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The Answer to Decision Fatigue

By some estimates, we make 35,000 decisions per day.  I'm writing this post at 7:42am on a Sunday.  So far, I've had to decide on the following:

1. what time to wake up
2. what to wear
3. what to drink
4. how much coffee creamer to put in my coffee
5. whether to have morning devotions on the porch or in the living room
6. whether to text my wife who just ran an errand
7. whether to use Safari or Chrome for the news
8. whether to draft this post now or save it for later

You get the point.  

I was a skeptic when I first heard the 35,000 statistic.  Then, I was honest with myself and started to inventory the many, many actions I take each day and the decisions that drive them. 

This is exhausting and can ultimately sap your energy and your productivity.  

Asian Efficiency provides the ultimate guide to overcoming decision fatigue.  No need to replicate their good work.  Their companion podcast also does an excellent job in breaking the issue down. 

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Decision fatigue hit me last week.  I arrived home and declared to my wife, "I'm done.  I can't make any more decisions today."  It wasn't anger.  It was exhaustion.  

Can you relate?  Have you had a time when you were just so tired of making decisions that you felt you couldn't make one more?  

The answer, I suspect, and the response to all of this is to do the following:

  • Admit that you've got too much on your plate. As the saying goes, the first step is to admit you've got a problem.  This isn't a moral failure but an acknowledgement that your life is full and maybe spilling over with commitments.
  • Decide today to simplify.  The good news?  Simplifying takes many forms and can be applied to any of the following areas:

-finances: you can decide to go out less often or automate your bills.


-fitness: you can decide to eat smaller portions or use a meal planning process.


-spirituality: you can decide to use the same prayer book each morning instead of searching for one.


-work: you can decide to work on certain things on certain days.


-wardrobe: you can decide you streamline your wardrobe and pair back your options.


-groceries: you can decide to use an Amazon Dash button to make less decisions at the grocery store.

You get the point.  These areas and corresponding actions are easy to read (and actually easy to do) but take courage to act on.  

Take the case of simplifying your wardrobe.  You and I both know that a simpler wardrobe will save time and money.  Yet, if I told you today to go through your closet and write down a few outfits that you absolutely love, that's where the process might fall apart.

Those actions, while not difficult, are hard.  They involve loss and further decisions.  They involve donating things and possibly buying new things.  They take time.

Could your simplifying contribute to decision fatigue?  Perhaps but once you press through, keeping your eye on the goal, you'll overcome it.  These decisions are actually ones that will counteract the others that feed into decision fatigue.

As a homework assignment, make a small decision today to simplify.  

One thing.  

Anything.  

Realize that it can counteract your decision fatigue and bring more peace of mind.  Then, you'll be able to bring your very best self to those you love and ultimately, the whole world.

Simple Ways for Working Smarter Every Day

A friend of mine recently decided to quit his job in the city.  His office was big.  His title was impressive.  His salary was more than enough for him and his family to live on.

What led to his leaving his cozy job?

It wasn't the money nor the responsibilities he had at work.  Rather, it was the soul-sucking nature of living in the burbs and dragging his butt into the city each and every day.

He had had enough.  He hated the commute.  He hated the lack of trees in the city.  He hated the daily obsession with "beating the traffic" to get out of the city.  His workplace was a hotbed of interruption and BS.  After prayer and more than a few long talks with his wife, he decided he was going to leave and pursue something very different.  

He hasn't looked back since.

Jealous?  I was when I first heard and then, with a smile, I congratulated him and admired his bravery.  This guy has guts.

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What Steve realized, long before he quit his job, was that he wasn't actually getting getting that much work done when he was at work.  This led him to resent his job and feel as if there had to be a smarter way to work.

Be honest- how much work do you get done when you're at work?  

I suspect that, if your job is anything like Steve's was, your day is full of any of the following time thieves:

  • commuting to and from work (30-90 minutes)
  • meetings (30-60 minutes)
  • chit-chat (15-30 minutes)
  • lunch (30-60 minutes)

A worse-case scenario could rob you of 150 minutes of your day- that's over two hours!  Add it up and you could be losing over eight hours a week or one full workday- not good.  Tack on to the lost time of 150 minutes is the hard-to-measure moments that evaporated due to distractions and being interrupted.  

That's not ok.

It's exactly why my friend Steve decided that he had had enough.  He's now doing work that allows him to focus, enjoy fewer meetings and work to his strengths.  

If you're tired of these time thieves (as I am!), I suggest the following as an antidote to the problems of the modern workplace:

  1. Attend as few meetings as possible.
  2. Cultivate time, each day, to think deeply and focus, without interruption.  
  3. Find quiet spaces during the day to do work.  
  4. Create a personal workspace that you enjoy and look forward to.
  5. Have as short a commute as possible.
  6. Explore the possibility of working from home, 1-2 days per week.

I'm not saying that it's that simple.  But, it kind of is.  All it takes is a bit of courage and a sense that you're fed up with a work day that keeps you from actually doing your work.

Try any one of these six action-steps this coming week and let me know which one makes a difference in your time management and work.  I'd love to hear from you!

Four Signs That You're Full of Yourself

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There's no better example of a person who is full of himself than Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, in House of Cards.  The Netflix series, now in its fifth season, details a man (Underwood) obsessed with himself and his desire for power.  

It's bad enough that Underwood is consumed by a thirst for political office.  What's worse is that he has no compass for anything else in his life- no friendships, no hobbies, no religion, etc.  This makes for a very unhappy man.

I've been thinking of Underwood (yes, in part because I've been binge-watching the newest season of House of Cards) and the times when I might be full of myself.

No, not to the extent that he is but still, let's be honest: each of us has a bit of selfishness inside of us.  

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How about you?

How can you spot a person who is really full of it?  I suggest four signs:

  1. They refer to themselves in the third person.  This is typically reserved for pro-athletes who almost always are full of themselves.  
  2. They are easily offended.  This is a character flaw and to be avoided at all costs.  Readers would do well to pick up a copy of Grit by Angela Duckworth. 
  3. They over-promise and under-deliver.  This leads to broken commitments and failed projects. 
  4. They publish every thought.  The filter just isn't there for people who are full of themselves.  They love to pontificate.

Take note this week of your vocabulary.  That will often give you clues of your pride-to-humility ratio.

A Boston priest, Fr. Thomas Judge (early 20th century) famously said, "Humility is truth".  I think what he was getting at is that life is full of imperfections and blessings.  It's good to appreciate both and not take yourself too seriously.  

How to Make Lists Work for You

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The most productive people I know use lists to stay organized.  Most people appreciate the value of a good list- for groceries or for Christmas shopping.  

What the uber-productive people know is that the same magic that makes a grocery store list so good can be scaled to other areas of life.  

The result: super productivity and greater peace of mind.

Think of the grocery store list and why it works so well:

  • It matches need to resource.
  • It gives you items to cross off. This feels so good!
  • It takes a store with tens of thousands of items to offer and simplifies it to your needs and wants.

Where a grocery store list can be brought to the next level is when you keep a list going throughout a week.  The milk runs low on Tuesday and "milk" goes on your list. Tortillas show up on Friday and also go on your list.  By the time Sunday rolls around and you're ready for the store, you already have your list.  This is how you can make your lists work for you instead of the dread of having to add things at the last minute.

I use this at work for upcoming cities and travel.  For example, it's unlikely that I'll remember all of the people I want to visit the next time I'm in Boston.  But, I can remember a little at a time and add to my list in the months leading up to my next trip to Beantown.

I currently have lists for:

  • next time in Cincinnati
  • next time in Boston
  • next time in LA
  • next time in Florida

I find these sort of "add as you go" lists work really well around the house.  At a random moment, you might have an idea of something you need for your porch to get finished.  As you already have an "Around the House" list (or better yet, a Finish the Porch project), you can simply add when the muse hits you.  Then, on a Saturday when you have time, you just open your list and get to work.

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This process also works well for gift giving.  My wife is notoriously difficult to shop for so I keep a list just for her birthday and Christmas.  When she drops a hint of something that she might like, I add it to my list like a super-sleuth.  Boy does it make things easier when I then go to purchase a gift!

As a follow up, I suggest looking at your current lists.  This presumes that you're using a digital task manager (like Nozbe which is my favorite or Omnifocus or even a paper planner) to stay on top of your lists.  After a quick scan, identify which of your lists you can "populate" as you go through your week.  You may be surprised by how many of them are ready for you to add items as you go.

Then, and this is the key, have the courage to add to your lists on the fly.  

You'll be tempted to just have a thought and then let it go.  Instead, pause and add to your lists.  Don't let the hectic pace of life sabotage your lists.  You'll feel good about it and your productivity will go to the next level.
 

How to Love Your Work

Deep down, each of us wants a job that plays to our strengths.  We want to make a difference and feel valued by the organization.  We seek connections with our coworkers.  We desire to feel good about our work and about contributions to the "greater good".

Still... most of us find it hard to check off all of the boxes just mentioned.  

I've been thinking a lot lately about the phrase "love your work".  That's not easy to do, depending on the work you have in front of you but I think we are called to do just that.

Some how, some way, we are called to love our work.

Dan Pink puts it this way, “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” (Source)

When we love our work, we embrace both challenges and opportunities.  In addition:

  • We find the inherent dignity of employment.  
  • We make deep connections with our colleagues.  
  • We practice grit when it would be easier to just quit.  
  • We choose to be positive when others get cynical.  
  • We are surprised by small things that make us smile.

Don't misunderstand me- there are times when it's impossible to love our work.  That's when you know you're ready for a change.  

But if you can stay, here are six things that can be helpful, easing you into greater appreciation of your work:

  1. You have a job.  Many do not.  This most basic truth is powerful to be reminded of.
  2. Your work allows other things to happen.  Health care, new contact lenses and braces for your kids are all possible because of your job.
  3. You are getting clearer as to your strengths and weaknesses.  Work polishes the stone of each of our gifts.
  4. You are being prepared for your next job.  Strange as it sounds, work gets you ready to work- next week, next year, next month.
  5. You have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  This pushes back on depression, health issues and anxiety.
  6. You have others around you that you can invest in and cherish.

There's one other thing that contributes to us loving what we do and that is often called "mastery".  Again, to quote Pink, “Why reach for something you can never fully attain? But it’s also a source of allure. Why not reach for it? The joy is in the pursuit more than the realization. In the end, mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.” 

Mastery is the idea of getting better and better at something.  This rarely comes through hobby.  It can come through employment and practice.  Work, when seen this way, becomes the vehicle for personal improvement.  

You can actually become an expert by virtue of your job- that's awesome.

Work isn't always fun.  It's not meant to be 100% birthday cakes and balloons.  With that said, it can be thoroughly stimulating and can make you a better human being.  

What delight can you find in your work today?

7 Surprising Attributes of Patient People 

Do you think of yourself as a patient person?  Do others give you feedback about your patience, or lack thereof?

This might look like a friend making a casual comment like, "As if you'd wait in line!" Or, your family might laugh when you tell them that you're patient.  

Family is good like that, sort of a built-in polishing of the stone.  There's no flaw that doesn't go unnoticed.  

My family has been telling me for years that I'm not very patient.  I wore it around my neck as an odd badge of honor.  You see, my father is not very patient and I just figured that was how it was supposed to be as a "St. Pierre man".  Add in the cultural myth that leaders are classically impatient and there I was- impatient as all get out.

Something inside me told me that this might not be a good thing after all.  What if patience was actually better than impatience?  What kinds of opportunities might open up if I could become more patient?

I chose Lent as the time of year to begin to study this further.  During a chat with a local priest, he asked me which one thing I could do to show God that I was more grateful.  It immediately came to me- I had to work on my patience.   

Since then, just before Easter, I've done just that. It's been work to flex my patience muscle and pause my impatience enough to grow and learn. I've realized that I was pretty much a zero in the patience department. 

It didn't feel good.  Something needed to change. 

After a few months, here's what I've found about learning to be more patient:

  1. Listening is part of patience.  To the degree that you can look someone in the eye and not just be waiting to say something is an act of patience.
  2. In between-spaces are part of patience.  Think of line waiting, etc.  
  3. Silence is part of patience.  How hard is silence for you?  For many people, it's terrifying.  Just closing your eyes, listening and doing nothing... this is an aspect of patience.  You're just "there".  For me, as a person of faith, this is integrated into my daily time of prayer.  
  4. Daydreaming is part of patience.  When was the last time you looked out a window and let your mind daydream?  Patient people, I've learned, enjoy a good daydream from time to time.  They're not in a rush to get to the next thing.
  5. Humility is part of patience.  To put someone else above yourself is an act of humility.  Thomas Merton, the Catholic Trappist monk, once said that the simple act of reading is a gesture of humility.  Just as it takes patience to read, it takes humility to be patient.
  6. Focus is part of patience.  A patient person can focus on thing at a time, whether it's a work task or a conversation.
  7. Contentment is part of patience.  If you can be happy doing one thing at a time, you're flexing your patience muscle.  

Patience is a rare virtue.  Our workplaces expect a lot out of us and bosses are typically impatient. As high performers, we demand a lot out of ourselves, always pushing towards excellence.

Through it all, we would do well to practice patience, with ourselves, with one another and with our work. 

Is it Ok to Be Insecure About Your Work?

I spent most of my career in a school.  When I was a teacher, I was trained to focus in on my students and connect with them to the point that they would learn.  As the saying goes, "it's not so much what you know but how much you care."

When it comes to students, that's so true.

When it comes to adults, it's also the case.  Your colleagues want to know that you're "for them".  Coupled with a deep sense of care for others is the ability to zero in on what's truly important for the organization.  

That's a balance that a good leader can manage.  On one hand is what's best for the company and on the other hand is what's best for each individual.  

Determining what's best for the organization is both an internal process (deciding together what we're about) and keeping an eye on "the market".  It's just smart.

Imagine how much Lyft and Uber study one another's moves.  Or Samsung and Apple.  Or Harvard and Yale.  You get the point.  You've got to be yourself and yet constantly be aware of what the other guy is doing.

This applies to each person in your organization too.  I want my team to play to their strengths, working in a way that gets the very best out of them.  I also want them to be aligned with the values of the team so that we can deliver exceptional results. 

But... what about those times when you lean more towards what the other guy is doing and not enough on being true to yourself?

It can be easy for a member of the team to occasionally experience FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out. Even with a clearly defined set of values and a healthy self awareness (e.g. I have our team take the Enneagram evaluation), you can wonder if you're "not doing it right".

This can rear its head when any of the following questions come to mind:

  • Am I working hard enough?
  • Am I fast enough?
  • Am I valuable enough to the team?
  • Am I bringing my very best to work each day?
  • Is my email inbox cleaned out?
  • Am I communicating well?
  • Is the other guy better than me?
  • Am I using the rights apps?
  • Am I managing my time well?

I've certainly asked myself these questions many times over.  Once, I had a boss give me some advice that I still carry with me today when I'm ever insecure about my work.  He said, "Mike, the only three persons that matter are God, your wife and your boss.  Other than that, the rest can think what they want about you.  You've got to just do your work and that's that."

Don't worry about FOMO or what the next guy is doing.  Focus instead on bringing your best energy, attention and diligence to work each day.  If you don't have a performance review in place, ask if your supervisor can give you one.  This is another anchor that affirms the quality of your work.

Is it ok to be insecure about your work?  

Yes and no.  It's honest to admit that we all have insecurities.  The key is, when one shows up, to channel it into the right direction and retain confidence in your best work.

Is a Notebook Your Best Productivity Investment?

Everywhere you look, people are using old-fashioned notebooks.  It's not that they've given up their smartphones but that they are using notebooks to bring some analogue into their daily lives.

A smartphone, complemented by a portable notebook is a powerful combo for everyday productivity.  

I have been a hybrid paper-digital user for years.  While Google Calendar keeps my "hard landscape" events in place, I find there's nothing like paper and pen to navigate the nitty-gritty details of my daily work.  This includes meeting notes, doodles and notes from phone calls. 

David Sax, in his best-selling book The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, details the rise in popularity of such notebooks like Moleskine and Baron Fig:

“Numerous studies have shown that handwriting notes is simply better for engagement, information retention, and mental health than is writing on digital devices.” 

When you write things down, your brain activates on a deeper level than if you just think something or type it into your computer.

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Moleskine isn't the only popular brand of notebook.  There's also the Bullet Journal which has given folks a clever way to stay organized.  Consider it "stylized productivity".

The bottom line- notebooks are back and they're cool once again.

There's one catch: what if you want all of the benefits of a fancy notebook but would rather save the $15 that often goes with it?  

After all, consider the costs of the most popular "in" notebooks:

  • Bullet Journal: $24.95
  • Baron Fig: $15-65

There are some other options.  You can use an inexpensive notebook.  You can create your own system as David Seah has done.  Or, you can use a whiteboard to get your creative, handwriting juices flowing.

The most important idea is this- connecting paper with digital is a smart move.  You just need to find an expression of this marriage that works for your style and your budget.


 

Why Is It So Hard to Work ... at Work?

Working at work is hard.  

The distractions, interruptions, poor lighting, climate control, and constant meeting schedule make it hard to work when you're at work.

I'm mindful of Jason Fried's Ted Talk from 2010 which first caught my eye.  In the years since it went viral, it became a reality for me.  Here's the video in case you haven't seen it in a while:

There are likely two options for people with whom Jason's talk strikes a chord:

a) Fix what you can of your current working environment.
b) Find another situation that allows you to work remotely, even if it's only for a portion of your week.

Which can you choose?  Which will you have the courage to choose?

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Why You Need an Evening Routine

This is a guest post by Hank Geng from Min-Max Your Life.  Hank writes about productivity and organization, helping readers overcome overwhelm and procrastination.

When was the last time you looked at your phone? Checked your email?  10 minutes ago?  Less?

In this day and age, we’re addicted to our screens, and we get barraged from every direction. So many things demand our time, and in the process of managing it all, it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters to you. 

It’s incredibly helpful to make a habit of unplugging on a daily basis so you can stop this constant flow of information and have a chance to recharge. 

This works best in the context of an evening routine that prepares you for the next day, allows you to reflect on what you are grateful for, puts you in a relaxed mood, and lets you get a good night’s sleep to wake up refreshed and energized. 

There’s no one size fits all approach, but you can get started on creating your own evening routine by following this four-step simple formula: 

The Four Steps

  • Review tomorrow’s schedule and tasks to make sure you don’t have any surprises. You may want to:
  1. Plan out what you’re going to wear in the morning
  2. Set your alarm for when you need to wake up
  3. Decide how you’re getting to your first destination tomorrow
  • Reflect on today by asking yourself a few essential questions:
  1. What are you grateful for?
  2. What made this day unique?
  3. Did you learn something new? 
  • Relax by putting your screens away and starting to wind down. You could try one of the following:
  1. Read a physical book or your Kindle
  2. Yoga
  3. Meditate
  • Rest by turning off your lights, drawing the curtains, and going to sleep. 
  1. People require different amounts of sleep, but start with allotting yourself 8 hours for sleep and go from there.

By creating your own evening routine that includes these four factors, you’ll start waking up the next morning refreshed and energized, ready to face the day. 

Do you have an evening routine?

If not, try reserving an hour before your bedtime tonight to try creating your own using the framework above.