Decision Fatigue Can Rob Your Creativity

Have you heard of capsule wardrobes? Or entrepreneurs who eat the same exact thing for breakfast every day? There’s a reason they’re doing this. And I’ve totally been resisting it. But I think it’s time to change that.

Did you know that American adults are estimated to make 35,000 decisions per day? Holy shit. No wonder I sometimes feel like an incoherent blob the end of a hard day.

Research shows that we have only so many good decisions in us, on any given day. This phenomenon is called decision fatigue.

decision fatigue robs your creativity

Any given day we choose what to eat, wear, buy, believe, how to work, where to go, and the list goes on. As the day wears on our willpower and ability to make quality decisions deteriorates.

And yeah, it’s totally worse if you have kids, a disability, others to care for, a household to run, deal with discrimination, have health issues, etc. (more factors=more decisions)

This is where tools like the capsule wardrobe come in.

Leaders and entrepreneurs like President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Nicole Richie have adopted capsule wardrobes because it reduces the need for another creative decision in the morning. The theory is that the less good decision-making “credits” you use up the more reserves you’ll have left for important choices throughout the day. Have one navy suit, two ties and two white shirts? Boom, you know what to wear, with little to no consideration needed.

Now I’m not proposing you throw out 90% of your clothes. A capsule wardrobe, or eating the same thing for breakfast everyday isn’t going to change your whole life. But imagine the results for your creativity, or career if you consistently did this kind of thing with a bunch of daily tasks and removed the need to make a bunch of arbitrary decisions. Now that may make a big difference.

To be clear: I do not currently utilize a capsule wardrobe or eat the same thing every day (though I often eat avocado toast). I actually like to joke that because of my years of being a sometimes broke single mom, that I’ve had an involuntary capsule wardrobe for the past ten years. 😉

Seriously though, as I continue to tweak my lifestyle to fit my dreams, I want to cut the fat and optimize my life and career the way I really want it to be. I don’t want to waste precious time on things that don’t matter to me.

Chances are you know what it’s like to pursue your dreams in the midst of real life lobbing doozies at you at any given moment: extra bills, sick kids, job loss, or whatever you may struggle with.

These are events that are often outside of our control–inevitable roadblocks, bumps, potholes on the road. They require more decisions that can potentially rob us of our ability to accelerate as fast as we’d like down toward our dream life. Sometimes they even run the risk of knocking us off the road completely.

Paring down decisions can be one way to help you keep momentum when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. They can help you hold on to your creativity and ability to make better decisions on a daily basis.

What to Do About It

So, below are some ways to reduce decision-making in your daily life. Obviously, not all of these things will work for everyone. For instance, I would get bored of eating the same thing everyday, while someone else might love it.

As a creative multi-passionate person I also have huge resistance toward- what I like to call -“a boring old routine.” But I’ve also found that a balance of routine and free time really helps my focus and progress on my projects. So here we go:

  • Plan the week’s meals ahead, buy everything and meal prep on Sunday (or whatever day starts your week off).
  • Eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch or dinner everyday. I won’t, but you know, you can. 😉
  • Convert to a capsule wardrobe
  • Set a clear work schedule (especially if you work from home) and stick to it as much as possible
  • Set a clear creative project schedule. Treat your creative project as important as work, or exercise–or whatever you naturally have an easier time prioritizing.
  • Embrace (or try for a month) a morning routine–time for yourself in the morning where you do the same thing every day: get your coffee, write your morning pages, take a shower, eat your avocado toast, do yoga, etc. whatever works for you.
  • Set your clothes out the night before.
  • Batch time/decision wasters: check email 1-3 times a day at set times (instead of incessantly all day), check the snail mail once or twice a week, do laundry only on certain days, etc.
  • Outsource mundane tasks (if you can) like cleaning, laundry, dry cleaning, design, bookkeeping, errands, etc.
  • Use IF/THEN decisions: “If it’s 5pm, I quit working for the day; if I have a glass of wine, I have a glass of water.”
  • Prioritize big or important decisions or tasks for the beginning of the day. Keep your To Do list short and execute like a bawse!
  • Ask if there’s a simpler way. Sometimes we get too wrapped up in options or “best case” choices. I’ve literally deliberated over types of milk in the grocery store for 10 minutes, before. It’s ridiculous. So more often lately, I’m trying to remind myself–what’s the simplest solution here? The least stressful?
  • Remember, done is better than perfect. Sometimes you just need to finish something. You could even possibly come back later when you’re fresh.
  • Stick to one task at a time until it’s finished. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been working and  save a big graphic file on my computer, that might take 30 seconds (max) to save, and I feel the urge to go check on some other project “while I’m waiting.” 30-frickin-minutes later, I realize I’ve actually wasted more time by switching tasks.
  • Meditate, do yoga, or something mindful each morning (or any time you’re feeling overwhelmed) to start your day and strengthen your good ole prefrontal cortex (aka the good decision factory).

When it comes to your creative business (or writing career), here are some additional ways to help get your best decisions made before you begin to burn out later in the day.

  • Set aside time to put together a real brand and marketing strategy once or twice per year. Knowing what you want to achieve, by when, with measurable tasks can then be then broken down and used as checklists, rather than having to remind yourself repeatedly what to do next, or decide on what the next promotion will be.
  • Take time to go deep and get a solid understanding of what you really want, what you want to be known for and what steps you may need to get there. I’ve found that a great deal of entrepreneurial decision fatigue develops when you’re not solid on what you really want to build.
  • Do the research and brainstorming it takes to really get to know your ideal cusomers/readers. Once you understand them on a deeper level, marketing, advertising, pricing, etc. decisions will become a lot simpler. Plus you won’t be tempted as much by the latest “miracle” marketing bullshit.
  • Keep a Creative Ideas folder on your computer/mobile device (or good old hard copy). This way, when you get great ideas (that you can’t necessarily act on right now or you’ll distract yourself) you know they’ll be in a safe place, waiting for when you have more time. I have both a physical folder and digital for this. Plus I also use Evernote.
  • Reduce or distill your larger 6 month/year goals down into monthly, weekly, daily goals. Smaller chunks, when written out, will help you just follow the list rather than feeling like you need to decide what’s next.
  • Plan out your week, every week in advance–schedule in specific time for tasks so you can just follow along (for the most part) during your work week.
  • Organize your creativity and/or business supplies in a way that works for your brain, makes things easy to find, and helps you stay in the flow.

Do you have any tips for evading decision fatigue and keeping your creativity flowing? I’d love to hear them.

 

Low Information DietI’m one of those people who naturally wants to do 4.5 million things almost all the time. Life is full of possibilities and opportunities and, let’s face it, there’s never been a time when so much information has been so available. Did I mention I’ll also love researching the hell out of things?

But, as the saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” If I want to actually get anywhere I have to pare down.

This was a big realization to me as a I began to pursue my dream of becoming a writer and speaker. Honestly, it’s been something I have been working on ever since I read The Four-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss, back in 2008. This book changed the way I would forever think of life optimization and work–you should read it. But let’s get at the point here.

One big ‘ole important step to figuring out what you want and how to get it is by clearing your mind of distraction. Easier said than done, I know.

Post-election, I’m realizing how much more I need to do this lately. I can feel my stomach turn and my shoulders tense when I see yet one more story about Trump.

Every time I’ve gone on an information diet, whether it’s for a week, or a month I feel more at peace, more focused, and happier. It’s helped me focus on what I really want, and take bigger strides to making it a reality.

We humans aren’t meant to carry all the information that is lobbed at us every day; and science is starting to show us just how bad this problem is.

So here is the Tim Ferriss Low Information Diet, in short:

  1. No newspapers, audio books, podcasts, magazines.
  2. No news websites
  3. No TV (or YouTube), except one hour of purely pleasure viewing each night.
  4. No reading books, except one hour of fiction pleasure reading.
  5. No browsing the internet, unless it’s completely necessary.

These are pretty strict, and in the beginning, people (me, ahem) often need to go on this drastic diet in order to “reset” their information addiction. Here’s my personal version, for right now:

  1. Only check social media accounts twice/day (yeah, I’m that bad)
  2. Only listen to story-driven podcasts (like Modern Love, The Moth, and Dear Sugar), limiting “work” podcasts (like How I Built This, BinderCast, etc.) to once per week.
  3. TV: Only Netflix and Amazon (no advertisements)

I find that if I don’t go on social media much I don’t end up browsing around the interwebs aimlessly. And I don’t get caught up in the next crazy political headline.

Think about starting your own version of a Low Information Diet. And tell me how it goes!

I have a confession: I am very impatient, but sometimes I also take a while to make up my mind. (I know my friends are rolling their eyes here)  It’s a one-two punch of needing  time to decide and then once I have, I want it NOW!

Over the years I have become more comfortable with being “ok” with the way I work and don’t beat up on myself as much for not being able to make quick decisions.  Still, sometimes, there’s that gnawing ache to be on with things already!  When I’m in that mode there are a few things that help me cool my jets when my impatience kicks in.  Hopefully you’ll find them helpful as well.

impatient-paulo-cuelho

“It took almost 40 years for me to become a writer.
Before that I always dreamt of becoming a writer, but I never dared to take the necessary steps.” – Paulo Coelho

1. A light at the end of the tunnel.  If I know where I am headed (sometimes even just the general direction, if not the end result)I feel so much better.  Taking the time to really think things through & feel confident in your decision can help stave off impatience.

2. A plan. Sometimes a goal seems awesome at first but then you don’t know where to start, or you like me, you research the hell out of what to do so much that you get lost in the details.  Breaking your task down into bite-sized prices and calendaring it out can give you the peace of mind to carry each item out without freaking over the entire project.

3. Do it when you don’t feel like it.  Acting on those bite-sized tasks can sometimes feel like drops in the bucket. But the reality is that each activity either brings you closer to or further away from your goal. Ask yourself this question every time you feel like making an excuse to avoid the task: Will this action bring me closer to my goal or further away? It’s surprising a simple thought like that can help you empower yourself to move forward.

4. Friends. Talking with friends not only boosts your mood in general, easing that sense of urgency, but you’ll realize how much you are accomplishing when you actually ‘catch up’ with your friends. And hey these are your friend for a reason, you’ll likely get some good advice, insights and encouragement for your goal.

5. Breathe.  Mindful practices are scientifically proven to change the way your brain works (in a good way) and improve executive functioning (ya know the part of your brain that governs things like impulse control/patience).  Yoga, prayer and meditation are just a few examples of mindful practices.  Essentially, you’re tuning out of the rat race of your daily life to take a moment to breath and make some space in your head.  Mindful Awareness is ridiculously awesome and is proven to help with mental and physical ailments.  Check out UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center to learn more.  Also, here’s a bunch of free 5-10  minute meditations (my fave is the Loving Kindness meditation).

I’ve seen how much these practices have affected my own mindset as I am finally actively working toward writing my first book.

What are you up to? I would love to hear about your goals and how you keep from letting impatience, laziness or confusion take over.

Photo credit:  http://paulocoelhoblog.com/2011/09/07/impatient-to-change/ (A great little post on following your dream by someone how has – Paulo Coelho)

Today I watched my infant son for the first time in about 10 years. I’m in the process of converting old home videos over to DVD. Today I received a couple of my converted DVDs and I watched nearly 4 hours of home video this afternoon.  From my brother’s eighth grade graduation to the birth of my first child and a little bit into his toddler years, it was a blast from the past.   Of course at first I was laughing at my brother’s antics, then envious of how thin and tight my body was some 14 years ago.  Ha Ha.  But more than anything I was so blessed to see my little boy, sweet and toddling around, for the first time in over a decade.
live-in-the-moment

There was a segment where my son, my brother and I were playing in a pool. My son, a little over a year old, his head chock full of golden curls, ginormous brown eyes filled with curiosity, was not particularly fond of the cold pool water. My daughter said, “Mom, you look like you’re my age!”

The moment though, that made me melt and prompted me to right this post, was when my son did something he hasn’t done much in his teen years – something we moms treasure.  After flirting with the idea of getting back in the pool he finally came to me and I held him in my arms in the pool. And then, he looks up at me and lays his little head on my shoulder. His arms are tight around me and I gently rest my head on his and rub his back, a big, contented smile on my face. After a minute or so, with his head still on my shoulder he lets one of his arms go and waves it back and forth in the water. My mom (the camerawoman) zooms in on his sweet little face.  That moment was so fleeting, I don’t even really remember it, but thanks to that video it’s back in my heart.

Life is so fleeting, my friends. In our efforts to be better people and strive to live our dreams let’s not forget to live fully in these moments we have right now, because once they are gone we can only reminisce.

 “We are always getting ready to live but never living.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson