When there are only 24 hours in a day and a million things to do, burnout is inevitable. Yet staying stressed-out and fatigued will not help you tackle that mountain of emails or think of new ways to approach a longstanding challenge at work.
While there are a myriad of apps and tools to help you stay organized and on task, sometimes you just need to change the way you think and behave, to accomplish all of your goals. Here are eight psychologically-based ways you can hack your brain into being more creative and productive.
Establish psychological distance.
Have you ever noticed that giving advice to a friend is easier than solving your own problems? This is because you are “psychologically distant” from your friend’s problem, meaning that the issue is not occurring in the present and does not affect you. Therefore, you are able to think in a less concrete yet creative way. According to a study from Indiana University, increasing the psychological distance between you and a problem boosts your creativity. You may also gain new insights and clarity by thinking about a problem more abstractly.
Attend to your moods.
When you are in a lousy mood, it is tough to put your nose to the grindstone and produce innovative work. Adam Anderson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, found that being happy may be the key to unlocking your creative potential. In an interview, Anderson said, “If you are having difficulty solving a problem, a typical reaction is to get angry. But that can actually make it harder to solve the problem. One prescription is to go out and 'play,' to get yourself in a good mood, and then come back to the problem.”
Next time you feel yourself getting worked up, try the professor's advice: Take a break and do something that will lift your mood.
Reconceptualize the problem.
If you have trouble thinking outside the box, consider rethinking the issue by utilizing the Six Thinking Hats technique. In this exercise, you approach a subject as well as your judgments and feelings around that topic in different ways to help you come up with fresh answers. By taking different perspectives (or wearing many “hats”), you can brainstorm multiple ideas and effectively weigh the viability of each of the solutions you come up with.
Make a fun challenge for yourself.
Did you know that Dr. Seuss’ brilliant children's book Green Eggs and Ham was created as the result of a bet? Seuss’ editor challenged the author to write a book with 50 or fewer words used repeatedly. Seuss rose to the test brilliantly, and thus the zany story of Sam-I-Am and his oddly-colored meal was born. Likewise, you can creatively approach a problem by setting a word count or time limits for yourself as a challenge, just to see what you can come up with. Do not forget to have fun with it, as well.
Address your motivations and demotivations.
When we procrastinate, we often lack the motivation to complete the task at hand. Instead of trying to conjure up inspiration out of thin air, suggests Timothy Pychyl, professor of psychology at Carleton University, look at the problem head-on.
“If you understand what’s motivating [or -- more accurately -- demotivating] you, you can begin to address it,” Pychyl says. Try asking yourself what the root cause of your demotivation is and how you can feel better about the work you have left to do.
Perhaps you lack curiosity or interest in the topic, or maybe you just need more sleep. After taking stock of what you need, you'll find it easier to set about doing what you need to do.
Get your mind into the “flow.”
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow” to describe the way artists, athletes and musicians become so focused on their work that time seems to slip by. Virgin CEO Richard Branson once said, “In two hours [in flow], I can accomplish tremendous things . . . It’s like there’s no challenge I can’t meet.” To get yourself into a state of “flow,” you need a clear understanding of objectives and roles, safe and productive collaboration with other parties involved and a feeling of being challenged and fulfilled.
Check out this article published by McKinsey for more tips on how to achieve a state of “flow.”
Give yourself deadlines.
According to a study by MIT Sloan School of Management and INSEAD Business School, setting self-determined deadlines for completing a project improves task performance and decreases procrastination. Simply give yourself a set amount of time to finish a task, and impose on yourself incentives for meeting the deadline and consequences for failure.
Make sure your time line is realistic and will allow you to finish the job thoroughly.
When trying to do an assignment that you have no interest in, you may become easily distracted, resulting in procrastination. To combat distractions, try practicing mindfulness. Take a page out of dialectical behavioral therapy and focus on one thing in the moment, to ground yourself.
That one thing could be your breathing (fast, slow, shallow or deep) or perhaps something you are eating (and its shape, color, texture or taste). Once you have your attention on what is happening in the moment, you will find it easier to get back to work.
Which tricks do you use to be more creative or productive at work?