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The Key to Stress-Free Productivity: Better Verbs

The author of a new book offers a solution to those who can't stop stressing about their to-do lists: swap big verbs such as "implement" and "plan" for more manageable ones.

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In many ways all-pervasive tech helps us be more productive. Who hasn't shot off that essential e-mail while standing in line or managed to locate that key figure buried in your files with a quick computer-aided search? But being forever plugged in isn't without its dark side.

From the restless impulse to continuously check your phone lest you miss that crucial after-hours message to the modern ritual of reaching for your laptop before your first cup of coffee in the morning, the ability to work at all hours makes it more difficult for many of us to ever stop stressing and feel content with what we've accomplished. You could always be doing more–and you feel it. So how can you break out of the grasp of your forever-expanding to-do list and start to feel content with your level of productivity?

Jason Womack is the author of a forthcoming book titled Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More, which has 10 chapters worth of suggestions. Among them is a simple mental trick to help those who find themselves forever ruminating about the things they need to accomplish. Rather than lie in bed at night tossing and turning while you ponder how much you need to do to accomplish big, abstract objectives like implementing a strategy or planning your product launch, calm your mind by breaking these tasks down into more manageable, concrete verbs. Womack says:

If your to-do list has "big" verbs–by which I mean verbs that are mentally demanding or longer term in nature such as plan, discuss, create, or implement–replace them with action steps to just get started. That is, pick "smaller" verbs, by which I mean verbs describing tasks that are easier to start and faster to finish. This will save you time and reduce the sense of overload you're feeling.

We all want to enjoy what we do every day. We want to get better and better, both on the job and off, and yet, many people are too overwhelmed to make the key changes that will help them do so. There is no reason to remain mired in frustration.

People lose sleep over creating and planning but rarely over calling or drafting. So next time you’re tossing and turning maybe the solution is cracking your worries into simple actions using smaller verbs as a guide. Who knew better verbs might be a cure for insomnia and stress?

Last updated: Jan 26, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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