Fast Company: Motivational Mind Tricks Designed to Power Progress

Janet Choi is Chief Creative Officer of iDoneThis, an email-based productivity log. She has a B.A. from Duke University and a J.D. from American University.

Progress is untapped power. It fuels our motivation and performance like no other incentive yet is broadly overlooked. To gain that integral sense of progress, you need to know when you’ve moved forward. The trouble is that most of the time, our work doesn’t yield the easy clarity of progress that a farmer sees in the number of bushels harvested.

These three mind tricks of progress serve employees and managers alike to break free from hamsterdom and actually get somewhere.

Mind Trick No. 1: Seeing progress boosts your performance.

Simply seeing your progress really makes a difference.

Take one of Dan Ariely’s studies, where students were paid to build Lego figurines. Every additional figurine earned a decreasing amount of money. Group one participants saw their figurines dismantled as soon as they were built. While told that their work would be disassembled at the end of the study, group two students placed each completed figurine on a desk before continuing onto the next one. Group two out-built group one, eleven to seven. Seeing the visible indication of progress of accumulating figurines drove group two to keep building.

Take time to reflect on and acknowledge how your work has progressed. All it takes is a pause to get the satisfying sight of all your own kind of accumulating Bionicles rather than letting them slip past you, unrecognized sources of fuel.

Mind Trick No. 2: Even the illusion of progress spurs motivation.

Your motivation surges the closer you are to reaching your goal. Something about seeing the finish line lights a fire, even when you’re not always on the right track. Take those loyalty cards from coffee shops. As a Columbia University study found, the closer you are to earning a free coffee, the more frequently you’ll purchase a cup.

The funny thing is that even the illusion of progress causes the same accelerating effect. In the same study, one set of coffee shop customers received a 12-stamp loyalty card, with two pre-existing bonus stamps, while the other got a regular 10-stamp card. Who purchased 10 drinks faster for their free coffee? The 12-stamp cardholders, by three days.

Get that bonus stamp effect by thinking through and planning out first steps to move faster toward your goals. Also, shift your frames of reference by aiming for shorter-term yet still meaningful goals, thinking dashes and sprints in a relay race rather than one long solo marathon.

Mind Trick No. 3: A lack of progress isn’t the end of the line.

Progress isn’t a continuous ascent to a peak. Sometimes you get stuck on a flat bit somewhere in the middle, for any number of reasons--becoming bored with your work, thinking you’ve reached your limit, feeling like you’re not getting anywhere, or even feeling smug about where you’ve arrived.

The critical factor of deliberate practice is intention. Your goal itself must be improvement--achieved through a combination of knowing your weaknesses, self-monitoring, analysis, study, and experimentation. Ericsson found that the best chess players possessed the largest library of chess literature and spent three to five hours in daily solitary study, analyzing chess moves, positioning, and sequences.

Cultivate deliberate practice by adopting that improvement-centered mindset and taking the time to admit and tackle your weaknesses, whether it’s time management, public speaking, writing, or managing others.

The thing about these flat-line plateaus of progress is you have no sense of where you stand or how high to aim unless you look up. Challenge yourself, embrace failure, and try new things. Growth is usually uncomfortable, but at least it’s made easier and more effective with proper breaks to recharge.

(Image: WebMD)

Related: Pick The Brain: Structuring Your Day to Maximize Fulfillment & Productivity

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08.27.13  12:00PM    JANET C

Tip: Clean Your Bathroom Mirror & Make it Steam Proof

To clean a bathroom mirror, rub on shave foam. Wipe with a soft, clean cloth. As a bonus, the mirror will be fog-free after your next shower.

Related: Clean Your Venetian Blinds

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08.26.13  12:00PM    KAREN B

Categories: cleaning & housekeeping
Pick The Brain: Structuring Your Day to Maximize Fulfillment & Productivity

1. Begin your day with a goal in mind. Take time to think about your passion and purpose. Write down your goal for the day. On the line below it, think about your major definite purpose. What would you like to accomplish in life if you could do anything? Write that down. These goals may change day to day.

The reasoning behind this practice is that it aligns your subconscious with a pre-set vision. It also helps to organize your actions to align with your purpose and goal.

2. Create a list divided into three sections. The first section represents the “big picture,” or long term goals. Write down steps you need to take to achieve long term goals (a few months to one year). The second section represents daily tasks. These items are (obviously) day-to-day tasks that need to be accomplished. The last column is reserved for anything that doesn’t fit into these two columns. Highlight or star 2-3 items in the first and second column on which you need to focus today.

3. As you go through your day, structure it so that you strategically intersperse “release” time between your “work times.” For instance, squeeze a 30 minute brisk outdoor walk during your lunch break. This will get the blood flowing and set you up with a positive attitude for the remainder of the day.

4. Do the hard things first, or when you are most energized. For instance, I know that I am a morning person; so I schedule my most difficult tasks (the ones that I really don’t want to do, and will not get done if I put them off until the end of the day) in the morning.

5. When you are working, keep your list (step 2) and goals (step 1) close by so you can refer to them as needed. When you are working, work seriously. No distractions. No social media sites open. No emails open. This is because you need to finish your tasks as efficiently as possible. This will free up your time to indulge in short breaks, or “release” times (step 3).

6. Make time to connect with people, specifically people who are important to you. Do not get so absorbed in work/productivity/scheduling breaks that you lose contact with the people who matter most. This is the most important step because human connection is essential for fulfillment. Send a thoughtful text; write a thank you letter by hand; have a real conversation with your spouse. Daily bits of extra effort are the glue that holds solid relationships together.

7. At the end of the day, do a quick assessment of what worked and what didn’t work. Do not try to squeeze in a last bit of work right before bed. This will exhaust you and prime your mind to think about work while sleeping (not fun). Review your goals again and practice a relaxation technique (try meditating or deep breathing).

(Original Article: 7 Ways Structure Your Day to Maximize Fulfillment and Productivity)
(Image: InnovativelOrganized.com)

Related: Life Reboot: Know When To Quit

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08.13.13  12:00PM    CONNIE S

Tip: Clean Your Venetian Blinds

Put dirty venetian blinds in a tub of warm water; add 1/2 cup of baking soda, soak for half an hour, then scrub and rinse.

Related: De-Grease Your Frying Pan

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08.12.13  12:00PM    KAREN B

Categories: cleaning & housekeeping, baking soda