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Op/Ed

Procrastinate with purpose by following the Zeigarnik effect

(EDITORIAL) Procrastination is almost inevitable, but what if that procrastination could increase your productivity?

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Let us speak together of the Zeigarnik Effect. But only after I’ve made a cup of tea. See, that’s the nature of the Zeigarnik Effect.

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In addition to having a rad name – seriously, I feel like I’m revealing mysterious secrets from the Eastern Bloc, which I technically am – the Zeigarnik Effect tracks a quirk of human cognition that can, once properly hacked, increase productivity by making procrastination work for you.

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Bluma Zeigarnik’s original study, which has had its results repeatedly replicated, states that an interrupted task, or a task the subject knows is not yet complete, stays in the back of the mind while they do other things.

The original subjects were waiters.

Bluma Zeigarnik found that service professionals remembered details of a given order when that order was still open, even if they were busy working on something else, but once it had been completed, the details vanished.

Brain allocation

What might seem like a procedural consequence of waiting tables – not like you have to remember the doneness of the cheeseburger you gave somebody who left the restaurant an hour ago – has since been demonstrated in tasks from jigsaw puzzles and flatpack furniture to WoW and SimCity.

It’s not a job thing. It’s a brain thing.

When you leave something undone, and you know it’s undone, there’s still a little mental RAM whirring away, working at it.

That’s awesome.

Ease into the rage

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say some of you do not spring out of bed Monday morning singing like a Disney protagonist and throw yourself into every task set before you with motivational poster vigor. I mean, I didn’t, and I like my job.

Hence my cup of tea. I literally wrote those two sentences, then went and made a cup of tea.

Field test. It works.

That’s the Zeigarnik hack – do what needs doing for 5 or 10 or 15 minutes, then stop. Aquire your legal stimulant of choice, or talk to coworkers, or do anything else your workplace allows that isn’t the particular task you’re aching to procrastinate on.

The Zeigarnik Effect won’t do the work for you, but when you set yourself to that job again, you’ll have more ideas and more energy than you did when you started.

Your brain doesn’t like incomplete tasks any more than your boss does.

When a task seems past you or you just don’t wanna, set a time period – 15 minutes is good, but experiment – and let your mental firmware work on it for a bit while the rest of you does something else.

Take your time

Zeigarnik is procrastination with purpose, a way to get something done without overtaxing either your time limit or your will to live.

Give it a shot. I did, and I got a solid article and a hot cup of Darjeeling out of the equation. Top that for a Monday morning.

#Zeigarnik

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

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Op/Ed

Why I’m not impressed by the ridiculous glorification of over-scheduling your life

(OPINION) It’s not a badge of honor to keep your calendar so full that you can’t enjoy life. Let’s discuss and see if I can change your mind about your scheduling.

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Comes a voice from the back

If you’re one of those people who keep their calendar filled up with meetings, activities and appointments, check yourself to see if that’s really a fulfilling way to live. In some circles, it’s almost become a badge of honor to have a calendar without any open spaces.  If you feel as if your calendar is out of control, you’re not alone. But you are the only one who can take control of your schedule.

Might I recommend that you stop over-scheduling your time?

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Habits and routine

One of my first articles for TRD’s parent site, The American Genius, was about the false hustle. Being busy all the time is not good for you physically or mentally. It’s exhausting. When your calendar is full, it has to be stressful never to have time for yourself or have the ability to sit down and read or do whatever you want.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People said “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Allow for some flexibility into your schedule. Put down what’s important to you, but don’t go gung-ho about organizing your time.

Know your routine

Most people have a routine. I don’t need to write down certain things in my calendar, because I know that I plan to be in church on Sunday. I’m not so rigid that I won’t take a Sunday off, but it doesn’t need to go in my calendar. Much of my work through the week is routine too. I know that I have seven articles due every Monday. I usually try to get them done Friday afternoon, but if I don’t, I know I’ll have to work on them Monday.

Now, you might tell me that you don’t have a regular routine. I know some people have different activities and appointments that have to be scheduled and can’t be missed. When I was helping on the homeschool convention, I would fill in the slots on my calendar of things that were coming up, like board meetings, deadlines and meetings. But I also tried to leave room for adaptability.

Granted, you may have to manage a group of people and need their calendar to overlap yours. If that’s the case, may I suggest having a work calendar and a personal calendar?

Just as entrepreneurs are told to keep business and personal finances separate, leave your work calendar at work.

Ease up on your time management techniques. Know your priorities and learn to say no. Your loved ones will thank you for having some time to be spontaneous. It’s not a badge of honor to keep your calendar so full that you can’t enjoy life.

#ScheduleYouTime

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Op/Ed

Is the cloud on the verge of death?

(EDITORIAL) There is a theory floating around that the cloud is on the verge of death. Turns out, there’s merit for this line of thought…

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The sky is falling.

At least according to technologist, Viktor Charypar, who proclaimed “the cloud,” as a large-scale approach to computing, is about to nosedive.

To say the least, that’s a surprise.

At this point, it’s safe to call cloud-based computing the dominant paradigm. Those who make their living through that paradigm can be forgiven for dropping their collective monocle, spitting out their collective tea, and having a good old scoff at such scandalous tomfoolery as “the end of the cloud is coming.” I know I did.

But I kept reading, because it is literally my job to do the reading. And you know something?

Charypar is right.

The reason “end of the cloud” has so many metaphorical monocles floating in cups of tea is that tech in general is running full tilt at cloud-based solutions. More and more companies are moving more and more functionality out of consumer hardware and into corporate owned resources, which those corporations then make available as a service.

It’s easy to see why. The previous generation of tech had what they figured was an insoluble problem: you can only stuff so much processing power in a plastic rectangle before it keels over or bursts into flames.

The fix was literally out of the box. Take it out, went the wisdom. Move your computing into remote services, big networks of big iron optimized to meet your needs. That moves processing power and economic power in the same direction: away from the user and toward the service provider. In a sense, it was a return to the very, very old days of personal computing, when “computer” meant the vast and heaving beast in the basement and users just got terminals, access points where they could play with data owned and operated by someone else. Trust me. I’m writing this on a Chromebook.

As Charypar points out, like any tech solution, the cloud paradigm comes with advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are obvious: thanks to the Chromebook, this article has gone through three formats on two machines, and I never even had to plug anything in.

Disadvantages? The cloud isn’t infinitely scalable. As tech standards rise – SD to HD, 1080 to 4K – we’re forcing bigger data through tighter tubes. That means everything gets slower, dumber, and uglier. Especially with net neutrality under threat, that’s a serious possibility in the immediate future.

It’s also insecure.

Old one-liner: freedom of the press is limited to those who own one. The Internet fixed that – then promptly no-backsied us with the streaming paradigm. Now, access to data is limited to those who can store and stream it. How much of your entertainment comes from, say, Netflix, or Spotify, or Steam? Because if those services stop working tomorrow, and they could, whatever you’ve invested in them goes too. If their security fails – not unprecedented – you’re the one exposed. They’ve got the data. You’re just paying to play with it.

So, you quite rightly ask, what’s the fix?

BitTorrent.

The soft, splashy clink you just heard was the few remaining metaphorical monocles splashing into caffeinated beverages all over this great country. Someone fetch smelling salts; the entirety of Silicon Valley just got the vapors.

We aren’t advocating that we all grab the digital equivalent of a cutlass and a parrot and return to the scandalous days of piracy. But, as Charypar points out, whatever else you might say about peer-to-peer data transfer, and there’s plenty to say, it worked. It’s proven tech. Back in the day, you could grab a whole season of Deadwood in an hour. I mean, so I heard. In Bible study.

More recently, blockchain has repeatedly demonstrated that peer-to-peer tech solutions are widely applicable and solve many of the problems associated with a cloud-based middleman.

Peer-to-peer solutions like BitTorrent and blockchain are as close to infinitely scalable as technology allows. The processing power grows organically with the network, because the computers on the network are doing the work. Peer-to-peer is secure, too. I’d tell you to ask a cryptocurrency miner, but that’s the point: there’s no way to find one.

Charypar’s argument is that cloud-based computing is approaching its end because it never was an end in itself. It was the first half of the real goal: distributed computing.

Apps built peer-to-peer, sharing data and processing power between users directly, backed with blockchain or other encryption solutions, could represent what the cloud keeps demonstrating it can’t: a safe, stable digital world.

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Op/Ed

Don’t just survive, find mental toughness and thrive

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Strength training doesn’t just pertain to muscles and weight lifting but also to mentality and brain training.

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Strength training your body is a pretty common goal for folks, but what about strength training your willpower? Whether you’re an entrepreneur, civil servant, a student, or somewhere in between: resilience is something that we all need to be successful.

Adversity comes at us in a lot of different forms, and without that resilience even the most talented professional won’t be able to accomplish their goals. We have a lot of different words for resilience – grit, mental toughness, fortitude – and it’s the subject of research and a fascinating piece by James Clear.

The most important takeaway you can pull from Clear’s writing on toughness is that it can be developed. This is something you can build. Some ways to help you build that toughness include:

Command your expectations. In many ways, our expectations fuel our motivations, but too often our expectations get away from us. Everything is a surprise and an emergency – and that lack of control compromises your ability to stay resolved.

Know yourself. Know your motivations and seek to find out who you are. How does your mental resilience connect to your real world success? Define who you are and what the resilient you can accomplish. Your reasons need to be something that you own and that represent who you are – “just because I should” is not a motivation to sustain you to excellence. Do things that can help you get to know yourself better – Psychology Today has some suggestions.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. This US Navy SEAL quote is one of the first things I learned getting ready for graduate school. We often face challenges we aren’t’ comfortable with – ask any HR or Management professional having to have a difficult conversation – but it’s how we endeavor through those challenges that defines our victories. If building resilience is like working a muscle, working out of your comfort zone is adding more weight. You can’t grow any stronger without working out of what’s easy and familiar. #comfortablyuncomfortable

Manage your resources. Burnout is real and it’s the far side of stress. Your personal resilience is not an infinite resource and stress can take its impact on you emotionally and physically. Continuing our gym metaphor – burnout is injury. You cannot build your grit if you’re so emotionally burnt out – you have hurt your emotional “muscles”. Find out what you need to do to emotionally recover and build those resources back up. Practice that #selfcare.

I’ll touch back on Clear’s piece again – habits are an important part of all these building techniques. Make it a habit to practice self-care.

Make it a habit to frame your expectations. Make it a habit to write down your goals and connect them to your life. Make it a habit to always embrace the difficult and the uncomfortable. Create a mental foundation that can take you not only through the extreme, but the day to day. Stay consistent, and stay focused.

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