How to Reduce Decision Fatigue
Everyone wants “it all,” but you often find that the few people who have everything they want actually filter a lot of seemingly important activities out of their lives. According to Psychology Today, this is because the average person is constantly making decisions – possibly up to 35,000 a day – and each one negatively impacts our focus and willpower. Therefore, when top performers minimise the number of trivial decisions they make per day, they retain more mental energy, which allows them to excel in their chosen fields.
On this topic, Eminem admits that he does practically nothing else when working on an album, and that tactic has made him one of the most accomplished rappers alive. Late Apple CEO Steve Jobs reportedly wore the same turtleneck every day to free up his decision-making power, a habit he attributed to his success as the head of a global company. Showing a similar mentality, Bruce Lee once said, “The successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus.”
On a fundamental level, we all understand the power of simplicity. Think about the most common advice bestselling authors give on podcasts: writing a new book is the best way to market your last one; produce lots of content in one genre; advertising is easier when you have a bigger backlist. The message there is clear. Those who write lots of books in one genre tend to experience success.
So why do we continue to distract ourselves learning social media tricks, genre hopping and watching Netflix? Why do we make so many needless decisions and leave ourselves mentally frazzled? Understanding this particular ailment of the human condition might be a little ambitious for one blog post. What we can do, though, is treat the symptoms. Read on for tips that will help you reduce your decision fatigue and optimise your productivity.
Prioritise One Thing
In a meta way, your first priority should be to identify your priority work. What activity will have the greatest impact on your author business? It’s probably writing, of course, but you need to be more specific if you want to make a goal air-tight against excuses. If you have lots of unfinished manuscripts then settle on one book and don’t work on another project until it’s finished. If you have several incomplete series, consider writing more instalments in whichever one generates the most income. No multitasking or project-switching. Only then will you see your results advance at lightspeed.
Your one thing doesn’t have to be writing. That’s just a common factor that will benefit most authors. If you’re already prolific then learning how to advertise profitably might deliver you the greatest results, at least in the short term. For an author with 15 books and a stable stream of royalties, mastering Facebook, Amazon or BookBub ads could double book sales overnight, even without a new release. Whichever ads platform you choose to learn, committing to one at a time is the key to mastery. Not only does a singular focus make you less likely to be overwhelmed by decision fatigue but having only one brand of ads running at once will make it easier to track cause and effect, which will make you a better marketer.
Disconnect from the Internet
Everything is online: all the information and all the entertainment. And it only takes a momentary lapse in concentration to slide from book research to cat videos. Not only does this impulsive behaviour eat into your time but it also drains your capacity to think clearly. Every click and scroll contributes to your expanding brain fog. Websites and apps are essentially display cases of brightly coloured buttons, images, GIFs and videos. Browsing just one page can force your brain make dozens of choices:
Should I like that post?
Should I enter my email address?
Should I Google the lifespan of a platypus? (It’s 17 years.)
This approachable, all-knowing vampire will suck you dry. What’s worse, each unnecessary decision you make saps you of a little more willpower. This means that every second you’re online you become more susceptible to the temptations of passive browsing, you make more low-quality decisions and you become more likely to abandon your writing altogether because it requires too much brainpower.
Science indicates that once this spiral is set in motion, it becomes increasingly difficult to escape. Willpower is not enough. That’s why avoiding the internet altogether during your dedicated work hours (preferably in the morning) will drastically improve your energy retention and allow you to keep making wise decisions later into the day. Once you’ve achieved everything on your to-do list, you can swipe, browse, like and share as much as you want, confident that a good night’s sleep will fully replenish your willpower for the next morning.
Eradicate Lifestyle Decisions
Earlier in this post we touched on Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs, and how he habitually wore the same black turtleneck and jeans every day. Look into it and you will find that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg follows a similar regimen. So did Barack Obama during his time at the oval office. The reason isn’t laziness. Actually, it’s the opposite. They all realised that, by stripping unnecessary decisions from their lives, like which clothes to wear, they became more able to make effective billion-dollar decisions.
This habit isn’t exclusively for the one percent, ether. It doesn’t require cash, a private jet or superhuman strength. Anyone can pre-plan what clothes they wear all week, what to cook and when to exercise. In fact, doing so will make you more likely to get ready quicker, eat healthily and train consistently when everything is already organised and sticking to your plan becomes the path of least resistance.
Keeping your laptop stationed at the same workspace every day will have a similar effect, reinforcing your writing habit by minimising the effects of decision fatigue. Try it: find and eradicate as many unnecessary choices from your day as you can. It will make you more likely to start work and more able to stay in the flow state once you have begun.
Take Proper Breaks
Self-development “gurus” talk a lot about structuring your work blocks but they rarely address how you can benefit from structuring your breaks. That might seem counterintuitive at first glance. “I thought the point of a break was to forget about structure and relax,” you might say. And, in part, it is. But if you don’t consider setting some rules and limits, your breaks can easily become the Achilles heel of your productivity plan, and I don’t just mean when you let them run for longer than intended. Long or short, a poorly-executed break can actually have a detrimental effect on the time you do spend working.
Think about it this way: how do you take a break? Do you close your laptop, push it aside and immediately start browsing the internet on your phone? Don’t worry, we all do it occasionally. While passive browsing might feel relaxing because it soothes our internet addition, as we have already learned, the internet is an energy vampire. Thus, it doesn’t count as a proper break.
A better option would be to do something that doesn’t involve a screen. Perhaps sit quietly in the garden or brew a cup of tea. Fold laundry. Stroll around the block. Just be sure to keep a tight rein on how long your breaks last or that short relief period can easily turn into more than an hour. Set a timer if you need to. Think of it as a reverse-Pomodoro, a way to concentrate on true relaxation for a specific block of time.
Speaking of strolling, according to studies conducted at Harvard Medical School, walking once a day will boost your mental capacity in the short term, such as before a test or creative writing session. In addition, it also slows your brain’s decline over a span of decades, therefore enabling you to stay sharp for longer.
For writers, walking has two standout benefits. Firstly, a walk (without your phone) forces you to step away from screens and reduces the temptation to trawl the internet during a break. Secondly, it stimulates subconscious thought. Have you ever noticed that eureka moments often arrive when you’re jogging or traipsing around a shopping mall? That’s because aerobic activities, much like sleep, encourage you to enter a meditative state. In doing so, your subconscious mind starts to wander and process ideas you’ve accumulated throughout the day. What this means is that exercise will both distance you from distractions and help you overcome story issues that might have been halting your progress.
Using just one of these strategies can enhance your energy levels during a writing session. A combination of them has the power to supercharge your productivity, discipline and stamina, meaning you will be able to write better, faster, and for longer than ever before.
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