Humans are notoriously poor at choosing. There is something in our psyche that creates a mental block when it comes to making a decision. Choice is the killer of any sort of productivity, and our brains create importance about all choices, even the seemingly trivial. This expends mental energy and reduces our ability to focus on the important.
When we had our first child, the potential of uproar in our life was huge. There are so many small decisions associated with raising an infant it is unbelievable. When to feed, what nappies to use, when to put to bed ,how to wean, breast or bottle, when to put in a cot, what to wear, whether to go out because it is too cold ad infinitum. The list is endless, and the amount of decisions you have to make as a parent are crazy. The level of importance of these choices is seemingly huge, as the success or failure of such choices renders you a good or bad parent. You really do feel the social pressure of your choices – will this choice label you supernanny or a Jeremy Kyle guest?
The way to get around the endless decision making is the creation of a routine. The human brain is ridiculously good at putting itself on auto pilot. If it knows what it is meant to be doing, it is great at executing the tasks required. This is why a routine is so powerful – it puts decisions on auto pilot as you know what you are meant to be doing already. Our bedtime routine with our eldest daughter is as thus: – Supper of fruit and toast, cup of tea, upstairs to read a story, she reads the story back to us from her head, toilet, teeth brush, kiss from dad, kiss from mum, sleep. Every single night is the same. This has worked a treat and she sleeps without much issue. Whether this is blind luck or attributable to her routine – we will find out when we try to replicate it with our second, but we seem to be getting to grips with her also.
Routine provides emotional stability. Not knowing what your next move is provides the human brain with anxiety and it struggles to cope. This is why it makes mountains out of mole hills. Your goal should be to autopilot pretty much all of your trivial decisions.
A good daily routine should account for what time you wake up, this should be the same every day. For me it is 5am. Every day apart from weekends when I manage to get a lie in (till 0630 am incidentally – turns out 3 year olds have no concept of a lie in!). I then make myself a cup of coffee and have some fruit. After that, I crack open the computer and organise my day using Trello. I then start cracking on with the activities I have scheduled in the list labelled “First Thing”. Lucy then gets up at about half six, I carry on until about 07:15 with her watching a few cartoons on the iPad. I will then make us a pot of tea and Lucy some breakfast. We will sit and have a chat, and then go up at about 8 am to see the wife and Sofia. We will have a natter for a bit and then I will get ready and get out of the door for quarter to nine.
Rinse and repeat every morning.
The idea is to reduce the amount of decisions you have to make. I even go as far as to limit what I have for breakfast to the same thing every day – Can of Tuna, Spinach and Lentils. This allows me to not have to make the decision of what I am having for breakfast – it is already done. Eating the same breakfast and lunch all week is a huge decision taken off your shoulders. I haven’t quite extended to lunch just yet, but it is certainly an aspiration!
Barack Obama is reported to have only a limited variety of suit in his wardrobe to choose from, along with some standard shades of shirts and ties. Again, the goal of this is to reduce the decision making process and allow him to concentrate on matters more pressing, such as running the USA.
Once solid routines have been created for the trivial aspects of your life, you are free to concentrate on the bigger decisions and more important work you are required to do. However, this can lead to yet more inertia. Getting started on a project, where to go next with a piece of work, what project to do, what is the best action to take are all decisions that crop up and hamper our progress when conducting our work.
The trick is the Act – Feedback – Tweak loop. Deciding what to do and playing over what will happen in your head over and over again is a pointless activity. Your brain is capable of decisions rooted in your own experience. You are only able to process information framed within what you already know. This means that any action is processed through a lens of experience. Trouble is, you may not have the experience to know how something will fully play out to make a good decision on what to do.
This is where action – feedback – tweak can help. The first step is to take some action. Just do something. It could be the complete wrong thing to do, but you will not know until you get started and cracking. Once you have done something, you will have some feedback to analyse – what was the consequence of your action? Evaluate the effectiveness of the decision you have just made, see what outcome it has had in relation to your desired outcome. Then tweak. Vary your action in response to the feedback you get – it may be that you carry on doing what you are doing, or it may be a complete about turn and the commencement of something completely different. You will, however by action, developed some primary experience to help you answer the problem you are faced with. Your second action should be more effective than your first.
By following this method, you will eventually converge upon your best method. When mixing together dance music records, you have to get the tempo of both tracks to be the same. This is called beat matching. The way to do this is to first play both tracks and determine what pace the second track is in relation to the first. If it is too slow, you speed up drastically until it catches up and then exceeds the first track, once it is faster, you then slow down, but less drastically slow than it first started. Once slower, you then speed up again, but this time less than you did initially. You repeat this process in a zig zag fast-slow fashion gradually making smaller adjustments until you converge upon the right tempo.
This analogy can be extended to all of your important decisions – you eventually converge upon the right action by making ball park guesses at the correct action initially. A darts player with two darts in his pocket and aiming for a final double, will first throw a rough marker dart to get the fee of how he needs to throw the next one. By doing this, he will have generated feedback about how to throw the next dart. Your first action should be your marker, the thing you do to get feedback so you can make your subsequent actions more refined.
Your first action may prove to be a complete failure. So what. Use the information of failure wisely and tweak your future actions to be better. Failure is the best thing in the world if you learn from it – it is the foolish man who does the same thing over and over again and expects different results – I think Einstein said that, and he knew a thing or two.
A jet plane spends 90% of the time off course. It makes incremental adjustments to find it way to its end destination. Be like the jet plane, just get started and then adjust your way to your goal. Implore yourself to be a person of activity. Just do something. Internalise this phrase and live by it. Action far outweighs planning, but only if coupled with evaluation and adjustment. Get into the habit, and see your productivity soar.