7 Ways to Make Gmail Faster

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Long time Gmail users may notice that their accounts have gotten sluggish over time. It can take longer to load your inbox and be a frustrating experience to open or send a message. This can happen for several reasons such as using a large number of add-ons or accumulating a high volume of messages, folders or filters.

There are several ways to counteract this slowdown process. Here are seven tips to get Gmail feeling fast again:

1. Disable Labs features. Google offers a feature called Gmail Labs that lets you try out experimental functionality that isn’t quite ready for prime time. While many of these features are useful, they’re not really necessary — and may be contributing to Gmail slowdown.

Go to your Gmail Settings (the gear icon in the upper right), head to the Labs section and disable any features you don’t use. Google also allows you to temporarily shut off Labs, if you prefer.

Related: 5 Ways to Tame Your Inbox

2. Turn off Chat. You may not even realize that Google Talk is running in a left sidebar Chat module whenever you log in to Gmail. To turn it off permanently, access your Gmail settings, look for the Chat section in the top menu, select the “Chat off” radio button and save your changes. Instead of using Gmail’s Chat, use a dedicated chat client such as Adium for the Mac or Digsby for Windows.

3. Display 25 messages or less. Go to the General section of your Settings and look for the Maximum Page Size controls. Use the dropdown menu to adjust the “Show X conversations per page” down to 25 items or even less — you can go as low as 10 threads per page.

4. Remove connected services. You can give a number of third-party sites and apps access to your Google Account in order to work with your Contacts, Calendars and other data. You may have a long list of connected services you no longer use. Head to your Authorized Access page and revoke access to any defunct web accounts or unused apps.

5. Disable browser check. Gmail checks for browser compatibility when it loads in order to provide the best user experience. However, this browser check can potentially take more time than it might save. You can disable this automatic process by using the “?nocheckbrowser flag” at the end of your login URL.

Related: Google Testing New Search Feature for Gmail Users

6. Delete filters. Using Gmail filters can be a powerful way to sort and route your messages, but you can accumulate an unwieldy collection over time. Go to Settings then Filters and remove any old directives that are no longer relevant. Consider unsubscribing to any infrequently read newsletters instead of filtering them into bulk folders.

7. Use a default theme. Custom themes are a fun way to personalize your Gmail account, but additional graphical elements take extra time to load. Try using the default Light theme instead, found at the top left under Settings then Themes.

4 Strategies to Sharpen Your Focus

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4 Strategies to Sharpen Your Focus

image credit: Steve Adams

Every business leader has trouble staying focused, but some find that distraction is a constant that gets in the way of productivity.

Symptoms like inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity can get in the way of a productive, focused work day, and in extreme cases are linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The key to success is learning to work with those symptoms, not against them.

“It’s about figuring out how to work with your strengths and downplay your weaknesses,” says Abigail Levrini, psychologist and author of Succeeding with Adult ADHD (APA, 2012).

Related: How to Train Your Brain to Stay Focused

The tasks you don’t enjoy or want to do require thought and planning if you have trouble focusing. Sometimes, you can easily offload a task or hire someone with the skill set you lack, but when that’s not possible, you need to develop coping strategies to make sure you can focus when you need to.

Whether you have been diagnosed with ADHD or not, these four techniques will help you stay on task and focus your attention.

1. Identify your learning style.  Figure out how you learn best, then organize your workplace to play up your strengths. “If you can identify your learning style, then you can start to build systems around it,” Levrini says.

For example, if have a hard time keeping track of information that’s out of sight, creating an open filing system, color coding, and clear containers can help keep you stay organized. Likewise, an auditory learner who needs to prepare for an interview will recall his talking points better if they’re read aloud.

2. Visually map your time and tasks. Map your day by the hour and review it throughout the day to help you organize your time. That visual cue will help you pace your day and budget your time appropriately.

Use free hours effectively by ranking your task list visually as well. Try color coding your list according to priority, with four or five levels of urgency. “Assign levels to each of your tasks,” Levrini says. Do the essential, time-sensitive tasks early in the week while you’re fresh, then save the optional ones for later.

3. Fidget to help you focus. When you need to pay attention during a call or meeting, bring a small object that you can play with, such as putty. It should be something you can manipulate mindlessly while you listen. “That actually frees up your mental energy so you can focus a little better,” Levrini says.

In general, releasing excess energy throughout the day will help you stay on task. “The longer you try to focus on something without moving around, your mind will start to tire,” Levrini says. To improve your focus, climb the stairs between tasks, pace while you talk on the phone, or simply change your environment throughout the day.

4. Break up the tedious tasks. Boring tasks cause excessive distraction and procrastination. Forcing yourself to endure them will only exacerbate the problem. Instead, work in fifteen-minute bursts. Set a timer and try to do as much as you can before it goes off. Make a game of it.

When time is up, do something active, such as walking up the stairs or doing jumping jacks, then work for another fifteen minutes. That burst of activity will give you the energy you need to maintain focus. “By taking frequent breaks and building in physical activity, you don’t get mentally fatigued and bored,” Levrini says.

Related: Virtual Assistants – 5 ways to get the most out of your VA

Why Our Brains Like Short-Term Goals

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Why Our Brains Like Short-Term Goals

In her book, The Entrepreneurial Instinct: How Everyone Has the Innate Ability to Start a Successful Business, author Monica Mehta explores the role of brain chemistry in entrepreneurship. In this excerpt, she details goal setting.

Achieving your goals isn’t just about hard work and discipline. It’s about physiology. By understanding how the brain processes success and failure, you can jump-start your productivity to create a winning streak and put an end to failed New Year’s resolutions.

The more times you succeed at something, the longer your brain stores the information that allowed you to do so well in the first place. That’s because with each success, our brain releases a chemical called dopamine. When dopamine flows into the brain’s reward pathway (the part responsible for pleasure, learning and motivation), we not only feel greater concentration but are inspired to re-experience the activity that caused the chemical release in the first place.

This is why the cultivation of small wins can propel you to bigger success, and you should focus on setting just a few small achievable goals. While your ambitions can remain grand, setting the bar too high with goals can actually be counterproductive. Each time we fail, the brain is drained of dopamine making it not only hard to concentrate but also difficult to learn from what went wrong.

Why We Learn More From Success Than Failure

Ever find yourself destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again? According to a study completed by researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, that is exactly how our brains are wired to work. Their findings determined that our brain cells only learn from experience when we do things right and failure doesn’t register the same way.

In the experiment, monkeys viewed two images on a computer screen, one that presented a reward if the subject reacted by looking right, another when it looked left. The study showed that the brain response when a monkey received an award for looking the right way improved its chances of performing well on the next trial.

The study makes important discoveries not only about the way we learn but the brain’s neural plasticity or ability to change in response to experiences. When behavior is successful our cells become finely tuned to what the animal was learning at the time while a failure shows little change in the brain or improvement in the monkey’s behavior.

Related: Virtual Assistants – 5 ways to get the most out of your VA

Set Goals Your Brain Likes

Collecting wins, no matter how small, can chemically wire you to move mountains by causing a repeated release of dopamine. But to get going you have to land those first few successes. The key to creating your own cycle of productivity is to set a grand vision and work your way there with a few, achievable goals that increase your likelihood of experiencing a positive outcome.

“Your vision is your destination, and small, manageable goals are the motor that will get you there,” says Dr. Frank Murtha, a New York-based counseling psychologist with a focus on investor psychology, behavioral finance and financial risk taking. “Without the vision you’re on a road to nowhere. Without the goals, you have a destination but no motor. They work in tandem, and you need both.”

Create a Road Map for Your Subconscious Mind

Kick off goal setting by preparing a short vision statement of where you want to go. “Vision creates a picture for the subconscious mind. Our subconscious is what makes us such good problem solvers compared to a computer,” says Dr. Richard Peterson, a psychiatrist and neuroeconomics researcher who has written two books on financial risk taking. “We can see 1,000 dimensions of a problem and sort it down to the most important very quickly.”

The subconscious is not only responsible for 90 percent of the decisions we make in day-to-day life, but is also the part of the brain that is largely in charge when we are performing creative tasks or charting unknown territory. The very act of giving your emotional brain a detailed portrait of your end goal also ensures that, even inadvertently, you will take the steps needed to steer yourself toward it.

Articulate your vision with words and a picture or two; the more detailed the better. Post this where you can see it regularly.

Related: New Year’s Resolution Tips for Busy People

Work Your Way There With Short-Term Goals

To rack up those first few wins, you’ve got to set only a few short-term goals at a time. Each should ideally take no more than three months to achieve. The goals should be realistic and specific, and incorporate your strengths. Writing them down, ideally in a place where you will see them every day, will help you stay focused.

If success releases the production of dopamine, failure can do the opposite. Setting over-reaching goals, or too many goals at once, can be counterproductive for those seeking to harness the power of the brain’s reward center. If you set four goals and achieve only two of them, it’s human nature to focus on what went wrong; even the successes you were able to accomplish fail to drum out what you weren’t able to achieve.

Remember, success begets success.