How to Be More Productive by Doing Less
“We all make choices but in the end, our choices make us.” Ken Levine
You are the CEO. Though you may not run a Fortune 500 company and go by the title of Chief Executive Officer, make no mistake; you are the CEO of your life. And while you may not be responsible for thousands of employees, customers and shareholders as required of a corporate CEO, your decisions still affect a large number of people who matter most in your life. So wouldn’t it make sense to guard your mental energy as carefully as you guard your time?
We go to great lengths to preserve the battery of our smartphones, our cars and the energy in our homes. But when it comes to preserving our mental energy, we tend to be neglectful. The result then is decision fatigue.
No matter how rational or disciplined you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.
This New York Times article explains:
“The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways.
“One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences.”
Some examples of such behavior are: “Sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car.”
The other shortcut is to do nothing.
While some people may not take these shortcuts, to compensate for decision fatigue, they will fall back on their willpower. If your mental energy is seen as the main power supply, think of your willpower as a backup generator. It too runs in limited supply and should only be tapped in times of true emergency. If you lose your willpower, you will likely lose your self-control. The NYT article cites what happens when there is a loss of self-control:
“Low self-control correlates with low income as well as with a host of other problems, including poor achievement in school, divorce, crime, alcoholism and poor health.”
If you’re someone who normally “has it together,” the above statement may seem like an extreme case. Just be aware that when you are low on mental energy, you are prone to ignoring your fatigue and compounding it by doing more. Doing more does not necessarily mean you are productive or effective if you are making poor decisions due to fatigue.
The word “decide” shares an etymological root with the word “homicide.” Homicide is from the Latin word “caedere” meaning “to cut down” or “to kill.” While no scientific study has shown that making too many decisions can kill us, you now learned the dangers of decision fatigue.
Guard your mental energy as judiciously as you would guard your time. The thing is to do less and put yourself in a position where you need to make fewer decisions.
Here are suggestions on how you can be more productive by doing less.
Check Your Ego
Do you need to be the one who makes all the decisions? Can you delegate some of your tasks to another team member and people who report to you in order to free up some mental energy?
Delegation extends to solo artists and entrepreneurs as well. Are you in a position to outsource activities such as bookkeeping, web design and other administrative work? If so, I highly encourage it. Doing so will free you up for core business activities and in turn, boost your creativity and productivity.
Guard Your Prime Time
When are you at your best? For example, if your highest energy level is between 10AM to noon, guard it zealously and block it off for your most important decisions and priority items. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this one.
Make it Robotic
Some tasks do not deserve your mental effort. Do you need to be hunting for your keys or matching socks every morning? Make it a habit to leave your keys in the same spot and arrange your socks in a sock drawer. Not only does this save you time and aggravation but also it plugs up any mental drain.
Your Will Power – Only Break in Case of Emergency
Scheduling back-to-back meetings and pulling all-nighters in order to complete client projects may give you a sense of satisfaction because you pulled off a miracle. But make this an exception and not the rule. When you fall back on willpower for these situations, remember that your willpower is to be used only in case of emergencies.
Recharge Your Mind
Just as you would charge up your smartphone when its battery runs low, think of healthy ways to recharge your mind. Would that be napping, listening to music, riding a bike or pausing for a mid-afternoon cup of cappuccino? Schedule them in as you would any other appointments.
Don’t Neglect Your Body
By now, you heard from enough health professionals who preached the mind/body integration. Pay attention. A healthy body supports a healthy mind so make sure you get plenty of rest, relaxation, exercise and high-energy foods.
Simplify Your Life
A person with a complicated life requires a lot more decision-making than someone who lives simply. Eliminating complication will add - not subtract - from your quality of life.
Lastly, it’s important that you note: “Good decision making is not a trait of the person…it’s a state that fluctuates.”
By putting into practice a few of these suggestions, you will be in the best mental state to make decisions.
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