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Reclaim Lost Time Using Behavior Modification Techniques

If your attention span wanes during certain times of the day, if you have difficulty leaving for work on time, or if you fall asleep too late to be rested in the morning, you are losing precious time during the day. By using a few simple behavior modification techniques, you can keep yourself on task, keep on schedule, and get better sleep.

In the simplest sense, behavior modification (also known as cognitive behavior therapy) allows you to change habitual behavior by first recognizing the behavior, and then making a conscious effort to change it. It has been used by therapists to help people stop smoking, keep children from wetting the bed, help people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and help people lose weight. You do not have to be a doctor or psychologist to apply some basic techniques to make yourself more productive.

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Photo by |Chris|.

Keep Yourself Focused

For some of us, keeping focused on work tasks for most of the work day can be extremely difficult. When it is nice out or you had a big lunch, it is easy to let your daydreams or sleepiness keep you from being productive. If you can identify specific times of the day where you have problems paying attention or keeping on task, you can schedule yourself for a 10-15 minute break. Stop staring at your computer screen and go for a walk through your office building or around the block. Taking a few minutes to clear your head will give you renewed focus when you return to your desk. If your breaks in focus are because you are stuck or frustrated by a specific piece of work, consider just changing tasks. Stretching a different part of your brain will help to reduce your frustration, and may even help you break your mental block to finish the task you’re stuck on.

Prevent Coworkers from Hijacking Your Day

Despite your best efforts, you can be distracted by well-meaning coworkers who prefer to stop by your cubicle rather than emailing you, or who stop you for hallway meetings when you were just on your way to the water fountain. Rather than acquiescing them, use your office calendar to protect your precious work day. Put blocks of time on your calendar for working on specific tasks. If possible, make these calendar items private, so your coworkers will not be able to see specifics about the appointment like the location or name. This way the people who check your calendar will be less inclined to stop by because you are unavailable. If you get stopped on your way to or from your office for an impromptu meeting, tell the person who stopped you that you are busy, and invite them to find time on your calendar to meet. If you have already blocked out time to do specific work, you will be forcing them to accommodate you and keep them from breaking your concentration. Using these scheduling techniques modifies your behavior by encouraging you to plan out your days and keep to a schedule, but but also modifies your coworkers behavior by making them take your schedule into consideration.

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Photo by benkay.

Stay on Schedule

Getting ready and getting out the door to leave for work or appointments is difficult for some people. Rather than adding a specific amount of prep time to our morning routines and sticking to it, we spend too much time getting ready and then rush to work. Not only does this add to your stress level, but you can forget key items at home, or endanger yourself and others on the road if you speed or drive recklessly. If you have an alarm clock with multiple daily alarm settings, you can set the secondary alarm to go off at the time you would ideally like to leave for work. It’s a good idea to choose an alarm clock with an alarm that shuts it self off after a specific amount of time, because you may rush out the door and forget to turn off the alarm. Alternatively, you can set your alarm clock 15-30 minutes ahead. You will be early, but you may have to adjust your sleeping schedule accordingly.

Change Your Sleep Habits

Good sleep hygiene boosts your productivity by enabling you to be alert, focused, and well-rested when you wake up. Growing numbers of Americans are being diagnosed with insomnia and other sleep disorders, some of which are caused by depression and metabolic disorders. These techniques may not help if you have an underlying health problem, but medical professionals use some of them to treat insomnia, and they can help the average person get more restful sleep.

One of the easiest ways to get to sleep on time and stay asleep is to turn off the technology before bed. Even a phone vibrating or a screen lighting up can wake you in the middle of the night, so if you’re not expecting an emergency call, email, or text, turn off your phone. Many smartphones can be set to turn themselves on and off automatically at scheduled times so you do not even need to remember to do it. Listening to music or watching TV may help put you to sleep, but being exposed to constant sound throughout the night can keep you from getting restful sleep. Since you cannot shut your ears off, when you fall asleep in a noisy environment your brain can still continue trying to process the noise. Consider using an alarm clock or television with a sleep timer that shuts itself off after a designated amount of time.

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Photo by Like Mad.

Since our sleep cycles are affected by light and darkness (day and night), keeping your bedroom as dark as possible will help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Lights flickering through blinds and even the light from another room can contribute to light pollution in your bedroom. Sleeping with a closed bedroom door and installing blackout curtains or shades can drastically help you fall asleep faster and help you stay asleep.

By taking the time to monitor your own behavior and how it affects your productivity, you can make small changes that will have a drastic impact. Getting to work a few minutes early because you left the house on time, managing your interactions with coworkers by scheduling your day, taking breaks to clear your head, and practicing good sleep hygiene can have a drastic impact on how much you get done in a day. Even if you do not reclaim hours of lost time, you can get more done in less time, and feel better while you’re working.

  • Published 08/13/10

Comments (3)

  1. mysticgeek

    These are some great tips! The only problem is getting yourself to actually implement them in your daily routine. There is always another article to write or email to check.

    Thanks for the great post!

  2. Michelle

    In response to the other comment:
    I find that using a notebook (spiral bound, with college-rule lines)to list my daily chores/goals very helpful, especially during the first few months after changing a routine. Secondly, I meditate, usually daily, and find the induction an easy way to fall asleep. Make sure to use a specific induction for each purpose, ie; use one for meditation and another for sleep, if you do both. I use deep breathing for meditation, with tree imagery (feet become roots, upper body becomes the leafy branches) for when I need to come back to wakefulness soon and beach imagery (lying on the beach with toes in the water, each wave washes away more and more stress until I’m almost covered, then it recedes) to fall asleep at night. As soon as my body is fairly relaxed, I go over what I need to remember when I wake up, for ex: “I will get up at 6 am every morning to give myself time to prepare for my day.” “I will manage my time well at work, so I can accomplish my goals quickly and easily.” Keep it positive, meaning never say “don’t” or “won’t”, just say what you want to happen. If you fall asleep or can’t remember your suggestions, just record them (with or without background music) and play it back either during daytime meditation or just before bed. There many terrific books with many more helpful suggestions, my favorites are “Motherwit” by Diane Mariechild and “Staying Well with Guided Imagery” by Belleruth Naparstek.
    I hope this helps.

  3. Gail

    I sleep very little, and only when I can’t stay awake. An addiction to learning new things, and finding explanations to things I have always wondered about, takes time. At 73, I don’t feel I have time to be wasting. By the way, I also only eat when I’m actually hungry, and am in great condition for an old hen. Now for OCD…….I work at a task till it’s done and done well, whether it’s chopping out tree stumps or organizing files on my computer. Most new acquaintances guess my age at 50 something, so I figure my habits ought to stay as they are. LOL!

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