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Simplify Your Productivity Tools To Get More Done

Simplify Your Productivity Tools To Get More Done

    Anytime a new productivity app hits the App Store or the web it’s a race to see if it’s the next best thing; the last app you will ever need to become more productive, a better human being, or, hell, even cuter. Anytime a new “productivity guru” tells us how to get more work done we may as well spend a week or month to give it a try.

    I can’t tell you how much money and time I have racked up in trying new apps, paying subscriptions to things like Remember the Milk or Toodledo, or even creating precise taxonomies for tagging my tasks.

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    If you are like me in any way (and you probably are because you read Lifehack.org), I can help out by telling you now that no single application or productivity system will make you more productive. In fact, most of our so-called “systems” tend to get in our way and make us productive at creating productivity stuff. And that’s about it.

    It’s a racket

    When I first read GTD about 4 years ago my inner geek instantly saw a way to systematize my work and life. With that came an eagerness to look for everyone’s “implementation” and to try out many different ways of setting up my own system. I bought a labeler, filing cabinet, inbox, paper planner thingy, some decent pens, index cards (way too many index cards), and preceded to Get Things Done.

    Or so I thought.

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    What happened for a good portion of 2 to 3 years was my endless tweaking of a system and search for something better that didn’t really support my work. The system ran me and actually made me scared to use it. It felt like a bottomless pit of empty projects and tasks that I would never look at or review because of their unimportance.

    All of this brought me to my original point: productivity apps and systems don’t make the man, the man makes the productivity system.

    Cutting the fat

    So, instead of being buried in a sea of productivity tools and ideas that were not supporting me, for the last year and a half I have been trimming down my system to the most essential and useful.

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    I first went on a paper productivity kick. It was like a detox for a productivity pr0n junky. Keeping projects and action lists with paper allows one to not be confined to a certain set of labels, buttons, and tags. It allows you to just write things down and helps to stay out of your way. Another nice thing about paper productivity is that it isn’t really filled with features and because of that doesn’t move you to “feature-tweak” it. You can read more about the benefits of paper productivity here.

    While using paper I identified some things that I truly didn’t like that I knew I would need a digital system for like:

    • due date sorting
    • sorting in general
    • easier manipulation of lists and changing tasks without rewriting everything
    • ability to easily send something by email
    • a place to store notes directly linked to tasks

    So, I then found myself a set of tools that met these requirements and allowed me to practice the Getting Things Done system at the minimum. I cut the fat of my productivity system and finally put myself in control of it.

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    The practical part

    If you are like me and have been swimming in a sea of productivity pr0n for too long and want to own your productivity system rather than allow it to own you, here are a few simple steps:

    1. Go on a productivity tool detox. Quick searching for the “15 Best Productivity Tools on ‘X’ Operating System”, stay away from the multitude of apps that promise that they will help you get more done and try something simple like paper for a while. You will find out what you truly need in a system.
    2. While using the simplest tools possible actually get some work done with them. Allow the productivity tool to support you and start to learn how to trust it in your everyday work life.
    3. Make a list of things that you absolutely need – not want – in a productivity tool and try to find the easiest implementation of it. Try really hard not to go on a quest for the greatest productivity system ever made. It doesn’t exist.
    4. Get settled in with your new set of tools and stick to them. Once you feel that your system supports your work, make a pact to not change your tools for 90 days. After that you can reevaluate and tweak things as needed. Then stick to them for another 90 days. Rinse and repeat.

    And that’s it. It’s important for an information worker to have a set of tools that truly supports her work. But what is just as important is that worker have a set of tools that she sticks with, that she knows and trusts, and that don’t get in her way. Have you settled into a system that supports your work and allows you to get things done? If so, tell us about it in the comments below.

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    1 How to Stop Being Passive and Start Getting What You Want 2 How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement 3 5 Less-Known Reasons Why Less is More 4 10 Smart Productivity Software to Boost Work Performance 5 How to Take Good Notes at Work: 6 Effective Ways

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

    How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

    What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

    When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to their final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

    In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison on parole, or a change in the parole terms.

    While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

    As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

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      Image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

      Does the time of day, or the judges level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

      The research went on to show that at the start of the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

      But as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

      However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

      This is no coincidence. According to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges lunch break.

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      Are You Suffering from Decision Fatigue Too?

      We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

      Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right head-space.

      Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue. Just like every other muscle, your brain gets tired after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

      The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

      When you are in a position such as a Judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does. According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day to day stresses at work and their private life.

      When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. And once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues such as impulse shopping (guilty), poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after work relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

      How to Make Decision Effectively

      Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks for more effective decision making.

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      1. Make Your Most Important Decisions within the First 3 Hours

      You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

      Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[2] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

      Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals?

      2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

      You don’t have to choose all the time.

      Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut that step of your morning out of the way. Can’t decide what to wear? Pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

      Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limiting their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision making.

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      3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

      You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks! I know, what a sacrifice. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

      The reason for this is because the belly is now full, and the hunger is gone. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[3] had found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

      Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh, and come back being able to think more clearly.

      Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

      So instead of slogging through your day, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break, eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

      More Tips About Decision Making

      Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

      Reference

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