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