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Too much decision-making is bad for your health!

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A while ago I shared a story about a meltdown involving a stapler. In today’s instalment of Louise's Meltdown Moments (not an actual thing, but perhaps it should be…!), I’m sharing a cautionary tale about the dangers of decision-making.

Earlier this year I was working hard to ensure my own business was GDPR compliant, whilst also supporting my VA clients as they did the same. A lot of what felt like high-stake decisions were being made in a very short space of time, not easy with so many conflicting interpretations and opinions flying around!

As if that wasn't enough, at the same time my hubby and I were planning a kitchen refurb. That is until I completely lost the plot and had a major strop about worktops. Trying to choose the right one was just one decision too many, tipping me over the edge and into a tailspin!

I was doing some first-rate catastrophising and demonstrating extraordinarily accomplished levels of over-thinking and perfectionism. “WHAT IF WE MAKE THE WRONG CHOICE AND THE KITCHEN LOOKS TERRIBLE?”, I wailed. My long-suffering, astonishingly patient husband was, mercifully, still able to make decisions so called it: press pause on the refurb until I'd had a chance to locate my misplaced perspective.

Why am I telling you this rather embarrassing tale? Because decision-making is exhausting!

When we make decisions, be they big (GDPR compliance, kitchen worktops) or small (what shoes to wear, what to have for breakfast), our brains go into over-drive. Weighing up the pros and cons requires mental energy and, like it or not, that’s not something we have in infinite supply. We don’t have a bottomless well of mental energy, will-power and self-control so we need to choose how we use those things carefully.

If we make too many decisions in a short space of time we impair our decision-making abilities, as evidenced by kitchen-worktop-gate and how long it took me to choose from the Turkish mezze takeaway menu that evening.

When decision fatigue kicks in, not only do our stress levels increase but we often avoid making decisions altogether. Not a problem for my not-really-urgent kitchen refurb, but not a good look when you have a business to run and clients to serve!

So, what’s the solution?

If we want to save our brainpower for the good stuff, we need to use less of it for the ‘easy’ day-to-day stuff. We need to make fewer decisions.

And how do we do that? By creating habits.

When we create a habit, we’re deciding not to decide. We’re setting things up so we can do what we want to do automatically, without dipping into those limited reserves.

It's been well documented that Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and Matilda Kahl avoided making decisions about what to wear by adopting a work ‘uniform’. They knew that removing that decision created space for more important things.

Some people cut down on decisions by eating the same meals in rotation. (That one isn’t for me…I enjoy food too much!)

I no longer decide whether or not to practice yoga and meditate; I've turned those things into habits that happen as soon as I get up every morning.

How does all this apply to productivity?

The less mental energy you use on, for example, deciding whether or not to exercise, the more will be available for the important things you’re working on in your business.

But we can also look to create habits directly related to our productivity, so we no longer have to decide to do the things we know will help us. Examples might include going for a walk after you’ve eaten lunch, or filing or deleting an email as soon as you’ve replied to it.

These small things could have a big impact on your productivity, but if you had to decide whether or not to do them every single time it would be a real struggle. By embedding them so that they happen automatically, you no longer need self-control or will-power. You do those things just because that’s what you do, in the same way as brushing your teeth before bed is just what you do.

Are there any good habits you could create that would cut down on decision-making and enhance your productivity?

Keep these three tips in mind:

  1. Keep it simple. Introduce one new habit at a time, rather than trying to change everything at once.
  2. Make sure you’re clear on WHY you’re pursuing each habit. Without that, your habit won’t stick as you won’t see the point in doing it.
  3. If you’re having a rough day instead of skipping it try to reduce the scope but stick to the schedule. For instance, if you don’t have time for your walk, put your shoes on, stand outside and take five deep breaths. Not breaking the chain will help the habit stick!

Have there been times in your own life when making too many decisions led to a meltdown? Are there any habits you could introduce to make life easier? Please do share in the comments below or in the Getting Stuff Done Collective over on Facebook.

(If you're not sure where to start, don't worry - I've got your back. Next week I'll be sharing more about how you can join me in creating good habits that will set you up for productivity greatness!)

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