5 ways to work smart and be happy

Living a quality life means being able to dedicate your time to the things that really matter. We live lives too full of things to do, and the phrase “I don’t have time” has become a refrain that signals how many sacrifices we are forced to make.
For this, the first step to living better is to understand what is profoundly important to you, and decide what to remove from the list accordingly. Identify things – and even more people! – that count is an indispensable requirement.

In addition to what you like to do, you need to clarify with yourself what you are good at. Your talent, your skills, the qualities that you have cultivated and that make you the person you are.

Keep asking yourself important questions. What are the goals that have marked your life so far? What others do you stand before? What are you proud of?

One bite at a time

It is one of my favorite sayings, and it explains very well the method of  chunking  ( dividing into pieces): breaking up the objectives into small things that can be achieved over a defined period of time, whether it be days, weeks or even years.

You may not be able to travel the world in the next two years, but you may be able to break this ambitious project into smaller goals and make trips that can satisfy you and make your life beautiful. Remember that perfection is not a requirement. Nobody rationally thinks of “making the perfect wedding”: you fall in love and get married, knowing that there will be magnificent days and horrible days.

If you aim for perfection, you will never be satisfied and you probably won’t find the momentum to do the things that could make you happy.
One useful thing to find space in our busy lives is to escape a “captivity” imposed on us by the times we live in. We must learn the art of disconnection.

One thing for everyone: young Americans in the 8/18 age group spend about 7 hours a day consuming content. It is normal for them to be connected to at least one electronic device, be it a computer, smartphone or TV. Because of this continuity, being disconnected even for a very short period causes them anxiety and stress.

If you really want to rethink your way of living and working, you must understand the difference between being always connected and not being connected, because the consequences of these two conditions on interpersonal relationships, but also on yourself, are very important.

Learning to live disconnected can start with small things, like taking your headphones off when you run in the morning, or turning off your devices in the evening at a set time. Each has its own right solution to find the method and the space best suited to their needs.

Multitasking does not exist

Multitasking,  i.e. doing several things at the same time, is a concept born in the nineties for a misunderstanding. Thanks to the performance of advanced processors, the computing speed of the computers became so high as to allow them to switch from one activity to another without the human eye perceiving this passage, in other words making them perceive how they were carried out simultaneously.

If not even the computer works in  multitasking , but in  multishifting  (multiple shifts), how can we humans do better?
You can do several things at once if it’s simple actions, like eating a sandwich while walking or listening to a  podcast  while running in the park, but if you have to do important and complex work, all your attention is needed.

In addition, our primitive brain leads us to be subject to distractions: once upon a time any new information could be useful for survival; now that the world is besieging us with stimuli, this receptive being gives the worst of itself. Think about how you act while you are driving: although you know it is dangerous, you continue to pay attention to a thousand things instead of keeping your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.

It is scientifically proven (study by Irvine University of California) that switching from one activity to another significantly increases the time needed to do things, because returning to focus on an interrupted task costs 23 minutes. Even worse are the consequences of  multitasking  combined with technology.

According to a study by the University of Sussex, overlapping the use of electronic terminals affects our brain at a physiological level and alters its performance: the researchers found that the brain of those who use the cell phone to read or play while watching TV has a decrease in density in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area responsible for empathy, emotions and cognitive control.

The chunking method   starts from recognizing that we can only focus on a limited number of things at any given moment.

Our brain is  chunking  continuously to memorize, think for example of a telephone number: to remember it you probably organize it by groups of digits. On average, the best learning outcomes are by dividing information into groups of 3. So the ideal “chunking size” for information is 3.

The key concept is that we can transform information and activities into manageable events with minimal stress, using our energies effectively and efficiently.

The to-do list, pros and cons

Organizing a complete  to do list  is difficult if you don’t follow good rules.

Unorganized information that mixes personal and professional activities can create a deep sense of confusion, the list grows instead of decreasing, priorities overlap.

When you manage the list well, however, you get many advantages, first of all that of not having to worry about remembering it in time and planning it: move the information from your mind to the paper.

The first step is to categorize things to do. Recall that the brain, having passed the 6/7 options, simply decides not to choose. For this reason it is necessary to have short lists: classifying by categories such as “future projects”, “urgent”, “money” is a good trick.

Second step , add a column to the list in which to indicate a realistic estimate of the time needed to perform the task. In a third column, add the order of priority.

To do this you can use the so-called “Eisenhower matrix” which classifies things into:

  • important and urgent;
  • not urgent but important;
  • not important but urgent;
  • not important or urgent.

Knowing your priorities will allow you to filter which elements should be included in your list and which are not important. This will prevent you from overpopulating the list with unnecessary things that will make you feel overwhelmed. Writing down things you consider worthy of inclusion immediately will keep you from forgetting them.

The to-do list must be kept in order, checked, managed. You should never schedule more than 75% of your available time: being too busy creates stress and worsens performance.

These are examples of lists that will allow you to do a good chunking:

  • tasks you can’t afford to forget;
  • activities you need to do within the day;
  • new habits to be developed like regular exercise;
  • intermediate steps towards relatively larger goals;
  • trivial tasks;
  • promises you made to other people;
  • activities you have delegated to others;
  • things you have to do alone;
  • activities with fixed deadlines;
  • answers you are waiting for from others.

Break time to be productive

Learn to block a fixed part of the time to perform the tasks on which the success of your goals depends. Setting boundaries is crucial: it can be difficult to say “no” when your friends invite you to stay for “just another drink” or your boss asks you to stay “just another hour”. Every moment of your time is precious, other people often don’t realize it.

Commit to honoring your appointments with yourself, block 30, 60 or more minutes to work without interruption. For the success of  time chunking it  is necessary to define specific time blocks for specific activities, in order to concentrate the time necessary to obtain significant progress. One of the methods that can be used is the Pomodoro Technique, on which you can also find a lot of information on the net.

Another important tool is the 5 second rule. Mel Robbins, personal productivity expert, says that to prevent your primitive brain from interfering with your determination to work on an activity, you must act within the first 5 seconds of reflection.

After this time, the chances of procrastinating increase. So, the moment the idea that you have to do something comes to mind, act immediately in a concrete way to make it happen. The technique is simple, do a countdown starting from 5 and when you get to 1, go into action.

Counting gives your mind something to focus on and helps you distract yourself from the internal struggle that could lead you to procrastinate.

How to use chunking to remember better

It is useful to get into the habit of fragmenting information to make it more accessible: the human mind can process in blocks, just like a computer does.

You can group and organize pieces of information that are related to each other and easy to put together. There are several strategies, for example the division of numbers into blocks makes it easier to store a phone number or a code, or you can create connections using associations.

A widely used technique is to build a Memory Palace, organized as a sort of library. You will be able to access any information that you have consciously entered and stored. A Palazzo della memoria does not necessarily have to be a real palace, it uses a place that you easily remember the details because it is these that make it possible to create the connections you need to create solid memories.

Start by drawing a physical map of where you intend to keep the information, for example, you could remember the information by planting it in small pots in the garden of your home. Drawing a mind map is important, because it will help you both in the organization process and in the actual memorization process.


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