yoke and far
Productivity has many enemies: too many meetings, external triggers like interrupting co-workers, and multitasking the wrong way, to name a few.
But more often than not, it’s the mental traps that upset us.
Psychology professor Andrej Kukla writes in his book, “Mental traps are habitual patterns of thinking that disturb our rest, take up an enormous amount of our time, and deplete our energy without achieving anything of value.” Mental Traps: The Overthinking Guide to a Happier Life.
Learning to recognize these mental traps disarms them, enabling us to bypass their threat to our productivity.
Here are some common mental traps, accompanied by a solution to set you free.
The Mental Trap: The Planning Fallacy
According to the American Psychological Association, the planning fallacy is “the tendency to underestimate the amount of time needed to complete a future task, in part because of reliance on overly optimistic performance scenarios.”
Underestimating the time you need for certain tasks means that you are not always able to stick to a schedule. Whether you are a freelancer and your clients have strict deadlines, or you are part of a team that relies on you to complete a project as expected, meeting deadlines is critical to your professional success.
Miscalculating the amount of time you need to tackle tasks also means that you will try to accomplish more than is possible in a single day, which will create an imbalance in your life. If you take on too much in your work, you may have to reallocate hours reserved for other areas of life—yourself and your relationships—to finish those tasks.
These high expectations, combined with the low control you have over achieving them, is a foolproof formula for burnout. After sacrificing hours previously devoted to pleasure, self-care, or sleep, you are likely to enter a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion often due to prolonged or repeated stress.
Solution: Don’t use a to-do list without setting the time
Their to-do lists are a trap. With No Strings, they don’t show trade-offs in prioritizing strength nor help you stick to a realistic timeline.
On the other hand, Timeboxing is a time management technique in which you reserve a specific amount of time in your calendar for each activity. It’s a great way to overcome the planning fallacy because it enables you to visualize your time. (If you’re new to using good time, try this timeline builder template to get started.)
You can use time tracking apps to monitor how much time you typically need to complete a work project, recipe, training session, and more. Once you have a good idea of how long something might take, chart it on your calendar. This should give you a good idea of what you can realistically do in a day.
Be liberal in allocating time to your tasks. Don’t limit yourself to the minutes you need for your best-case productivity scenario—a time square for your worst-case scenario. If you finish early, you will have some breathing room to take a break.
The Mental Trap: Fringe Moments
Lived moments are transitions from one thing to another throughout our days. Have you ever opened a tab in your web browser, got annoyed at how long it was taking to load, and opened another page while you were waiting? Or looked at a social media app while walking from one meeting to the next, only to keep scrolling when you get back to your desk?
By doing these actions “just for a second” or “five minutes on top,” we’re likely to do things we regret later, like going off track for half an hour.
Solution: The ten-minute rule
Next time you feel the urge to check your phone in a moment of boredom or distraction, tell yourself to just wait 10 minutes. It is likely that once the 10 minutes are up, your wish will be over.
The ten minute rule, also known as “desire surfing,” is when you take a breath to notice your feelings and ride them like a wave, helping you tune in until the feelings subside.
Urge surfing is effective at helping me deal with all kinds of potential distractions, like Googling something instead of typing, eating something unhealthy when I’m bored, or watching another episode on Netflix when I’m too tired to go to bed. “
Mental Trap: Just the Urgency Effect
The mere urgency effect is “the tendency to seek urgency over importance,” as defined in this latest study. She says, “People may choose to perform urgent tasks with short completion windows rather than important tasks with larger results.”
In other words, we tend to prioritize completing a menial task that takes five minutes rather than an important project that will take us hours of work.
Email is an excellent example. It is the bane of the modern worker. The average office worker receives 100 messages a day. Even if you can click a reply in just two minutes per reply, that works out to more than three hours a day. It will take up all the time you need to do more important tasks if you allow it.
Solution: Plan focused work sessions
Timeboxing can protect us from the siren call of menial tasks. In your calendar, create a period for focused work, and let your family, co-workers, and boss—anyone who might try to contact you at the time—know that you won’t be available.
This will eliminate the guilt or anxiety you feel about not answering emails every 30 seconds because your boss and co-workers will know that you are not slacking – you Not distracted.
Planning your focused work time will let you know that any other task you do at that time is a distraction. You might be tempted to double check your inbox, or if you work from home, quickly throw some laundry in the wash — but that’s a no-go during your focused work time.
The mental trap: shame for not getting everything done
Humans are not machines, so we will have moments of low productivity, even if we are proactive in managing our time and attention. Making yourself feel ashamed of your lack of productivity won’t do you any good.
Maybe you made yourself feel self-conscious about going to bed instead of getting up for an early morning workout. Or perhaps a distraction was able to hold your attention more than usual today.
Don’t give in to self-blame. This toxic feeling of guilt will only make you feel even worse and, paradoxically, will lead you to seek more distraction in order to escape the pain of shame.
The solution: self-compassion
Everyone struggles with distractions from time to time. The important thing is that we take responsibility for our actions without toxic shame.
Self-compassion makes people more resilient to failure by breaking the vicious cycle of stress that often accompanies failure.
If you find yourself listening to the little voice in your head that sometimes bullies you, it’s important to know how to respond. Instead of accepting or arguing with what the voice is saying, remind yourself that obstacles are part of the growth process.
Talk to yourself the way you would to a friend. We tend to be our own worst critics, but if we talk to ourselves the way we would help a friend, we can see the situation for what it is. Telling yourself things like, “This is what it’s like to get better at something” and “You’re on our way” are healthier ways to deal with self-doubt.
Guilt is another reason to use the schedule builder on to-do lists, which perpetuate harmful self-stereotypes because they act as a constant reminder that you didn’t do what you said you were going to do.
This post also appeared on NirAndFar.com.