As mere human beings, we’re heavily susceptible to decision fatigue and ‘analysis paralysis’. It’s the reason that top athletes, performers and business people have set daily routines and rituals.
You have a limited number of effective decisions each day. If you’re too busy wasting these on what to wear or what to have for breakfast, you won’t be able to give your work the level of cerebral energy that it requires. The same goes for anything else in life.
I’ve always been aware that I have a limited number of effective decisions in any given day, and I’ve noticed the affect of this on my ability to create.
Every Decision Takes Energy
Think about it — what is it to produce a piece of creative work, if not a focused series of decisions? From ideation and research, to planning and execution, to evaluation and launch.
No matter how small, every single decision you make requires creative energy and, you guessed it, can lead to decision fatigue.
It’s useful to apply a simple analogy. Each day, you carry with you a bucket of decision tokens. Each decision you make, depending on the size, costs you a certain number of these tokens.
Once they’re spent, they’re spent, and your capacity for effective decision making has been reduced, resulting in decision fatigue. This is when you’re at your most vulnerable, and when you’re most likely to make poor, irrational or ill-informed choices. Or worse — don’t make any decision at all.
Here are seven tips to combat decision fatigue and set yourself up for success…
#1 If In Doubt, Go Minimal
Research has shown that judges in court make more favourable decisions earlier in the day than later on. Scary isn’t it?
It’s also why the average person vegetates on the sofa every night after work, watching reality TV and eating microwave food. They’ve been overwhelmed by decisions throughout the day and their clarity of thought has all but disappeared.
It’s pretty obvious why Steve Jobs seemed to wear the same outfit every day. Same goes for Zuckerberg and Obama. Their daily routines have already been decided in advance. It’s an unnecessary waste of energy to think about which shoes to put on or what food to eat when you have so many other (much more critical) decisions to make during the day.
We can all incorporate these simple techniques into our lives to increase our productive power.
#2 Prior Planning To Prevent Decision Fatigue
Make as many decisions in advance as possible, and get organised.
Furthermore, know yourself. Do you work better at night? After exercise? When is your mind clearest? When do you feel best? Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is key — once you’re self aware, you can work around your weaknesses and play your strengths to your advantage.
Diarise specific times for specific tasks. For example, you may need a whole day to really get creative — I certainly do. I tend to schedule specific days or blocks of time for writing and creating.
I also know that I won’t be very energised in the evenings so I perform less ‘creative’ and more ‘functional’ type tasks, such as project organisation, emailing and social media.
#3 Make Big Decisions Early
It also helps to make the big calls straight away. Eat the frog, as it were. For example, if I’ve set aside a whole day to write or work on music, I make all of the key decisions from the get-go.
Review your draft work once or twice through first thing, no more than that. While reviewing, use a notepad and write down the biggest issues, bugbears, things that need to be added, things that need to be taken away, and so on.
You should have a pretty decent list, which then forms your plan for the day. If there’s not much on the list, awesome! You’re almost done.
#4 Prevent Distractions
This may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many of us still fall foul of this (often easily solved) issue. Out of respect for the craft, you owe it your full attention.
Most of us take advantage of social media to engage with friends, fellow artists and promote our work, however it’s the ultimate distraction. Not forgetting constant emails, videos, updates and so on. These are all energy-sapping activities that will eventually lead to decision fatigue.
Now that you’ve diarised your tasks, try turning off your internet during these times. I admit, this is somewhat shocking and drastic, but it works. Simply turn off your WiFi connection and put an end to the ultimate enemy of concentration.
Don’t forget your phone’s WiFi, or any other device for that matter. Alright, you can keep your satellite signal in case of an emergency, let’s not go too crazy.
#5 Limit Your Options With Templates
Depending on your line of work you can be certain that, at least for most of us, there are a certain number of commonalities between all of your projects.
Take some time to review your activities. Do you repeat certain tasks over and over again? If you’re not a coder, you may not be able to automate these tasks, but templates can be extremely useful in increasing your workflow.
Building templates that incorporate commonalities in your work or processes can be a huge time saver, and it also provides you with a structure that, again, helps to avoid distraction. Don’t reinvent the wheel unnecessarily — take your best work and copy the structures…I won’t tell.
Templates aren’t ‘cheating’, and they certainly don’t lead to every piece of work looking or sounding exactly the same, if you use them in the right way.
Nor do they limit creativity — if anything, they enhance it. Once your mind is rid of the burden of choice you’re free to concentrate on what matters.
Grouping certain types of tasks can supercharge your productivity. As mentioned earlier, you may prefer to ‘create’ at certain times of the day or week, and maybe you’ve got your marketing cap on during evenings or first thing in the morning — whatever works for you.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Likewise, it can be overwhelming to stare at a blank page full of possibility, or a draft with missing sections and spelling mistakes. It’s a waste of time.
Break the problem down into its constituent parts. Maybe you’re busy Monday morning, but you could carry out two hours of research during the afternoon. You’ve got two hours, and two hours only, to complete the research, then it’s time to move on because you’re planning on Tuesday.
You can even forget creating whole projects for now. Why not start by writing ten title or project ideas — just ten. Now take one of those ten, and write three variations. That’s thirty titles without much effort at all, and at least ten places to get started.
If you’re not quite up to titles this evening, why not try planning out your subheadings or sketching out a to-do list for your project? In less than an hour you could have a whole action plan depending on how much detail you’d like to go into. Now you’re on a roll.
All of this upfront work will pay back dividends when it comes to creating, and decision fatigue won’t be an issue.
#7 Commit To Your Decisions
Above all, finish what you start.
How many projects have you started, never to return to? How many pieces of work do you have sitting on hard drives, resting in closed drawers? If you’re frustrated that you’re yet to have a certain technique down, it’s probably because you haven’t made one hundred versions that start by totally sucking, get a little better with time and are (eventually) almost acceptable.
Once you’ve decided upon something, follow it through to the end. If you come back to it another day and it doesn’t work, you’ll know why and you’ll have learned a valuable lesson or technique. Maybe a particular element didn’t work for this project, but it might be perfect for something else — save it for later and move on!
Don’t let frustration prevent you from finishing. Persevere, bash on regardless and, one day soon, you’ll surprise yourself with a breakthrough.
These concepts should help you towards eliminating the dreaded decision fatigue. Remember: ‘done’ is better than ‘perfect’. After all, ‘perfect’ doesn’t exist.