Feeling chronically overwhelmed, beset by obstacles, and short on time can really get in the way of living a Well Life. Obstacles are unavoidable, but these issues can often be effectively managed by simply improving your efficiency.
Here are some of the best approaches we’ve found for becoming more efficient and reclaiming your time.
Tenacity, perspective, and flexibility help foster one of the greatest assets to a smooth plan: the ability to make conscious and efficient decisions with a minimum of deliberation. We’re not saying you shouldn’t take your time on big decisions, but most decisions aren’t big. And we have to make them all day. In fact, we’re bombarded with more choices than humans have ever known.
The vast number of options is meant to feel like freedom, to help us customize the exact experience we desire, but in practice it’s like a continuous series of speed bumps, often leading to what’s been dubbed “decision fatigue.”
Overcoming Decision Fatigue
Studies show that after making numerous decisions, the quality of our decisions begins to decline. An analysis of 1,100 cases at a parole court found that prisoners who were seen in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, but those whose cases were reviewed later in the day received parole less than 10 percent of the time. Researchers attributed the disparity in verdicts to the judges’ decision fatigue.
The same phenomenon explains why we’re susceptible to impulse purchases at the end of a shopping trip—after having made dozens of decisions on products. Not only do our decision-making faculties suffer as decisions mount, sometimes we avoid making any decision at all—we just stick with the default because it takes less effort. But when it comes to decisions affecting your life direction, taking the default is like driving with closed eyes.
The simplest solution to decision fatigue is to reduce the number of decisions you need to make each day. One way to do this is by “automating” recurrent decisions so you can conserve mental freshness rather than using it on insignificant decisions:
* Preplan meals, outfits, carpools, bedtime, wake-up time, and any other routine events.
* Take the same route to work and school, eat mostly the same foods that you enjoy and feel energized from.
* Make rules to reinforce healthful habits—such as not working on the weekends, or exercising every day at a certain time.
Automating decisions doesn’t make life boring; it simply frees your consciousness to be more present in the experiences—and decisions—that matter most.
When Is A Decision Unimportant?
It’s valuable to be able to quickly identify when the decision at hand is unimportant. Which is a better deal—thirteen ounces of soup for $2.99 or seventeen ounces of soup for $3.99? Unless you’re on an extremely tight budget, just grab the amount of soup you need and move on! Don’t just physically move on to the next item on your grocery list, mentally move on, because—besides needlessly adding to your decision fatigue—being that nitpicky about money is a hindrance to having an experience of ease and abundance.
When you give undue attention to an unimportant decision you constrain your own flow. Giving it your time, energy, and focus is a rip-off because the investment greatly exceeds the return.
Create a Morning Ritual
We recommend creating a morning ritual to set the tone and help align your intentions and actions for the day. This can facilitate easier decisions and a smoother overall flow.
Rather than waking up and immediately presenting your mind with a pile of decisions, fill these precious first moments of wakefulness with something centering and meaningful. A ritual as simple as a few deep breaths and a good morning message to yourself can affect the quality of your whole day. If you want to go further with it, another idea is to “rehearse” the day with a visualization of yourself moving efficiently through all of your tasks.
Do your big decision-making when you’re at your best—well rested, hydrated, fed, calm, sharp, and clear. Make your most important decisions early in each day—before you’ve exhausted your decision center. Fresh air also helps—recent studies show that high levels of carbon dioxide indoors can impair decision-making.
Time is more malleable than you might think. In Ayurvedic medicine, the movement of time is seen as being proportional to our speed and depth of living. If you’re living fast and furious, and engaging with the world at a shallow level, time passes more quickly and you even age faster. But if you slow down and go deep—dropping in to the present experience and really feeling and breathing into it—then time slows down and expands. Try it while engaged in your tasks.
Multitasking is a myth, so forget about anything besides the task at hand. Instead, try to keep your attention on what you’re actually doing and feeling and broaden your perception. At first, this practice may seem forced, but over time, you’ll notice that there’s a greater degree of satisfaction and peace to your activities, and time stops feeling like your dominatrix.
We tend to underestimate how long things will actually take, especially when gear-switching is factored in. So, schedule more time than you think you’ll need. If you believe you can paint the bathroom in two hours, give yourself three hours. This way you’ll create more spacious containers for your activities, and if you finish early, you can always use the extra time to rest, take some deep breaths, stretch, or walk. Meanwhile, pay attention to the accuracy of your time estimates and let this inform your scheduling practice.
Know Your Rhythm
All of your faculties wax and wane. If you pay attention, you can learn when you’re at your best with regard to focus, creativity, sociability, and other key skills for life management. Once you have a sense of your rhythm, plan your tasks to align with the peaks of relevant aptitudes. For instance, if you’re most gregarious in the evening, try to schedule networking events around happy hour. If you’re most creative around dawn, do your visionary work then.
Learning your rhythm will also show you your optimal work interval—how long you can sustain uninterrupted focus before you start losing efficiency. When your math skills decline or you’ve spent five minutes trying to find the right word, notice how long it’s been since your last break. If you have a brain-intensive activity scheduled for a couple hours, schedule breaks based on your work interval. Test your interval and adjust it if necessary.
Most of us have a work interval of only twenty to forty minutes! As you become better able to preschedule your breaks, you can begin to maximize their usefulness by scheduling short self-care activities during these times.
Some people find it useful to group or “chunk” their tasks based on where or how they will be performed. For instance, all the tasks that involve calling someone could be grouped under Phone, all the tasks that involve errands out of the house could be grouped under Errands, and all the tasks that need to be done on a computer could be grouped under Computer. Choose categories that make sense to you based on convenience.
If many of your tasks involve e-mailing, you might want an E-mail category. You can mark the tasks in your list with a letter or symbol to designate each category, or if you use a digital task list, you can create a list for each category.
There are three main benefits of this practice.
1. It facilitates scheduling.
2. Even more valuable is that when you perform several similar tasks as a chunk, you get into a flow that makes you more efficient because you don’t have to switch gears.
3. Chunking can help you knock out a few extra tasks here and there. If you have to run an unexpected errand, you might want to take a look at your Errands category to see if there’s anything you can easily take care of while you’re out. If you find yourself with a few spare minutes, you can check your Phone or E-mail lists if you feel like being productive.
Some of the worst hijackers of attention are “urgent” matters and “emergencies.” Most alleged fires that need putting out are more like sparks, or just dry logs handed to us by someone who’s feeling emotional. Don’t let emotion dictate priority. Your attention is exceedingly valuable. Just because someone writes you an e-mail in capital letters doesn’t mean they get to derail your schedule.
There are very few genuine emergencies in life, but when one happens, you’ll know that it’s worth dropping everything.
Honor Your Boundaries
Good boundaries aren’t hostile, they’re just clear and consistent. Believe in what you’ve established. This may mean saying no to requests on your time—sometimes by people you care about, sometimes by people who really need help, and sometimes for opportunities that seem promising.
It also means saying no to your own temptation to blow off your plan, to let yourself be distracted, or to turn a quick search into a Wikipedia research marathon. We’re not saying you should only do things that are self-serving. By all means, help friends and serve the world! Just don’t undermine your own agreements for it.
Most of us grew up in cultures that highly value independence and individual achievement, so it’s not uncommon to feel that we only get credit for what we accomplish if we do it without help. The “every man for himself” mentality may also cause you to feel that you’re burdening others if you ask for help. But for optimal efficiency and ease—and especially if you want to make big things happen—learning to delegate is essential.
Any work that doesn’t require you—your particular knowledge or skills—can be delegated to someone else. You have to be willing let go of doing it yourself, which can be challenging, but this frees your energy to be focused on the things you enjoy more and the tasks you’re uniquely qualified to do.
Discipline is one of the most valuable human attributes. Whether it’s the discipline to meditate, to exercise, to eat well, to overcome negative thoughts, to learn a language, to always speak kindly, to hone a skill, to lose weight, to train your dog, or to love yourself relentlessly, this quality is often the determining factor in many forms of success.
Behind every accomplished person—from Salvador Dali to Mother Teresa—is a story of discipline. Discipline is, in essence, a commitment to adhere to some structure, and the heart of every structure is an agreement.
Discipline goes hand in hand with the ability to delay gratification. In Walter Mischel’s famous experiments, preschoolers were given a marshmallow and instructed that if they could sit in a room with it for fifteen minutes without eating it, they’d get a second one. When Mischel followed up decades later, he found that, in general, the kids who delayed gratification turned into adults who were less likely to abuse drugs, had higher self-esteem, had happier relationships, had a healthier body mass index, were better at handling stress, obtained higher degrees, and earned more money.
Discipline is great stuff, but it’s not always there when we need it. Like the decision-making mechanisms discussed earlier, discipline originates in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is a resource hog. You need to be in good shape in order for it to perform well, and it gets worn out from continuous use.
Similar to decision fatigue, you can also experience discipline fatigue. The longer and more tightly you control yourself—like sitting in a long, tense meeting, or acting like you fit in at a party—the higher the demand on your discipline battery. Researchers have theorized that the massive number of stimuli and choices modern humans are exposed to is a likely explanation for why we seem to be less disciplined than our grandparents were.
When you’re in demanding circumstances—stressed, tired, hungry, eating poorly, drunk, or in pain—it’s more of a challenge to remain disciplined. In these times, people tend to default to the impulsive animal brain, fall off the wagon, and make poor choices. Thus, being disciplined is not only the determination to stick with the plan, but also the ability to resist impulses that would sabotage it.
Just to be clear, the positive self-discipline and impulse control we’re speaking of are quite different from a need to control life. We want you to be able to make conscious choices and to follow the course you set out for yourself without being undermined by emotions and distraction. But we also want you to be able to go with the flow and make the most of what life brings.
©2017 by Briana and Dr. Peter Borten. Reprinted with permission.
Adams Media Publications.www.adamsmedia.com
About the Authors
Briana Borten and Dr. Peter Borten are the creators of the Rituals of Living online community and Dragontree, a holistic wellness brand. Briana is a Mastery Coach with an extensive background in coaching clients to help them reach personal breakthrough and mastery. Peter is a doctor of Asian medicine who helps people attain whole health of body and mind. He has authored hundreds of articles, spanning topics such as stress, emotional wellness, nutrition, fitness, and our connection with nature. Learn more at: www.thedragontree.com.