewarding. Things that are really complex don’t give us the same sense of momentary enjoyment but those are the things that give us the real sense of achievement and progress once we get to them. But I don’t think we get to them enough.

Avoid these four and you’ll see an 80/20 style jump in your productivity.

(For more on work-life balance, click here.)

So you are making progress. You’re more productive during the day. But we all get tired or bored. What’s the best thing to do then?

6) No, You Don’t Need An Email Break

You tell yourself you need an email break, and that you’ll be rejuvenated and work better afterward. Problem is, that’s just not true.

Getting your head into and out of your work takes time. Switching tasks has cognitive costs that reduce efficiency.

Here’s Dan:

People think that checking email refreshes them. It doesn’t. If you want to get refreshed, close your eyes, meditate, breathe deeply, or think about some things that are important. The reality is the right way to do things is shut your email down and focus on what you’re doing.

In fact, research shows that frequent email checks can temporarily lower your intelligence more than being stoned.

Constant emailing reduces mental ability by an average of about 10 IQ points. For men, it’s about three times the effect of smoking marijuana.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of ten points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and fifteen points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis.

Some of you are already saying: “But I have to check email!” Yes, you do. But probably not that often.

As Cal Newport says, Shallow work is what stops you from getting fired. Deep work is what gets you promoted.

And email is shallowest of work. We got men on the moon without email. And email can wait while you get the important things done.

(For more on how the most successful people manage their time, click here.)

So Dan has a lot of tips for us. How do we pull all of this together and be more efficient?

Sum Up

Here are Dan’s tips:

  1. The world is not designed to help you achieve your long term goals. Passivity is not going to get you where you want to go.
  2. Control your environment or it will control you. Optimize your workspace for what you need to achieve.
  3. Write the things you need to do down on your calendar. You’re more likely to do what you write down.
  4. You have about 2 hours of peak productivity, usually early in the morning. Protect those hours and use them wisely.
  5. Meetings, email, multitasking and structured procrastination are the biggest time wasters.
  6. No, you don’t need an email break. Switching tasks reduces effectiveness as your brain transitions. The more you do it, the less effective you are.

You don’t need to account for every minute. You don’t need to agonize over wasted seconds. It’s just about improving.

And none of us are infallible. When I asked Dan about work-life balance, what did he say?

I struggle with it every day. You and I are doing this interview and it’s Saturday, Eric.

So nobody’s perfect. But with Dan’s tips we can all get better at managing our time.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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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 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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Anthony Harvie—Getty Images

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.

 

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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.”

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

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

Happy Thoughts: Here are the things proven to make you happier

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.

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