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Brain Power
Here's Why Analytical Thinking Is More Important Than Productivity
CC0 Creative Commons / Pixabay
Rachel Montañez
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I help you ditch career burnout and boredom.
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Did you write a to-do list today or anytime last week? To-do lists are popular, but they don’t equal success and productivity. They often contribute to stress and cause us to sleep less, too. Kevin Kruse, author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management has interviewed more than 200 billionaires, world-class athletes and straight-A students seeking their best advice on time management and productivity, and he says, “none of them ever mentioned a to-do list.”

If you want to get more done at work, then you need to master analytical and critical thinking. Analytical and critical thinking are both powerful skills that help us make better decisions at work and home. Thinking analytically and critically also helps us solve complex problems. The top three job skills you need by 2020 are complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity, according to the World Economic Forum.

Here’s why you need to ditch your to-do list, and what you need to do instead.

What is meant by analytical skills?

Analytical thinking refers to observing often complex problems or situations and synthesizing information to develop approaches to resolving or further exploring them. A person with analytical skills can research the topic and problem-solve to solve an issue or improve a process or situation.

Types of analytical skills

Types of analytical skills include:

• Critical thinking

• Research

• Data analysis

• Communication

Problem-solving

Why are analytical skills more important than productivity?

1. They mean that you're accomplishing more, not just feeling like you're accomplishing more.

To-do lists don't account for time or distinguish between urgent and essential, and they produce what psychologists call a Zeigarnik effect. The Zeigarnik effect pretty much states that we remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks with more clarity than completed tasks. It’s around bedtime, when we’re quiet and still, that we tend to remember undone tasks that can contribute to insomnia.

I know checking off stuff on a to-do list can help us feel accomplished, but we can tend to put things on there that have no business being on there anyway. What do I mean by that? Well, anything that can be done in less than five minutes doesn’t really need to be on a to-do list.

2. Sometimes you just need to stop, rest, and sleep.

Our brains aren’t able to efficiently solve problems and make smart decisions when we’re tired, burnout, and lacking energy. If you’re able to prioritize your sleep and stop stressing about your to-do list, you’re also more likely to see financial rewards. According to research done by economists Matthew Gibson and Jeffrey Shrader, on average, those who sleep more earn more money. We solidify our memories when we sleep, and a lack of quality sleep makes us more forgetful.

3. Analytical thinking helps us work efficiently.

Who isn’t familiar with the saying ‘work smarter, not harder?' Analytical thinking helps us collect, gather, visualize and analyze details. Instead of rushing to complete a task at home or work, think about the resources you need to complete it and do it at the right time. These skills will help you get your tasks done. 

But when we’re confined to a do-list, we don’t always allow ourselves the flexibility of doing things based on momentum. Analytical thinking also majorly boosts our chances of achieving a goal. By doing what psychologists call "if/then" planning, we’re primarily using our analytical skills. To incorporate this productive way of planning, think about what you need to do and also when and where you want to do it. Research shows that this approach increases the likelihood of you reaching your goals by up to 300 percent.

4. You actually need less time to get stuff done.

We’ve all been there. Sometimes, the more time you give yourself to finish something, the more time it takes to do it. Behavioral economist, Dan Ariely, found that students who had longer to finish three papers performed worse than those who had deadlines that were evenly spaced and earlier. So, when you feel like you’ve got a ton of stuff to do, don’t forget that it’s not always about how much time you have. If you want to be productive, research shows you actually need less time.

Thank heavens because sometimes I hear my clients say it feels like it’s bedtime right after the sun rises, and they’re right. Time does move fast. But now you've got facts and figures to show that prioritizing analytical thinking instead of your to-do list is a smarter way to get more done. Critical thinkers can attest. 

How do you develop analytical thinking?

Some ways to develop your analytical thinking include:

• Attempt to look at problems from multiple angles.

• Observe your environment.

• Actively engage with your surroundings by asking questions.

• Read.

• Develop solutions to problems you're not necessarily tasked with solving. 

Exercise your brain through activities like meditation and brain games. 

What is the difference between analytical and critical thinking?

Critical thinking is the process of developing your own opinion using your judgment and creativity, approaching an issue from a new angle to develop an innovative solution, while analytical thinking involves taking outside information and evaluating it to create a fact- and evidence-based approach to an issue or topic. Essentially, analytical skills involve using existing knowledge, while critical thinking involves creating new knowledge.

Critical thinking can still be thought of as a type of analytical skill, though.

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Rachel Montanez is a career coach and career development speaker. Check out her website here and connect on LinkedIn here.

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