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How I Build A Routine And Cut All The Unnecessary Decisions (And Why You Should Try Too)

How I Build A Routine And Cut All The Unnecessary Decisions (And Why You Should Try Too)

From the moment we get out of bed, we are constantly making decisions throughout the day.

Try to recall how you started the day in the morning: did you have trouble deciding which outfit to pick? What to eat? How many sugar cubes to put into your coffee? Small decisions like these can suck mental energy out of us. They are simply unnecessary, which is why we shouldn’t waste time on them.

We all have limited willpower and every decision we make is using up our willpower.

When we have too many decisions to make every day, it can be very overwhelming. Instead of wasting our willpower on the trivial things, we should be focusing on the more important and fun things in life; and a routine allows us to do exactly that.

Instead of training yourself to make decisions faster, get rid of unnecessary decisions by building a routine.[1]

Having a routine means doing the same set of things over and over without consciously thinking about it. No decision-making is required. That’s the beauty of a routine—it saves us mental energy.

Now that we have fewer decisions to make, we are less likely to get tired. This can actually be explained, and Kahneman does this very well in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

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Kahneman suggests that we have 2 modes of thinking:[2]

System 1 is the faster mode; and System 2 is the slower mode. System 1 is faster because it is “automatic” and “intuitive”. It builds habits and speeds up reactions for us.

Which is to say, having a routine allows us to think less when we’ve trained our brain to think with system 1, helping us to save time and energy.

So if you want to get through your day more efficiently, you should work on forming a routine.

To start forming a routine, begin with something small, so small that you can’t say no.

Author and entrepreneur James Clear introduced a strategy guide for forming a routine which is very useful for all of us. He suggests to start small when it comes to building a habit and here’re the things you can kickstart doing:[3].

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1. Pick a small thing to fit into your daily life.

Starting something new can be hard, especially if you are the kind who struggles with staying motivated and sticking to something.

Starting with something very easy can be helpful because our motivation is not stable over time, and your goal here is to set yourself up for success in the long run.

Pick something that doesn’t require motivation and make it easy for yourself at first.

For example, I’ve always wanted to drink more water. So in order to make my first step easy, I’ll just put a big mug of water on my work desk so I’ll always be reminded to drink it even when I’m working.

2. Increase its difficulty gradually.

You might be worrying about not being able to make progress with a small start. But the truth is, you will get better at doing the same action over time.

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Small improvements can add up, and you will be ready for something bigger eventually — just think of it as a training for your willpower and motivation.

3. Break your daily goal into reasonable sessions.

In order for the first two steps to work, you can try breaking down a task to make it easier. Achieving goals, even small ones in the beginning, encourages you to keep going with your routine.

Again take my example of drinking more water, I increase the difficulty level by measuring the times I refill my mug. The first week, I only need to refill my mug once a day; then the second week, I’ll add it to two times a day etc.

4. Keep track of your daily progress and have an overview of it.

Sticking to a routine is difficult, which is why it’s a great idea to remind yourself of how far you’ve come in order to motivate yourself.

I have downloaded an app about water consumption every day, it’s basically a log about how much water I drink every day and it’s really helpful for me to keep track of my progress.

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If there’s no apps available for you to keep track of your progress, you can just make use of journal spreadsheet to know how you do all the way.

Trust that if you keep making a little progress every single day, you will find it easier and easier to stay on track.

5. Stick to your pace and be patient about the results.

Since building a routine takes time for you to get used to, you really want to progress at a comfortable pace and not rush it. If you push yourself too hard too soon, you are more likely to give up. Allowing yourself enough time to improve bit by bit is key to success.

Forming a routine can be tricky, but it’s achievable. Start today, set a goal, and work your way up. Eventually, you’ll be able to take your mind off of what’s trivial and focus on what’s really important—also, you’ll be saving so much time in the process.

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Wen Shan

Proud Philosophy grad. Based in HK.

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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