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5 Tips for Lightning-Fast Decision Making

5 Tips for Lightning-Fast Decision Making

Our lives are defined by our ability to make decisions. Our careers, relationships, health—anything and everything about our present selves boils down to the decisions we’ve made in the past, yet some of us struggle with decision making. We may have access to data, plenty of options, and generally have everything going for us, but when crunch time rolls around we seize up. We just can’t make that firm commitment to a decision. Here are a few of the labels you may go by:

* Over-thinker
* Procrastinator
* Slow to act
* Analysis paralysis
* Perfectionist

Have you ever felt like you identified with any of these labels? If so then know that you aren’t alone. We are at the extreme of the decision making process, spending too much time thinking about our decisions, and not enough time acting upon them.

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Fixing our Decision Making

For people like us, we need to balance out our decision making processes with a bit of “rashness.” We need techniques that will help us dive in to our decisions head first and to stop worrying about the repercussions so much.  Here are 5 tips to help us balance out our decision making process.

1. The 2 minute rule

The idea behind this tip is to force action through a self-imposed deadline. It’s simple enough to incorporate: any time you have to make a decision, just set the timer and begin the process. The time limit forces you to quickly assess the pros and cons while quickly coming to a decision. The simplicity behind this tip makes it very accessible.

If you’re simply slow at making decisions, then this tip is a life saver. It doesn’t have to be 2 minutes either; anything from 1-5 minutes should work fine as well.

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2. Think black and white 

There are times when we have more choices then we need. Excess of anything can overwhelm and lead to analysis paralysis, so in this case, try judging your options simply as good or bad, which will simplify and quicken the process of weeding out the less optimal decisions.

This limited approach is ideal for the over-analyzers who insist on questioning every variable to death.

3. Put it in a hat

If all options seem to have roughly equal value, write down your best ones on separate pieces of paper and place them in a hat/bag. Your decision will be the one you pull out at random.

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This also works if you have a bunch of tasks you don’t want to do; these you could pair with a reward hat. Do a task, then when its done pull out your random reward from the other hat. This will help make the process be more tolerable.

4. Focus on the present

We can often become overwhelmed with the big picture, trying to see how our decisions will affect the future. The process is mentally draining, because you’re trying to see every step along with its every outcome. It’s better to save that energy for the task at hand, and simply try and make the best decision possible. Live in the moment, make a decision based on what will make the next step the easiest instead. Doing this for every step is a great choice for the chronic non-decision maker.

5. Embrace the idea of failure

Probably the biggest fear for us slow decision makers is that our decisions will lead to bad results. Compensation is then made by over-thinking the situation, causing us to question every aspect involved in the decision. Ultimately we run the risk of making no decision at all because we waste time and energy on useless questioning—this line of thinking must be rewired.

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Instead, we should see delaying the decision as worse then making a bad decision. Bad decisions can be recovered from and learned from, but not making a decision at all means we don’t get to determine how our lives unfold. A fear of failure means that some thing or someone will make that decision for you.

Closing thoughts

It’s rarely the case that the best decision to make is to not make one at all. Those who struggle to make decisions run the risk of letting their lives run them, rather than them running their own lives. This puts independence under constant threat, so it’s up to us to make sure that we are in control of our lives and our decisions.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you feel like you want to back away from a decision, because you don’t want your life to be decided for you.

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Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

Why is multitasking a myth?

The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

Your brain on multi-tasking

Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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But I can juggle multiple tasks!

You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

Why multitasking is failing you

Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

Multitasking wastes your time.

You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

It makes you dumber.

A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

This is an emotional response.

There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

It’ll wear you out.

When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

How to stop multitasking and work productively

Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

1. Consciously change gears

Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

3. Set aside distractions

Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

4. Take care of yourself

We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

5. Take a break

People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

6. Make technology your ally

Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

The key to productivity: Focus

Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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