Productivity: Pending State

In one of my previous posts I discussed some of the basics of productivity, specifically pertaining to the completion of your to-do list. As a follow-up, last week’s post was focused on the completion of your actual goal(s). Well, I’m happy to tell you that this week’s post is about the in-between period of goal achievement: everything that happens after you start and before you accomplish your goal.

This middle period is where most of us get lost or sidetracked. It’s usually the time when we lose motivation, inspiration, and also tend to decrease in our productivity. Things get too familiar, and suddenly, we know exactly how we’ll be feeling, what we’ll be going through, and the expectation of more tedious tasks leads us to procrastinate.

Psychology 101

During my bachelor’s degree in psychology, we discussed the fundamentals of learning during child development. One topic of discussion concerned the process of habituation. The idea here is that an infant is very much attentive to a novel stimulus (i.e. toy). After the infant learns about its texture, its colors, its sounds and its use, the repeated exposure to the stimulus leads to habituation. This means that the infant spends less time fixating the object and activated brain areas now show less activity as they need little effort to process familiar stimuli. Give the infant a newer toy and its attention shifts to the novel stimulus.

⊕ Food for thought: Perhaps we can link this to our tendency to jump from goal to goal since we usually have more than one objective we want to pursue. As a consequence, however, our initial goal remains in a pending state as we keep filling up our plates. 

To get back to what we were talking about, here is a unstimulated cell in your brain:
01.Not Stimulated

This is your cell’s response to a novel stimuli:


Over some time (a couple of seconds), your cell habituates to the stimulus, and what happens, is this:


To relate this back to goal achievement and our “in-between” period, let’s substitute the cell with yourself. You are stimulated (motivated and productive) when you first begin. Yet with time (days, weeks, months), you habituate (get used to it). As a result, you do a little less each day, take more time than usual, and then procrastination ensues. Your goal now remains in a pending state.

Novelty & Familiarity

On one hand, we like what is new. We see it especially in babies: their eyes grow wide, they forget whatever it is they were in the middle of doing, and they point their finger to whatever caught their attention and demand they have it. Then they play with it, throw it around, shake it, bite it, and talk to it. They keep doing this until they find something new to attack.

On the other hand, we love what is familiar. It’s comfortable, it’s safe and we’re basically experts on it. We know everything we need to know about it, and we know how to handle it and use it.

So, what’s the final verdict? Do we prefer what is new, or what is familiar? We are curious beings that love to learn, but we also enjoy returning home after a while. Even our brains prefer the old because it’s less work to process. In fact, if you think about it, nothing really stays new for long, be it clothes, technology or relationships.

Yet if we change things around and say that we enjoy being home, surrounded by what is familiar and safe, it is also crucial for us to go out and explore the world…the unknown.

Reality Check

This, is not real life:


This, is real life:

04.Real life

Sometimes you will go through periods of happiness and excitation, inspiration and productivity (I wish you many of those). But a lot of times you’ll go through “dips”: periods of decreased happiness, low productivity and slow progress – if any progress at all. You won’t see the world through rosy glasses and what once excited you is now another mundane aspect of life.  You might experience personal and work-related difficulties. Taken together, these variables take a toll on you and contribute to losing your focus

Therefore, concerning your goal (let’s call it “focus“), it’s important to go about it using more than one way.

05.Different Ways

Just to clarify, ways A, B, C… etc. are all effective ways of helping you focus. Obviously, if a method isn’t working out you discard it. So ways A, B and C all allow to effectively fulfill your aspirations, but they are different ways of going about it. Accordingly, once you feel like you are falling into a routine that isn’t as exhilarating as it once was, consider using various routes to regain your focus.

06.Target Shot

If you have fallen off track, ask yourself if this is a goal you still want to pursue. If not, then this concludes your journey. You have learned from it and are ready to move on to other greater things. If you answer yes, than re-focus by using a different method. By doing so you will renew your sense of motivation and productivity. Just remember that there will be days you will have to get the job done even when you don’t feel like it. This is part of life and all I can say to that is just DO IT.   


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