Don’t you wish you had less time available to you? If there were only 18 hours in the day, maybe you would spend less of it starring at a wall because you have nothing to do? Yeah right!

I have yet to work with a single client or student that hasn’t said they were “too busy”, or that they “didn’t have enough time”, or that there were “too many things to do and too little time.”

Procrastination and time management are two items that come up frequently in our discussions. Yes, time does seem to “fly” for most of us, but the great news is that you are the pilot.

Today I want to give you some insight into how your mind prioritizes your tasks if you let it run on autopilot. But I will also give you the secret weapon to increasing your productivity in order to move from being busy to getting results.

Gain vs Preventing Pain

Psychology research shows that when we get right down to it, we can categorize all sources of human motivation into two categories.

  1. To prevent PAIN
  2. To move towards GAIN

You have probably heard this before, but it is important to understand it from a productivity and procrastination stand point.

Preventing Pain Tasks

Let’s start with preventing pain first, because that is the one that your brain gives more attention to. I have written about the brains negativity bias in a previous post. But these tasks associated with preventing pain throw up DANGER signals to your brain, which means survival, which means it will get the most attention, focus and priority. If fifteen things go well today, but you have one failure or setback, the chances are you will continue to think about that one failure and not your fifteen accomplishments.

Prevent pain tasks are items such as paying bills, doing laundry, mowing the lawn and completing tasks other people have given you (like your boss).

When we are engaged in prevent pain tasks, we are really attempting to prevent negative consequences from occurring: late fees from bills, services being cut off altogether, getting reprimanded at work, or laundry piling up and not having any clothes to wear. Our results are only big when we don’t do those prevent pain tasks. And those results are negative.

Gain Tasks

Your goals fit into the category of gain tasks. Starting a business, reading books, going back to school, learning a new hobby or language, and going to the gym. These are the tasks that will have the biggest impact on your life. The things you will look back on later in life and feel the most pride and accomplishment. When we look at the results they produce, there is a substantial different. We will receive 90% or more of our results from our gain tasks and only 10% of our results or less from those tasks we perform to prevent pain.

One of the biggest challenges with gain tasks is that in most cases they lack urgency or a deadline unless WE create one. You could put off these tasks until tomorrow, next year, or like most people, for your entire life!

Another key element of gain tasks is that they are not easily delegated. You can’t have someone else go to the gym for you (wouldn’t that be great), you must read the book to gain the new knowledge and insight.

So we now know that our brain will prioritize our avoid pain tasks much higher than our gain tasks. But we also know that our gain tasks provide all of our results.

What do we do?

When it comes to time management and productivity, people typically use two tools in some form or another. These are of course a to do list and a calendar. Whether you use an app, a hard copy planner, or just a piece of paper and a pencil, to some degree you have some type of calendar or to do list. Even if it is inconsistent.

We use and treat these two tools drastically different.

Your to do list is your dumping ground for all the things that need to get done. Your calendar is where you record your appointments or tasks with a specific time and date. There is a big difference.

Unlike your to do list that becomes your dumping ground. You will defend what gets put on your calendar and gets scheduled. It requires an extra step. You must determine if you have a conflict or have something else going on at that time and you must decide if it is important enough to add to your calendar. You are much more protective of what you will put on your calendar.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is never a moment in your life when you couldn’t be working on some type of prevent pain task. There is always something we could be doing, whether it is the dishes or responding to email and phone calls. When is the last time your Inbox was empty, your house spotless, all bills paid and all of your clothes were clean?


So if there are always prevent pain tasks we could be doing, technically there is “never any time for gain tasks or our goals”. That is, unless we schedule and commit the time.

The Secret Weapon

This is why your calendar is your secret weapon. What gets scheduled gets done.

Your calendar is your secret weapon to ensure that you put enough focus and time into your gain tasks and aren’t stuck in autopilot working on one prevent pain task after another. This is the difference between being busy and getting results.

When something is important it is time to Schedule It, Defend It against distractions and less important items and Neglect our to do list with the prevent pain tasks. They will still be there when you come back.

Whether you use a planner, a white board,  or a calendar on your phone it doesn’t matter. Use what works best for you. The key is to use it. Schedule time for your goals, and important  gain tasks. Treat it like any other important appointment and keep it. You will thank yourself later.

How can you start using your calendar to schedule out your priorities and those items that will really get you the results you want?

Your partner in success,

Josh Paulsen


Thanks to Steve McCatchy author of Decide for the inspiration for today’s post and to Alicia Ford for sharing it with me.