ideas. That is why getting up to wash
the dishes, fold the laundry, take a
shower, take a walk, or any other low-key activity that allows you to let your
mind wander for a while can be really
good for your productivity overall.
When you do something that feels
satisfying, your brain releases dopamine (just as it does when you cross an
item off a to-do list—because it feels
good!). So, when you take a walk midway through your work session, your
brain gets a hit of dopamine.
That dopamine triggers the parts
of your brain associated with creativity and gets them working. That’s
when those magical aha! moments
happen, because your brain is sending energy to the areas that help you
make connections and see things in
Next time you are stuck on a project you don’t want to start, try doing
something that you know will be satisfying. You just might have a bright
idea while you are rinsing off your
dishes, and that will make you excited to run over to your computer and
get to work.
People and Process
IM, Not IP (Information Pollution)
1. Oppong, T. The accountability effect: A simple way
to achieve your goals and boost your performance.
The Mission (Jan. 16, 2017); https://medium.com/
2. Wolpert, S. Putting feelings into words produces
therapeutic effects in the brain; UCLA neuroimaging
study supports ancient Buddhist teachings. UCLA
Newsroom (June 21, 2007); http://newsroom.
Kate Matsudaira ( katemats.com) is an experienced
technology leader. She has worked at Microsoft and
Amazon and successful startups before starting her own
company, Popforms, which was acquired by Safari Books.
Copyright held by owner/author.
Publication rights licensed to ACM. $15.00.
can Society of Training and Development, 1 people who commit to someone
else have a 65% chance of accomplishing the goals they set. That number
goes up to 95% if you commit to a specific accountability appointment with
Our brains are wired not to want to
let down other people. If someone invests in you by agreeing to help you accomplish your goal, you are driven to
do your part by a desire to live up to that
There are a few ways to do this:
˲ Set deadlines with your manager
for when certain aspects of the project
will be complete, and schedule regular
check-ins on status.
˲ Ask for help on a part of the project. With the help of another person to
reduce your workload, you can get other parts of the project done. Set a time
to meet with your helper to combine
˲ Make a recurring date with a peer
to work together. For example, if you
are both tasked with running a series
of tedious tests that you both would
rather put off, set a time to sit together
and get them done.
˲ Embrace the scrum part of Agile and have daily standups with your
Delegating work can be especially
helpful when you have a really big
project in front of you. Sometimes the
scope of a project is so overwhelming
that it is hard to get started; if you can
solicit help from your team to tackle
some of the project, then you can focus your efforts on a more manageable workload.
Talk About It
Externalizing problems can make
them a lot easier to deal with. Things
tend to get blown out of proportion
in our minds, especially when we are
stressed about them.
I can’t tell you how many times I
have started talking to someone about
how stressed I am about a project—
like I don’t have any ideas for an article, or it’s so difficult I have no clue
how I will solve it—that by the time I
am done talking, I actually come away
full of inspiration. Other times, I am
just so stressed about what could go
wrong (or what is going wrong) that I
fast become overwhelmed.
Scientific studies have shown that
talking about feelings out loud actually decreases stress and the bad feelings we are experiencing. Brain imaging done at UCLA2 demonstrated that
when a person was shown a picture
of an angry face, the amygdala became more active. This is the part of
the brain responsible for activating
the body’s “alarm” system—it lets you
know that you have something to fear
and kicks your body into action to deal
with that threat.
When the study participants were
able to name what they saw, however, the simple act of putting the
feeling they saw into words caused
the amygdala activity to decrease.
Not only that, but each participant’s
right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex
then became activated. Other studies
have indicated that this is the area of
the brain associated with processing
emotion and putting words to emotional experiences.
So, talking about your big project
might be just the thing to help you
Plus, if you talk to smart friends or
mentors, they might have suggestions
for how you can start or experiences to
share about how they did something
similar. You can become more relaxed
and smarter at the same time.
Practice the Art
Do you ever have trouble working
from home because you get distracted by unwashed dishes in the sink or
laundry that needs to be folded? You
have probably been told that you are a
procrastinator, but, in fact, you might
be just the opposite.
I used to be a master procrastinator.
I would find any excuse to keep from
starting work, or even thinking about
it. As I learned again and again, procrastination is a bad thing. It comes
from a fear of getting started, so you
actively keep yourself from making
progress by doing things that keep your
mind off of what you must do.
But there is something called “
precrastination,” and it is actually really
good for you.
As you are working on a project,
your brain needs to take breaks—
not just to recharge, but also to form
new connections and create new