Fellow Fast Track writer Alison Green tipped me off to a great new study on productivity, and it reminded me of a British sci-fi movie I just watched called Frequencies. In it, human beings interact with the world and with each other based on their individual (unseen) biochemical vibrations (or frequencies). One of the characters was able to change his frequency by saying certain words, citing a brain/body connection kindled by speech.
Why You Should Get it Done
As part of her weekly roundup, Alison briefly mentioned the work of neuroperformance expert Leslie Sherlin. In a recent article by Lisa Evans on Fast Company’s website, Co.Exist, Sherlin claimed that saying the word done can help you get more accomplished on your to-do list. “Telling ourselves that we’re done creates not only an emotional reaction but a physiological response as well," said the co-founder of the brain-training company SenseLabs.
“When we’re concentrated on a task, the brain’s electrical activity is heightened. But the moment we say we’re done with something, the electrical activity in our brain shifts from being activated and engaged into a more relaxed state. That relaxed state looks very similar to mediators or individuals who practice mindfulness techniques.”
Deep in the brain, a neurochemical shift occurs as the feel-good chemical serotonin is released. The satisfaction that follows allows you to confidently move on to the next endeavor, and the effect is self-reinforcing. The more often you complete a task, the more confidence you build and the more challenges you are able to take on.
How You Should Get it Done
Of course, just saying the word done won’t help if you’re not actually finished or close to finished. Therefore, you want to do everything you can to facilitate ongoing task completion, and my major advice here is to avoid procrastination.
I talked about one easy fix in my post last spring on the Under 10 Minutes Rule. This rule states that if a task arrives in your queue and it can be completed in less than 10 minutes, you take care of it right away. It works because we are more likely to put off smaller tasks, allowing them to become bigger and bigger over the course of the day as more time and thought are put in than necessary. Small assignments are the most vulnerable to being buried in the workflow and never attended to. You say, “I can do that later,” but “later” never arrives, and you never get to say the magic word done.
Your second step is to break those large, overwhelming projects (i.e. ones that are going to take much longer than 10 minutes) into smaller, more manageable pieces. Divide them up over the course of a few weeks, a month, or even a year, and commit to finishing the first task within 24-48 hours. This first assignment should be one of the easiest so that you are certain to accomplish it – and accomplish it quickly. You will then be able to say the word done, which will unleash momentum for the rest of the project.
If you’re a manager, make done a part of your team’s everyday operations. In keeping track of your group’s workflow, hold a contest to see who can amass the most dones in a given week. Encourage your team members to hold each other accountable for accomplishing tasks on schedule and meeting deadlines even when no one’s looking.
Procrastination is a habit that’s ingrained in many human personalities, and it’s difficult to break without support. By providing the right environment, you’ll help your employees achieve their full potential and productivity not just at work but throughout their lives.