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Two Key Tricks For Getting Important Tasks Completed And Shipped

by on March 5, 2013

Getting Important Things Done

If you could go back and have one hour with the younger version of yourself, what would you say? For me, there are two important traits that I would beat into young me. These traits took me far too long to internalize but after I finally got them through my thick head, changed how I lived and worked. I now use them every single day and pass them on to the people I care about. Thus, the reason for me writing this post. :-)

Be Brutal About Eliminating Tough Small Choices

I learned this trait from President Obama. I once read a profile of the President where he made the argument that there is a finite amount of decision making power available to him each day. He has a lot of important decisions to make so he eliminated the opportunities for small tough choices to arise. I don’t know about the science behind that (what are decision made out of? Sounds like an article in High Times) but it does make a lot of sense to me in practical implementation.

Take a second and think about how much of your precious time is taken up by small tough choices.

  • What should I wear today?
  • Where should we grab lunch?
  • Which of these should I buy?

What is the sum of these decisions? Virtually nothing. You life is not dramatically impacted by these small choices. They are just time sinks.

Once I realized this, I took action to fix this problem. Every time I find myself stuck on a small decision, I now redirect my energy to solving it from a high level rather than for that particular instance.

For clothes, I donated almost all of them and bought new simple clothes that looked nice on me but weren’t partially different from each other. This means five shirts that are the same brand and cut but different colors. I donated all of my socks and bought 7 pairs that were identical (no more finding a matching sock, they are all interchangeable). I did similar things with my pants, shoes and underwear.

What am I going to wear today? The answer is now simple. It will be fundamentally the same as yesterday. (Just the colors and options change)

Obama does the same thing. He owns only two types of suits and two patterns of ties. He and you have bigger work to get done.

I do the same for food. 70% of the time I eat the same breakfast, lunch and dinner as the day before. I even went as far as to automate the process. In Seattle you can use a service called Amazon Fresh that delivers your groceries to your door. Every week I get the same shipment.

When I get bored of one option, I simply change it and keep it for a week. The other 30% of the time is spent trying new things with friends and family.

Instead of spending my precious time trying to make small legitimately tough choices, I switch my focus to eliminating the choice to begin with. I want to use my limited energy to solve the important problems in my life.

Structured Procrastination

Some mornings I wake up with the best of intentions. I plan to go for a run, get all of my errands done, call that person I haven’t talked to for awhile and complete everything on my to-do list. There is just one slight problem. My bed is really warm and the room is really cold. :-/ Just five more minutes.

An hour later I haven’t moved.

It is a trap that used to get me every time. No matter how charged I felt or how important my tasks were, I still lost out to my lizard brain.

That is until I discovered Structured Procrastination.

Whenever I can’t get myself to do the next task on my list, I now pick something entirely unrelated in subject matter but related in that it also needs to get done today. It doesn’t matter if it is big or small, time consuming or plain simple. The key is that it must be something that needs to happen today.

  • Can’t get myself to write that report? I do the research that is due tomorrow instead.
  • Can’t make myself answer that two part e-mail? I go for a 20 minute run instead.
  • Can’t motivate myself to fix that lingering bug on the website? I get myself to inbox zero instead.

I know I can’t keep myself from procrastinating. I am no superhero. I can however will myself to finish something else.

I run through this process all day long until I eventually finish my entire list for the day. It takes the whole day but every day I get a lot of necessary work done.

There is one caveat to structured procrastination. It isn’t helpful if you replace the important task with busy work. This means you can’t simply ignore your dog that needs to go to the vet and instead surf wikipedia. (sorry folks!)

I have strict rules for myself that I can’t pursue anything on the following list in the name of Structured Procrastination:

  • Cleaning my living quarters (I don’t have an apartment but I do live places)
  • Social media (that means you Facebook!)
  • Clearing my reading list
  • Catching up on my favorite websites
  • Reorganizing (files, objects, stuff in general)

Wasting time with busy work is not the same thing as structured procrastination. The replacement task must also be necessary to move you forward.

***

I firmly believe that if I would have internalized these traits earlier, I would have been able to complete many more important things in my life. They are not easy, and at times that may seem extreme (especially the first half of this post) but there is no doubt in my mind that after I implemented these systems in my daily routine, that is they changed my life for the better.

P.S. I will be on a radio show on CBS tomorrow (March 6th) at 1:00 PM PST talking about my life list and sharing some tips. If you are interested, you can listen to it online here.

P.P.S. Do you like this style of post? Should I do more?

P.P.P.S. – Photo is from Elvis’s trophy room in Memphis, Tennessee. There is a man who got a lot of stuff done! :-)

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How The Hell Do You Afford To Do All of This Stuff? Aren't You Afraid You Are Going To Get Grotesquely Murdered?


Despite the rumors, I am not a drug dealer :-) Instead, I am a storytelling consultant. I do marketing, video production and write code for people (a weird mix I know) in exchange for money. As far as being murdered, there was a close call once but it ended up being a miscommunication with an ex-girlfriend. Check out this page to learn the easy (and non-life threatening) way to add more adventures to your life.


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Jacob Puhl March 5, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Love the ‘eliminating small tough decisions’. I believe that’s why Steve Jobs moved to the jeans/black shirt combo – exact same reason. Clothes are a big opportunity to optimize if you’re into that sorta thing. Personally do that with all clothes – all same sets of undershirts (hanes v necks), eliminate socks and shoe laces when possible (slip ons without socks), all solid color shirts (american apparel t’s and long sleeve t’s – same exact design just with sleeves) with jeans or khakis only, always. All shoes and belts that can be worn with black and brown color schemes; never have to choose. All kinds of things… some call it boring, I call it time-saving :)

Reply

Danny Dover March 5, 2013 at 8:17 pm

I call it time saving too. :-) Good tip on getting rid of the shoe laces and socks altogether. I hadn’t thought of that.

Do you have a list of brands/clothes you recommend posted anywhere online?

Reply

Tim March 5, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Hey Danny, I think you left out Omnifocus, which you introduced to me in the first place. That program is AMAZING. Anyway, if you are ever back in Seattle, I propose a Danny Bash where you can serenade us all with your tales.

Cheerio!

Reply

Danny Dover March 5, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Hey Tim!

Awe, excellent point! I still use Omnifocus all of the time. Honestly, I use it probably 50 times a day. (I am not exaggerating)

I am in the middle of writing up my first Life Listed extended guide. I hadn’t thought of it before your comment but now I will add an Omnifocus chapter (I just added that note to Omnifocus). In my head, I will call this the Tim chapter :-p

Cheers bud! I’ll hit you up next time I am in town!

Reply

Danny Dover March 5, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Tim made me think :-)

Is there anything else people would like me to include in my upcoming guide?

Reply

Ken Jansen March 6, 2013 at 3:18 am

Hi Danny,

Great advice. I wear the same thing everyday, but I thought that had more to do with OCD than bettering my decision making allocation. I think part of getting where you are, and fighting the lizard brain, is that human brains do not fully develop until 26-28. I hope your book is still selling well too. Just in case you had a 2nd edition in the works :) Do you have eating Kansas City BBQ on your list? :)

Thanks.

Reply

Danny Dover March 6, 2013 at 11:17 am

“I wear the same thing everyday, but I thought that had more to do with OCD than bettering my decision making allocation.”

Same difference! :-)

“is that human brains do not fully develop until 26-28″

Perhaps you are right. That said, I hope my brain doesn’t stop developing after that. I need everything thing I can get!

“I hope your book is still selling well too. Just in case you had a 2nd edition in the works :)”

Book is still doing well and there are talks of a second edition. We will see.

“Do you have eating Kansas City BBQ on your list? :)”

In fact, I did (kind of)! – http://www.lifelisted.com/blog/rodeo-bbq-whisky-yes-folks-i-am-talking-about-nebraska/

Reply

mike vallano March 6, 2013 at 7:36 am

Great tips Danny! I use both of these, though not to the extent you advise.

I usually substitute procrastination with “something else productive” but I like your rules better.

I’m also working on indecisiveness (I have very little clothing, so that’s not an issue). But there are lots of things where we have too much choice. I’m learning to try to just quickly pick something and be happy with it. It can be a choice of what beer to get to what country to visit.

Having presence and appreciation helps to eliminate the second guessing. But it’s always a work in progress :)

Reply

Danny Dover March 6, 2013 at 11:19 am

Well said (as always) Mike!

I hope life is going well and you are out and about. Regardless, I know you are out on an adventure one way or another.

Cheers!

Reply

Jacob Puhl March 6, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Clothing recommendations – YES, I do!

T shirt – American Apparel Tri Blend. Most comfortable T shirt’s I’ve ever worn. http://store.americanapparel.net/tr401.html

Then, for your more formal occasions, the Tri Blend V neck (same shirt lol)
http://store.americanapparel.net/tr456w.html

Then, when the weather hits depending on where you are in the world, just add some sleeves
http://store.americanapparel.net/product/?productId=tr407

Formal wear (relative, of course)
http://www.americanapparel.net/wholesaleresources/ExpressOrder/Catalog/Product.aspx?s=TR476&cid=14&w=0

Viola – decision, eliminated! (mostly)

Reply

Danny Dover March 8, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Jacob, you are my hero :-) I literally laughed out loud when I saw the first link vs the second link :-) Then I stopped laughing and added them to my cart.

Brilliant solution! Thank you!

Reply

Diane Smith March 7, 2013 at 10:42 am

Really helpful post Danny! I am going to start testing out that structured procrastination approach… right after I finish something else that is due today :-p

Reply

David March 7, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Danny, I like the post, especially your automation routines. I’ve thought about manpacks or a razor subscription model. I love amazon prime for less hassle shopping, I auto-pay, auto-donate, and auto-invest whenever possible.
but think again about putting “tricks” in future headlines, you’ll sound like those annoying “one weir trick” google ads, see funny article about it http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/dermatologists-hate-me-for-this-one-weird-trick

Reply

Danny Dover March 8, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Hey David,

Sounds like we are likeminded. Great minds automate alike? Something like that :-)

Thanks for the feedback on the headline. I’ll keep that in mind going forward.

Do you think the word ‘tactics’ would have been better compared to ‘tricks’? (Or am I following into the same trap again :-p)

Cheers!

Reply

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