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How To Make Fewer Decisions Every Day

How To Make Fewer Decisions Every Day

Filling your schedule with tedious tasks and chores will kill your productive power. It isn’t the amount of decisions you make that matters, but rather the impact of them. If you want to stop being “busy” and start being effective, make fewer decisions every day in these seven ways.

1. Set a “wake-up” time and stick with it.

I know, I know, “stop hitting the snooze button,” is an obvious tip you’ve heard a million times now. But there is no denying that the quality of your morning tends to determine how the rest of your day goes. Think about it: how do you think you’re going to feel if you…

  • Hit the snooze button too many times
  • Look at the clock and jolt out of bed, because you’re going to be late if you don’t hurry
  • Rush through a shower so quickly that you can’t even enjoy it
  • Feel bad for having to make your dog hurry up about going to the bathroom
  • Skip breakfast because there’s no way you have time for that
  • Feel like you’re starving, probably eat too much at lunch as a consequence, and get a bellyache

Sounds miserable, doesn’t it? Observe how much better things would be if you just woke up when you’re supposed to:

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  • Get up when you’re supposed to
  • Look at the clock and gently roll out of bed, because you’ve got plenty of time to get ready
  • Take a relaxing shower that you can actually enjoy
  • Walk your dog through the neighborhood and let it potty at its leisure
  • Eat a healthy breakfast including fat and protein
  • Feel like you’re nourished, eat “just enough” at lunch, maybe even pack it to save some money?

2. Rotate a few established outfits every week.

Treating trivial matters like what you’re going to wear today as if they are life-changing decisions is as foolish as it gets. While you should try to establish a professional appearance if your job calls for it, that doesn’t mean you need agonize over your outfit every morning. To make life easy, you could simply pair a matching top and bottom together in your closet after you do laundry every week. If you want more variety, just shift things around on a weekly basis, but don’t get carried away with it, because you shouldn’t need to think about what to wear for more than a minute.

3. Treat exercise like an important appointment.

There is no “best” time to exercise. Just make it fit your schedule, however you need to do it. If you use a day-planner or online calendar, go ahead and grab it. Do you see 3-5 days with time slots of at least 30 minutes that are wide-open most of the time? If so, congratulations… you just found the time to exercise! Exercising at the same days and times every week makes it easier to stick with a fitness routine, because eventually you will become so accustomed to this behavior that it feels like second-nature (read: you will just do it without thinking about it so much).

4. Cook in bulk to put your meals on autopilot.

It’s interesting that a lot of people eat the same thing for breakfast every day without batting an eye, yet they’d never imagine eating the same thing for lunch or dinner. I’ve gotta ask… why not? Cooking in bulk, or more specifically, preparing 5-7 days of meals at one time is a great way to make healthy eating more convenient and less expensive. You don’t need to be a master chef: for example, you could simply grill a pound or two of chicken at once, chop up a whole onion or pepper, and refrigerate in reusable containers. These foods could be used to make chicken tacos (make sure to get salsa, sour cream, and shredded cheese!) or chicken salad (all you need is spinach or lettuce and a healthy dressing), which could serve as lunch or dinner for the entire week. If you’d like to learn more about cooking in bulk, my favorite book on the topic is “Fix, Freeze, Feast: The Delicious, Money-Saving Way to Feed Your Family.”

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5. Plan the next day of work before bed time.

Do you ever feel so overwhelmed by all the work you need to do that you don’t know where to start? Me, too, but it’s best not to dwell on that feeling, because it leads to procrastination. It will never feel like there is enough time in the day, and the longer you stress out about how “busy” you are, the harder it will be to motivate yourself to get to work. When you’re caught up in the daily hustle, it can be hard to look at things with any perspective, so I recommend planning your workday the night before. Write down the three most important things you need to get done in a notebook (or you could even email it to yourself to make sure you don’t miss it). As long as you tackle those priorities, consider your day a success.

6. Admit that not all tasks are worth doing.

No matter how well you might plan, your intentions could be ruined if you allow distractions to interrupt your flow. People have a tendency to perform “busy-work” that makes them feel better about the fact that they are procrastinating. For example:

Are you organizing your desk for a good reason, or are you putting off that presentation you don’t want to work on?

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Are you checking your email because you need to, or are you delaying those sales calls you should be making?

Are you washing the dishes to be a good Samaritan, or are you avoiding that report that’s due today?

There is nothing wrong with having a tidy desk, responding to emails, or being nice enough to do the dishes; but it would be silly to do these things while you have more pressing concerns that need to be addressed.

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7. Dedicate your decision making power to the right people.

Why should you waste your time trying to please people who will never appreciate you? If a person can’t accept you for who you are, then they aren’t worthy of your time. Be more selective about who you spend your time with, because friendships should be reserved for people you trust.

The fewer decisions you make, the more time you’ll have for the important things. Tell us how you set priorities in the comments, and feel free to share with anyone who might be helped by it.

Featured photo credit: crossroads/Carsten Tolkmit via flickr.com

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Daniel Wallen

Daniel is a writer who focuses on blogging about happiness and motivation at Lifehack.

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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

Reference

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