Life

10 ways to increase your productivity (and finally complete those tasks you've been putting off)

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Amy Beecham
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New research has found that it takes an average of 159 days to change bank accounts and 150 to tidy junk drawers. Sick of putting off essential tasks like these? Here, a consumer psychologist shares her top ten tips for finally ticking off your to-do list.

After a blissfully long weekend filled with sun and social plans, are you now looking around and wondering “when was the last time I did any chores?” You’re not alone.

Life admin tasks sound deceptively quick and easy to complete, but they’re often the ones we put off the most.

Whether washing the delicates at the bottom of your laundry basket, cancelling the subscription you’ve never actually used or tackling that one overflowing drawer that has needed clearing out for months, these relatively small life chores get added to our mental to-do list with the best intentions, but just never seem to get done.

New research from the Current Account Switch Service (CASS) has found that it takes people an average of 159 days to change bank accounts, tidying a junk drawer takes 150 days and we delay cleaning our windows for up to 117 days.

That’s a lot of procrastination.

According to CASS, 38% of us procrastinate out of boredom and tiredness, which probably sounds relatable and familiar to many. 

However, their research also found that ticking off our to-do lists can have a surprisingly positive effect on our wellbeing.

Four out of ten people said that while they’ve felt less in control of their lives during the pandemic, they have been able to regain a level of control by completing those boring but essential jobs. Turning to everyday tasks, such as household admin or personal finance tasks, has made many feel like they’ve achieved something, without being overwhelmed by too much commitment.

“Completing the small tasks on our to do lists releases dopamine, a reward neurotransmitter, which increases motivation to achieve more,” explains consumer psychologist Kate Nightingale. ” Task completion, such as doing your monthly financial plan, also gives us more belief and trust in our abilities, which in turn enhances our motivation and perseverance,” she adds.

Even if it is good for us, we all know that dealing with life admin can be a pain. Here are ten of Kate’s top tips to help you get started. 

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10 tips to finally tick those tasks off your to-do list

1. Combine chores with things you enjoy 

We naturally avoid the things we don’t want to do. “One of the best ways to get through your to-do list is to combine it with something you like to trick your mind into thinking you’re having fun,” says Kate. Pop on your favourite podcast to comb through your energy bills or put on a TV show whilst folding laundry. 

2. Record your successes 

“Marking our recent successes increases our overall sense of control and can therefore make us perform future tasks to a higher standard. If your to-do list is piling up and you’re feeling overwhelmed, try writing a ‘success list’ of every ‘small win’ you achieved last week. They don’t have to be anything lofty, just remind you that no matter what, you’ve got this.”

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3. Try “Superman pose” 

It might look and feel a bit silly, but standing in a superman power pose (hands on hips, chin held up high) for a few minutes has been shown to affect confidence and therefore make us perform tasks to a higher standard. “This is called ‘embodied cognition’, which stipulates that certain body positions activate subconscious associations in the brain, which in turn impact on our thoughts and feelings,” explains Kate.

4. Make small interventions 

“Our brains hate conflict and adore consistency. If you have a habit you want to change, for example taking the bins out more regularly, you should introduce ‘good triggers’ into your environment - such as a reminder sticky note by your front door. This ‘good trigger’ will remind you of the habit you want to implement, and your brain’s instinct will be to influence you to stick to your promise. The more often your brain registers the sticky note by the door, you more likely you will be to keep taking the bins out.”

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5. Split things up     

“Making larger tasks more manageable by splitting them is one of the best ways to approach to-do lists, as a lot of people struggle to self-regulate their behaviour on bigger goals. The rush of dopamine and sense of satisfaction gained from completing one smaller step gives us motivation to continue to the next, making it easier to complete the whole task. Splitting your chores throughout the week will help give you the ‘psychological fuel’ to get through a vast to-do list.”

6. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back 

“Celebrating the progress you’ve made doesn’t just feel nice, it increases our sense of ownership over our own success. This further enhances our agency and self-efficacy, ultimately making us feel more in control,” says Kate. Congratulating yourself for finally mowing the lawn might give you the motivation for a task you’ve being putting off, such as reviewing your finances.

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7. Introduce a simple routine

“Choosing a routine and sticking to it makes you feel proud, in turn increasing our motivation to complete other tasks on our to-do lists,” suggests Kate. Rituals can be as simple as taking a 20-minute walk to call a family member, check your calendar for any birthdays coming up that month or making a plan for the following day. 

8. Set the right mood 

“Entering a task with positive emotions makes us perform better and feel more satisfied afterwards. This is because positive emotions are contagious so can change our attitudes and make success seem more achievable. Why not shake up your mood before a task like doing the hoovering by putting on your favourite song first and see what happens?”

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9. Set your budget – and stick to it 

“Setting a budget allows us to exercise self-regulation, which in turn impacts our agency and therefore increases our sense of control. Sticking to our own standards of spending not only evokes pride and satisfaction, but also empowers us and allows us to feel more in charge. This in turn makes it easier to achieve any other goals or take up to-do list chores we’ve been putting off.”

10. Celebrate, acknowledge, reward 

“This three step process is a tried and tested method we should use after completing any difficult task to help motivate ourselves for future tasks. Celebration enhances our sense of satisfaction from achieving a goal, acknowledgment ensures we attribute the success of the task to our own abilities and effort, and rewarding ourselves activates dopamine which means we think of the task with positive associations for next time,” says Kate. The three steps should be directly proportional to the difficulty of the task, so the celebration can range from glass of wine to treating yourself to a weekend away.

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