7 science-backed tips to perfect your daily routine
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Ever wonder why your to-do list just isn't cutting it? Turns out it takes more than organization and killer time management skills to master your daily routine. We talked with Garth Sundem, author of The Geek's Guide to World Domination, to find out how we can reap the benefits of science while powering through our daily tasks. This is what we learned.
1. Turn off your screens at night
Easier said than done, for sure. But when staying up late becomes a part of your regular routine, you're essentially turning yourself into a shift worker. And here's the thing about shift workers: They tend to eat when they shouldn't.
We're turning ourselves into shift workers by staying up late watching TV. You can overlay a photo of lights on at night, with a map of the incidence of diabetes -- the places in the country where people are awake at night are also the places where people have higher rates of metabolic diseases like diabetes.
2. Make simple things automatic
If you absolutely need to juggle more than one task at a time, there are some tricks you can use to keep from feeling overwhelmed.
If you want to look like you're multitasking, you can pick tasks from distant brain areas -- you may not be able to read Hemingway and read Proust, but you may be able to read Hemingway while juggling because you're using different areas of the brain. It's all about attention; you have this limited pool of attention and you can split it however you want. If you make something automatic, and it doesn't take attention, then you'll have more attention for other things.
3. Start mono-tasking
If you can train yourself to handle two different types of tasks at once, awesome. But if you're like most folks, you're probably better off if you stick with good old-fashioned mono-tasking.
If you have Task A + Task B + Task C, you don't do any of them as well as if you just did one. There are super-taskers who don't pay the penalty; they have an area of the brain that is different than the other 98 percent of people ... But if you are not among the 2 percent, mono-task or set alarms (if you must multi-task), offload the responsibility of monitoring things you're not engaged in and give yourself more attention.
4. Learn what motivates you and use it
It's hard getting through the workday when you don't feel motivated. Think about whichever project you're working on at the moment and focus on the pieces that are most gratifying.
There's no reward that can take the place of an intrinsic motivation. You can find intrinsic motivation in things where they might not naturally exist. For example, you have this thought of being rewarded for a performance --if you're comparing apples to apples in terms of degree of the reward, the idea of being rewarded would need to be as powerful as the idea of doing something because you want to do it. If you can find pieces of a task -- be it coding or whatever -- that are enjoyable (or if you can motivate yourself saying, I need to get this done so that I can play) that motivation will be more powerful.
5. Be more mindful
It's probably safe to say that we've made this whole mindfulness thing seem far more complex than it actually is. Being mindful is simply a matter of quieting all those cluttered thoughts that are swarming around in your head. It's about being able to focus on whatever it is you're doing at the moment, in the moment.
We always think of mindfulness like insight that springs from the ether of something in your mind. That's not true at all; it's always there, only you usually can't hear it because there's too much else going on in your mind. Inhibiting anything takes brain power. Don't boost your brain power, instead use it in a more focused way.
6. Sleep like a champ and be consistent
We all know we're supposed to get a certain amount of beauty rest each night, but that's not often the case. Between work, family, friends and personal projects, we're lucky if we average the bare minimum. While you should still try to get a decent amount of sleep each night, the most important factor might actually be the consistency of your sleep.
In one very large study of sleep, they found that what is most important is not the hours of sleep that you get, but the consistency of it. It could be anything from 6.5 to 8.5 hours, but the most successful sleepers are the ones who are the most consistent with it. If you try to squeeze more hours out of your day, then you should try to squeeze more hours out of everyday; the cram-and-catch-up model is less successful than the consistent (but maybe slightly less) model.
7. Embrace brain-changing technology
It's OK to be forgetful of certain things, and even more so if you can find a way to use it to your advantage. Thanks to the internet's ability to serve as our own personal memory bank, we now have more space than ever for creative thinking.
There's a lot of work in how tech is changing the human brain. The biggest one is that we are now allowed to forget things. There's a big study that shows when we know we will have the ability to find info later, we forget it now -- we allow ourselves to forget it now. Now that we have Google, we don't have to remember the dates or how many days there are in July; we can Google that. You would think that older people would be forgetful, but it's the younger people who are most forgetful. A lot of people look at this as the end of civilization as we know it, but you actually have more space now for creative thinking.
The next time you find yourself simply going through the motions of the workday, stop for a minute and think about what you can do to start feeling less like a zombie. Figure out what motivates you, start getting better (or at least more consistent) sleep and, for the love of all things holy, stop trying to multitask. For more brainy tips and all things geek, you can follow Garth Sundem on Twitter.