Finding the right productivity tips is not as simple as it seems. You probably know that already. You felt it on your skin. There are numerous outdated models where you should follow a list of to-dos and be good. Not exactly.
Entrepreneurs and founders are very busy people, and those productivity lists don’t work for them. Because this group of people is sophisticated, composed of creative and intense thinkers. Right?
If you are one of them, you need to understand the why and the need to do it. Get a deep understanding of what works, what to implement, and why. Right? Otherwise, who would bother and do the length? Not you because you have a business to run.
Luckily, we now have neuroscience that reveals the most important aspects of productivity, and in this instance, procrastination.
Why Productivity Tips for Procrastinators?
I choose productivity for procrastinators because, as a business owner, you cannot afford to procrastinate as much, and it’s one of those most annoying things for you. I know, I talked to many of you.
While reading, if you’re wondering if these are anti-procrastination tips or productivity tips, they are both. You cannot be productive while procrastinating, and these two are deeply linked.
What is procrastination first of all? What are the dynamics behind procrastination?
I must say I love Tim Urban’s articles. He thoroughly documented Elon Musk or any subject he wrote about. But he is also a master procrastinator. Having firsthand experience and entertaining writing skills makes this article here highly valuable: Why Procrastinators Procrastinate. There is also part 2 How to Beat Procrastination and The Procrastination Matrix. Put them aside and read them when you feel like digging more on the subject.
Productivity Tips Against Procrastination: Neuroscience Added
Now when it comes to neuroscience, I can add another explanation. An easy to understand definition comes from a 2018 research paper:
“Procrastination is a form of self-regulation failure characterized by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.”Frontiersin.org
According to Anne-Laure Le Cunff, neuroscientist and the founder of Ness Labs, procrastination is the outcome of a continuous battle between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex in our brain.
As you might know, the limbic system is very active in fight or flight responses. It’s part of our oldest brain components related to the survival instinct.
Now, the prefrontal cortex is almost like the opposite of the limbic system, it evolved, and it’s the main separator between humans and animals.
“This cortical region appears to be linked with executive processes affecting many diverse areas of cognitive function. Working memory, information processing, behavioural organization, attention, judgement, and the ability to cope with novel experiences are just some of the diverse processes it affects.”Oxford Online
Productivity Tips Against Procrastination: Dopamine Added
In addition, we need to know that dopamine, “the neurotransmitter of more,” has a significant role to play in the prefrontal cortex’s function because it allows successful cognitive control in that region. Cell
“Dopamine in the PFC modulates cognitive control, thereby influencing attention, impulse inhibition, prospective memory, and cognitive flexibility.”Science Direct
Putting all these together, we start having a picture. There is a battle between our ancient part and the evolved one. The ancient brain is for survival, but when we are not in danger, our brain will always favor comfort, relaxation and will avoid any extra effort. Human brains are essentially lazy. And the limbic part is automatic.
Now, our evolved counterpart comes to take charge, and make us want things, move forwards, achieve, hustle, and so on. But when the two parts are not aligned, and our dopamine isn’t triggered much, we’ll probably procrastinate.
Dopamine is known as the happy hormone or the feel-good hormone. I suggest you the following book from Daniel Z. Lieberman that says an even more accurate story that is very applicable in business.
The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity - And Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race - Amazon
Neuroscience Helps Us Evolve
Today neuroscience gives us so much that I should dedicate an altar at my home.
Seriously, with the help of advanced science today, we are privileged to understand ourselves a lot better, how our brains are functioning, how we evolved, and what are our evolutionary constraints.
Evolutionary psychology, also known as social psychology, shares a bright light today on many topics that are very useful in behavioral sciences and applicable with a lot of success at work. I am talking from experience here.
Now, the best materials that link neuroscience with procrastination and productivity, in my opinion, of course, are coming from my favorite neuroscientist, Andrew Huberman. I discovered him three years ago when he was not yet that popular, and I was amazed about the way he translates neuroscience into easily understandable concepts.
Thanks to so many scientific discoveries, and people like Andrew, we now have a better comprehension of how to maximize our innate potential. Andrew became very popular during the last two years, I presume for that same reason I got fascinated by, and he runs his famous podcast on YouTube, called after his lab, Huberman Lab.
As a caveat, these are all heavy episodes lasting around two hours, but the amount of specific information you can find in them is priceless. If you’re intimidated by his long-form YouTube episodes, you can also watch entertaining, shorter interviews. Imagine that he also teaches neuroscience on Instagram.
In my opinion, he is the equivalent of Joe Dispenza, who gave a science voice to the mystical and can translate meditation, healing, and superhuman capabilities through the quantum operating fields.
“Science is the contemporary language of mysticism.”Joe Dispenza
As a note, I managed to integrate both of their work with other different domains into my programs as a complex recipe based on what’s known today about how we can create our own reality with the help of scientifically explained methods.
Using Science & Life Experience in Executive Coaching
Often when I want to translate some of my methods in my coaching and give some neuroscience explanation, I am helped by Andrew’s work, which made it easier for me to translate what I do into concrete behavioral mechanisms. Some of my founder and executive clients love them.
Let’s get into full gear with our topic. Tim’s explanations might differ from Andrew’s but are a great route to travel on a journey where one who procrastinates came to his conclusions to someone who studied the neurochemistry of the brain, and what causes what.
Procrastination and Productivity Linkage Explained
We now understand that there is a battle between two parts of our brain that are not necessarily in love when we need to decide what to do in front of a situation.
Our limbic system will want to act to danger, and in the now; while the prefrontal cortex is focused, anticipates events and plans for the future. In that future, our goals reside.
If those goals are too big and far, we can get overwhelmed in the present moment while contemplating the distance to that goal. Adding the fact that many don’t know their end goals, the procrastination effect gets even stronger. Being productive in such circumstances becomes impossible.
Now you can explain easier why those people, maybe from your entourage, without big dreams and ambitions, are satisfied to spend their evenings and weekends the same way, not progressing, and getting satisfied with a good gossip and a beer.
We all have, or had friends like that, who are in the same spot after a decade. We could call that a procrastinator lifestyle. It just is. What did they produce? Not much. Stay around them long enough, and you won’t be productive either. It’s their choice, and that’s OK. But they wouldn’t read this or another similar article.
Back to the mechanisms, you can procrastinate when your end goals are too heavy for you. When you don’t believe you can achieve them. Or, they are too far away, and you don’t have enough dopamine to keep you fueled for a long run without a break. So, your limbic system will take over and make you feel demotivated while hinting you to waste time on some quick pleasure.
Productivity Tips and Motivation
Apply simple discipline doing trivial things, and reward yourself for what you’re not doing.
Sustaining good behavior is key to eliminating procrastination. Replacing something unhelpful with something that moves you forward is important.
Without those small trivial rewards, you are more subjective to give up. They apply to health and fitness, family dynamics, relationships, and, of course, your startup.
Life doesn’t need to be miserable, and you suffer like a dog. You want to train your mind to recognize good behavior.
Example: How to get productive in a sensitive business situation
You have a presentation in front of your board in two weeks. Your board is hard-headed and some of them do not always seem to be on your side. You feel a burden and preparing for a speech isn’t your forte. In fact, you hate talking in public.
You rather focus on your business, meeting new clients, or maybe working on your product and bond with your team. Now you have this priority that takes your pleasure away. You feel constrained and unhappy. One day passes, two days passed, you didn’t prepare anything but also your usual good executive mojo is gone.
Pointing out some frequent aspects about the dynamics that happen in fast-growing startups between the founders and the board, Firmex says it well:
“Founders are visionary risk-takers that bring significant expertise, passion, charisma and personal capital, and typically hold a very significant influence over the board.
However, over time as companies grow and become more successful, the board’s composition typically evolves, becoming increasingly more sophisticated, attracting higher profile and experienced board members with independent views, strong track records, and good governance principles.
This natural development can lead to increased tension with the founder if not managed diligently.”
So, not only you didn’t progress with your presentation, but you delayed your daily duties, pilling up a stressful period with more to do at once.
You’re feeling more miserable each day. One week passed, and still, nothing changed. Now, you have one week till the board meeting, and you’re not only nowhere, but you’re tired because your sleep was affected. You have puffy eyes, and you’re moody. You want to avoid everybody.
This is procrastination in full motion that results in low or no productivity.
Anti-Procrastination and Productivity Tips: The Neuroscience Way
- Clarify your goal. Visualize that board meeting in advance and get clear on what you want to achieve.
This includes your speech, the way you’re feeling during the presentation, the way others react while you’re speaking. Make it real in the present tense. Your vision culminates with the final outcome achieved.
Integrate inside yourself the desired final outcome feeling. Close your eyes and get that clear picture with the emotions attached. Freeze that frame to be a reminder of why are you doing what you’ll soon be doing.
2. Create your list for the week about what you need to do, fragmented in those five or six days with a final rehearsal one day before the meeting, if it’s possible. If you don’t have a rehearsal buddy do this in the mirror or walking through your home and talking out loud with the right energy and all.
3. Identify the first hardest steps that will make you go. This is the crucial neuroscientific part. What are those first steps you avoided doing for an entire week?
Is it about sitting at your desk and start writing your presentation?Is it researching for numbers or analyzing numbers provided by your CFO?
No matter what those, or better yet, that first step is, identify it and split it into a small-time frame.
Let’s say you want all board members sold on a new direction you want to take on that involves some unexpected capital spending.
For that, you figure out that impressing and silencing them with numbers is the best strategy.
Once you realized it’s about mastering those numbers to impress the board, you figured out your first big step.
You say to yourself, “Ok, I’ll start with 40 minutes of analyzing the numbers with the outcome perspective I already have from point no. 1.”
4. Do that first big step. In our example, work those numbers for 40 minutes.
5. Reward Yourself
After those 40 minutes, you attach an appealing, pleasant reward for yourself.
Because when you are procrastinating the most and forcing doing something you don’t like, your adrenaline and norepinephrine max out, and your misery level is high. Productivity is zero. This way you only reinforce your circuitry about the reasons you hate doing those things. You never want these two neurochemicals maxed out when it’s about serious, consequential work.
Cleanse and repeat. Next time will get a lot easier. I promise.
Explaining the Neuroscience Behind These Five Steps Productivity Tips
Being deliberate about your actions is very important to control your mind and life outcomes.
So, you’ll want to bring in your friend dopamine at that moment to link your reward pleasure to an activity you want to train your brain as a good one for your business, and that needs to be rewarded.
Don’t guilt yourself here. Don’t feel any shame or anything. You’re in training mode, so find any kind of reward. I would suggest anything that makes you feel really good; even if it’s imbalanced compared to what you did before. You want to create a strong linkage with your undesired activity. And so, it can be anything after those 40 minutes.
You can even watch a Netflix episode from your guilty pleasure series. Seriously. Not sure how many coaches would encourage Netflix watching to a founder CEO, probably not many. Me neither, five years ago.
The point is that: it doesn’t matter if your 40-min effort gets compensated with 42-45 minutes of watch time on a Suits episode. The only condition here is to make you feel really good immediately after the effort. Or play a video game, go out for a favorite meal. The point is: you’re now rewiring circuitries. That’s serious stuff.
Without this, you might find yourself not only losing those 45 minutes but the entire week and getting to that meeting unprepared and unprofessional without obtaining any of your desired gains.
So, using what we now know about the brain and the neurochemistry of the brain, you do the right thing.
The next task could take up to 90 minutes, exactly as the optimal flow state.
“In a creative, flow state, the mind works optimally for about 90 minutes to 2 hours. Focused periods alternated with brief periods of rest allow your brain to be its most efficient and creative without triggering burnout.”BetterUp
Keep in mind that the perfect flow state doesn’t start immediately. It’s that jump into a tunnel you suddenly feel while working on something you are focused on. When everything washes away and you enter into a new dimension, where time doesn’t matter anymore. It’s only you with your activity.
Eventually, you’ll want to get there, to use your flow cycles during the day, not only once but three, four times a day. When you’ll get there you’ll become so much more productive in a day than you were before. You can compensate for a week of work in one day.
Yes, it’s possible. But you start easy.
Your first 40 minutes on the task will be painful, but the reward you set keeps you going and brings the needed dopamine into the mix.
Note! If you cannot manage the 40 minutes, start with 20 minutes, or 15, but start.
That’s why adding the reward matters. Don’t forget to take the reward once your time is up. When you feel how tough it is but you’re doing it anyway. You do what you need to do. That’s the sweet spot.
Productivity Tips for Procrastinators: Self-Talk
Self-talk is crucial in these moments to give context to your brain. Reaffirming yourself that you’re on the right path. When you indulge with your reward you bring in that needed dopamine to set up new pathways.
If you do this correctly, next time will be a lot easier, and procrastination will start losing its power.
What’s the biggest takeaway of this method?
You’ll realize that you have much more control over your behavior and, eventually, your life than you thought before.
That feeling and sensation will be so thrilling and exciting that creates new pathways together with the dopamine rush in a way that you just suddenly blossom.
You won’t feel as much burden on your unpleasurable tasks as before. On the contrary, you’ll get nicely challenged and even entertained about facing those moments with better clarity and focus on the outcome. The help brought by your well-designed rewards is crucial.
Remember, all of those include healthy, clarifying, and contextual self-talk.
When you gain control over your behavior, it means you control your thoughts and emotions too in those moments.
Thoughts + emotions + behaviors = your reality, no matter what the reality is.
For you, it will be real, and that matters. When you realize you are capable of that, gaining back your inner power, the entire game changes for you, and you’ll become unstoppable. An unstoppable founder and CEO.
BONUS: Quick Productivity Tips from Neuroscience
Productivity works in cycles, and the advice is to establish your best-performing hours to plan the most important tasks during those times.
In addition to reducing stress, quality sleep straightens the body and mind for long-term performance. Insomnia or bad sleep for three consecutive nights can lead to chronic stress and low productivity.
High productivity also means high alertness. You can achieve that with your eyes pointing upwards.
For example, if you’re spending long hours watching your computer screen, you should elevate that screen to at least eye level or above. Never downward.
Don’t tilt your body back though in order to achieve that open eyelid effect because sitting straight or forward increases alertness while the opposite causes sleepiness.
Lifestyle Productivity Tips
Choose from the list and start testing on your own. Don’t introduce all at once.
- Don’t eat breakfast, wait until noon.
- Drink coffee but try to wait 1-2 hours after waking.
- Keep yourself hydrated.
- Use deep focus work starting four hours after waking.
- Exercise in the morning.
- Take naps during the day when nothing seems to work and you cannot focus or shift your state.
- Keep a good mood as frequently as you can.
Are you interested in working together?
If you’re ready, check out this page and schedule a call.
Cristina Imre – The Founder Coach