Monday, April 4, 2016

Guest Post: Getting More Done In Your Day

Today's guest post is from Ellen Goodwin, a productivity expert and coach.


Last week, I spent a frustrating afternoon dealing with new technology. No matter how many times I rebooted and retried, I just couldn’t get it to work right. I finally gave up after three hours and tried to move on, but when I looked at my to-do list, I was paralyzed as to what to do next. My afternoon of frustrating technology sapped all my willpower, resulting in me being unable to make decisions.

A 1996 study at Case Western University, by Dr. Roy Baumeister, showed when people sapped their willpower by having to resist eating chocolate chip cookies, their ability to solve problems and make good decisions was also reduced.  Frustrating afternoons with technology and stressful days at work do the same as resisting the siren song of chocolate chip cookies. It drains your brain energy and depletes your willpower,  making it harder for you to make good decisions, much easier to procrastinate and ignore you goals.  So what can you do if your ability to make decisions hinges on having high levels of brain energy? 

Use Habits

Creating habits for things you do everyday may seem like a no-brainer, but they take away the need to make any decisions in those areas of life.  Brushing your teeth, prepping for the day, eating breakfast - those habits let you get out of the house without draining your brain energy.  They're automatic, so you aren't making decisions on how to do them.  The key to getting more done with less brain drain is to apply this lesson to other areas of your life, as well.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs eliminated the decision-making process of what to wear by wearing the same thing everyday: black mock turtleneck, jeans and New Balance sneakers. Getting dressed was one less decision he had to make.  

If you eat the same foods everyday, you eliminate decision making on menus, shopping, and preparation. Of course, you don't want to eat the same thing every day, but you can make habits out of what you will or won't do.  Some "don't" habits include:  "I don't eat french fries," or "I won't buy from Starbucks any more."  You save brain energy by not having to make those decisions every day.

Stop Context Shifting

When we try to multi-task, we're really context shifting, which is one of the biggest drains on your brain.  It's like trying to talk on the phone and read emails at the same time. The portion of your brain processing audio is different from the part that processes reading, so you can’t do both effectively at the same time. Each time you switch from listening to reading, your brain has to re-adjust. Each readjustment requires energy, and chips away at your decision-making ability. Stop context shifting by:  
  • Batching Tasks.  Choose tasks that are similar in action and do them in a batch, working a exclusively on them without distraction until completion.  For example, batch your reading, by taking an hour to look at blog posts, magazines and books.  Then, do all your email.  Then focus on returning phone calls, followed by working on one project for a set period of time.  Working one area of your brain at a time lets your brain focus and stop draining all that energy.
  • Sprint.  Sprints let you to multi-task in a way coordinated way to stop any back and forth context shifting. In a Sprint, pick two to four tasks, set a short amount of time, then do them one after the other with the idea of finishing them before the timer goes off. It’s a personal version of “Beat the Clock."  I’ve used a 10-minute sprint to change batteries in smoke detectors, move boxes to the garage and file papers in my office. Without shifting back and forth, I was productive without draining brain energy, which meant I could still to make good decisions when I finished.
Saving your brain energy to consistently make the right decisions means you’re able to be more efficient and effective in your business and your life.

What has stopped you from making good decisions in the past?

Are you looking to learn more about the productive power of making the right decisions and how you can always make the right decision?  Join me on Thursday, April 7 for a free webinar: Calm The Chaos: The Secret to Making the Right Decisions Every Time on Any Topic. Guaranteed. 

Ellen Goodwin is a productivity expert, speaker and coach with an endless fascination with the brain and how it works with us and against us, as we're trying to be productive. Ellen has put together empirically-based systems and tools enabling her to become a productivity whiz.  She now teaches those same tools to businesses and individuals. Click here for more info.