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“Thank God a text is coming in, I was about to have to decide to do something productive.”
Is this thought really that far from the truth?
Many people recognize that distraction is a problem today, and look to technology as the main culprit. Instant notifications have actually done something far more damaging than that – they’ve made us poor decision-makers. Every time you answer an instant notification, it means that you were not previously committed to doing something else, which is easy to do when you have an active stream of communication 24 hours a day.
The first and primary reason why a person might struggle to make a decision is the fear of making the wrong choice. The fear of a poor choice leads to weak decision-making, which in turn makes you vulnerable to distractions. So let’s solve a whole bucket of issues with one shot. Let’s learn how to make quick decisions and never look back. This article will be focus on decisions for productivity, since these are the daily “quick” decisions that we need to make.
How To Conquer Your Fear Of Making The Wrong Decision
Do you like choosing correctly? I’m sure you do, but how do you feel about making a wrong decision? Here’s the thing – if you fear choosing wrong, it will paralyze your decision-making muscles. To overcome this, and to never fear making the wrong choice again, we must recognize two things.
First, not making a decision is actually a decision itself, and it is the worst one. Any time you don’t make a firm decision, you’re wasting time in stasis. If instead you chose incorrectly, then at least you’d learn something. But that leads to my next point.
It’s ok to make a wrong decision! We’re talking about productivity here, so why would we fear doing the “wrong” task first? Is it really so bad to do laundry before writing your book? This is pretty petty stuff to worry about, wouldn’t you agree? To see a fun illustration of what I mean, read on.
The Scenario: You Are Slightly Tired, Sitting On Your Couch With Lots To Do
Your unfinished book is on your computer, you need to do laundry, you’re not sure you’re in the right career path, dinner is undecided, and you’re thinking about a conversation you had earlier. Your mind is crowded with these possible next actions and ideas.
But here’s a nugget of truth I’ve realized: when you spend less time deciding, you conserve energy and often accomplish all of the things you previously struggled to decide between. Let’s use the example above and explore the difference between making a quick, firm decision and trying to pick the perfect task.
Option One: You Make Quick, Firm Decisions
From the list, you abruptly decide to do laundry, having no idea if it’s the “best choice.” It takes you one minute to get the wash started. Then you decide to cook chicken casserole for dinner, not sure if it’s the best choice either, but you get the ingredients prepped in eight minutes to cook later. After that, you’re sitting down at your computer, because you decided to type away at your book. You get into a flow and write 1,000 unpolished words in about an hour. Clothes are washed! You put the clothes into the dryer.
Then you resolve to take 15-30 minutes to internally process the conversation you had earlier (or talk to someone else about it). Done. Next, you decide to read two or three articles about career transitioning and jobs related to your skills, followed by 30 minutes of introspection and focus about the intersection between what you like doing and what you can get paid to do.
After that, it’s dinner time and as you bake the chicken casserole, you relax your mind and think about whatever you please (probably your career from the earlier research, and how much you just got done).
If you add up this time, you went from overwhelmed to finishing your task list in about three hours. This is not implausible with quick and firm decision-making, it’s the norm. But what if you took a bit more time to make that first decision? Let’s explore that possibility too, just for fun.
Option Two: You Carefully Weigh Your Options Before Committing To One
You wonder if you should put in the laundry now. But you’re a bit tired and maybe it would be better to stay seated and work on your book. You grab your computer with the idea to write in your book (but no firm decision) and open up your email as your decision lingers in the back of your mind. You check on a new email and respond to it. Then you check Facebook (because it only takes a few seconds) and respond to some comments. In the newsfeed, there is an article about dolphins in Japan and you read it, and join in the discussion below it.
After that, you browse some of your favorite websites. In back of your head, you’re thinking about the conversation from earlier, and it just hit you again that your career is really uncertain right now. But again, no decision is made, so you continue to surf the web. It’s soothing, but the clock doesn’t stop.
Uh oh! Now it’s dinner time and everyone’s hungry. Oh sssssnap!
Your stress meter climbs because you didn’t get anything done. As you fix dinner, the unfinished list looms above you like a dark cloud. It rains in your hair. After dinner, you clean up, and since it’s late and you’re stressed out, you relax for the rest of the night. You’ll tackle the list tomorrow, along with tomorrow’s list. The tomorrow version of you sneers at present day you. The pressure builds, and the next day, you have even more things to do.
See the difference? Make the decision right now to be a quick decision-maker, and practice, practice, practice until it’s a habit! Take the weight of being a perfect choice-maker off of yourself and experience the freedom in decisiveness.
You’re allowed to make some wrong decisions when you’re making a lot of right decisions. You have my permission to make the wrong choice, as long as you do it quickly. Now give yourself permission. You’ll find that the fear of making wrong choices is one of life’s greatest hoaxes and a root-cause of dissatisfaction.
Also, Closed-mindedness Makes Decisions Tricky
This is embarrassing, but I’ve actually had the thought, “I’m not ready to do laundry yet.”
I was not ready to throw clothes into an empty space and press a button? As I said, embarrassing, but it’s just a bad habit. You can get into the habit of wanting just the right circumstances to do something. If you’re going to exercise, maybe you think you have to have a lot of energy, and exercise exactly 45 minutes after eating, but only if the moon is in its waxing phase.
If this is you, it’s time to lower your standards for the circumstances in which you can work. At the same time, raise your standards for what you expect from yourself. In my example, I would reframe my self-identity to be someone who thinks laundry is easy and can be done at anytime. The people who run faster, write better, are stronger, and enjoy life more, have high standards in those areas, but low standards for when and where they can focus on their work.
Here is the recap for how to overcome common problems and improve your decision-making ability and get more done with less stress.
Don’t fear making the wrong choice, instead fear not making a choice; wrong choices aren’t as bad as not choosing, especially when it comes to your daily tasks. Also raise your expectations of yourself and lower your situational requirements so you’ll be open-minded and ready to tackle anything.
Some people celebrate good decisions, but perhaps we should celebrate quick, firm decisions instead. Make firm decisions quickly to improve your confidence, increase productivity, reduce stress, and gain the respect of others.
In a poll on my blog, 63% of people have said that internal distractions – like too many ideas and tangent thoughts – are what prevent them from focusing the most. I think this is often a result of not firmly deciding to focus on one thing. If you want to more useful tips about decision-making, focusing, habits, and the power of small steps, join us at Deep Existence.
Sign up for my “Focus Tuesday” Newsletter, which is packed full of good ideas, and I’ll send you my eBook and 40 exclusive focus wallpapers for your computer. It’s all free. Join the growing number of us doing our best to stay focused in a distracted world. If you’re interested, you can sign up right here.
While you are improving your decision making process here are some more awesome tips that will help you Focus on achieving your goals.
|Written on 10/1/2013 by Stephen Guise. Besides writing for his own blogs Stephen is a featured writer here at Dumb Little Man. Be sure to stop by Stephen’s ‘featured writer page‘ right here on Dumb Little Man to find links to more of his articles.|
Photo Credit: Celestine Chua
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