One of the biggest ways people lose their productivity is in trying to decide what to do. This probably seems silly, but if you look at most planning techniques, they are mostly designed to reduce the amount of time you have to spend making a decision on what to do next. Why? Because that is probably one of the biggest time drains people face. Instead of working on something important, they spend time trying to decide or worrying about what to do next. If you are really bad about this, you can spend more time trying to decide which task to do than it would take to just complete the tasks.
Years ago, I went to several Franklin Planner training sessions. The whole point of how they teach you to manage your tasks is to help reduce the friction of trying to decide what to do next. You make your decision during your planning and simply follow your plan so you don’t have to lose time between the actual tasks. Most other planning methods are really trying to do the same thing, though most don’t come out and say it directly.
I’ve been watching my five-year-old daughter as she writes words. Sometimes a page takes her a very long time to complete, but it usually isn’t the actual writing that slows her down. It is the time spent in between words where she pauses and thinks. At one point, I noticed that she wasn’t doing each word in order. She was picking a random word on the page and writing that. She’d still complete all of the words she had to copy on the page, but it took her a lot longer because there was a decision point after each word to try to decide which to do next.
I got her switched over to doing them all in order now and it seems to have helped her finish more quickly. But the thing she was doing with her words is the same thing a lot of adults do with all kinds of other areas. Every time you have to pause and make a decision, you spend valuable time that you could spend actually completing tasks. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t spend any time making a decision about what you should do next, but make sure that it isn’t consuming a significant portion of the time you have available to work.
This principle applies to more than just deciding what task to do next. Have you ever spent so much time trying to decide which movie to watch that you don’t end up watching anything? Sometimes the best thing you can do is just make a decision and go for it. Which movie to watch may seem like an unimportant example, but have you ever felt the same way when trying to do something more important?
You can’t let fear of making the “wrong” decision keep you from moving forward–particularly when you are in a situation where there really isn’t a “right” answer to be found.
I’m definitely not perfect at this, but I have gotten better at just picking something when I realize that I’m wasting far too much time trying to decide between two equally valid options. Even the act of just randomly picking an option will force the decision process forward and help you clarify what you really want out of the situation.
Back to the movie example. If two people are in decision deadlock trying to decide what to watch, the fact that one of them says, “why don’t we just watch X” can help push the discussion for the participants to realize that they both really want to watch Y. It is a lot easier to turn a ship that is moving, just like it is easier to make a good decision when you are actually moving forward and not stuck in gridlock.
Nigel Ikechukwu says
Hi Mark, this is such a wonderful post. Indeed many people are thinking too much and wasting too much time in making critical decisions. Some are too scared to fail that they can’t even decide. This is bad. We should set deadlines for ourselves for decision making. Decision making should be timed as it would help us think faster and more precisely. Time is very important and we shouldn’t waste it thinking. Thinking is important before action, but not too much of it.
An excellent article, thank you!, Here are 2 ideas for implementing this. These help me get unstuck when my perfectionism makes it hard for me to make decisions and move forward.
One approach is a golfing analogy. Instead of shooting for a hole in one, imagine a big circle around the hole and just shoot to get in that circle. From there you can easily putt it in. For perfectionists, you can visualize the circle as big as you want until your mind feels confident you can make the shot. Then you can go from there.
The other approach is called “ready-fire-aim.” Instead of analyzing all your options until you are confident you have the best choice, just choose a good one and do it. Then plan to stop and evaluate and make adjustments. Even if it’s a total fail you aren’t back at square one because you have one less option and a lot more data for making your decision. I use this approach a lot.
For me, getting unstuck is usually about giving myself permission to move forward without having to do it perfectly, It seems to be hard-wired into my brain, so I have acquired tricks to overcome this.