Divorcing doing from deciding

Doing and Deciding seem to defy the some law of physics or chemistry. Take 1 kilogram of Deciding and 1 kilogram of Doing separately and you have a total of 2 kilograms which is fairly easy to deal with. However, mix them together and you somehow have 10 kilograms of stress, anxiety and general burden. Where did all that come from?

The extra weight comes from Doubt. It is completely unnecessary and completely artificial. It’s comprised of second guessing. Anticipating. Worrying. If you don’t mix Deciding and Doing, and you can work clearly, effectivey and without doubt.

Doing and Deciding are both important, it’s just that they simply don’t get along together. They just work better separately…and so it’s time for an amicable, mature, mutually beneficial divorce.


The Box in the Room

Imagine your are in a room.  It’s full of shelves and doors to other rooms with more shelves and more doors. There is a heavy box in the middle of the room that just arrived and it’s your job to find a place for it and put it away. That’s your task.

So what do you do?

Just Do It, right?

You’re gonna get this job out the way so you can move on to the next thing. You go and pick up that box and start looking for the best place to put it like any “good” busy person.

At least, that’s what most of us do.

To do without first deciding is to pick up that heavy box (the doing) and then – while holding this bulky, awkward, hefty  parcel – begin the process of figuring out where it goes (the deciding).

The key is that Deciding and Doing should be – must be – separated. They should be like the flip sides of a coin – connected and related, but forever divorced.

And yet most of us juggle these flip sides all day long.

The moment you get out of bed in the morning most people start to haemorrhage energy on decisions that shouldn’t even be decisions because you face them every day. Decisions such as “What am I having for breakfast?” or “What am I wearing today?” or “Should I go to the gym this morning?”.

Why are you deciding these things now? Right at the time when you need to be doing them?

The result is what I think of as Decision Fatigue.

“Well maybe I shouldn’t eat something that heavy seeing as I’m going to the gym this morning…maybe just a banana – but I’m out of bananas – oh well maybe I shouldn’t go to the gym after all. Maybe I’ll take a walk and go get some bananas…I’ll just have a coffee first.  While the coffee heats up I’ll maybe check the email…”

And suddenly, just like that, you’re a pinball in a game called “Look How Busy I Am” bouncing around, making plenty of noise but not really in control and not really getting anywhere.

This happens every day to millions of people, all of them walking around with heavy boxes in their hands wondering where is the best place for this heavy box to go? In the end the answer is usually “..fuck it, this box is heavy. I’ll just put it here and figure it out later.” And there is sits. Or perhaps another box comes in – this time an urgent box! And you react instead of acting. And soon your boxing facility is a shambles – and it becomes your day to day.

Separating Doing from Deciding is an improvement in every possible way. You will do things faster, better, with less mental energy, and without the doubt that you might not be spending your time well.

It is More relaxing.

It is Less frustrating.

You will realise you are not as busy as you thought.

And even though you’ll probably not get everything done, you’ll get to choose which things don’t get done.

You will not have to stretch as far and you will reach riper fruit.

Sound good? OK.

I’ve talked about a few things that can help in your pre-decisions already. There’s The Menus. There’s The Power of the Foregone conclusion. There’s Time buffers. And now I want to talk about another technique that can help when your task is right there in front of you – the “box” has just arrived – but you have not yet pre-decided anything. This happens. We can’t plan for it all.


Little Missions

Stop. That’s always a good start.

Never embark on a task without a clear idea of a time you are going to finish it. We are not interested in completing a task that should take 30 minutes if it takes half a day to do it. You will fail at too many other things to make it worth while. So, set a reasonable amount of time and be vigilant about it. If you don’t complete it, fine. You can stop and repeat this task if need be. The real devil we are trying to avoid is flailing. Flailing is failing. Everything else is just a setback.

Now, break down your task into the steps that you need to achieve. Think of it as a game-plan. Think: I am going to do this, then that and then that and then that. In 30 minutes. Seem impossible? Good. Better to realise that now than gradually as you flail through your task. Reset your time. Or reset your task.

Now you have all you need. A definitive set of steps and a deadline.

The deadline should be relatively short – one hour works well. And the tasks should be elemental. Hence the little in Little Missions.

Even if you do not complete the mission you will absolutely work more efficiently with the time you spend trying to. And a mission can always be revised. The stopping and rethinking is the key that will protect you from the constant busy work that in truth may not even need to be done.

The setting of the mission is the deciding. The mission itself is the doing. Keep them apart for both their sakes and your own.

The mixing of the two is a guaranteed recipe for anxiety, stress, overtime and failure.