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Overcome Your Overwhelm a guest post by Bob Wendover

Posted by johngies

It’s become an all-too-common challenge. You begin your day by going through email and Slack messages, deleting the twenty or more you don’t need or want. Then you work your way through those from your, co-workers, customers, and vendors. Along the way, you respond to texts, Zoom chats and maybe a phone call or two. Perhaps you check Linked In, Facebook and Instagram just to stay in the loop. Finally, you take a breath and realize that the first hour of your day has been consumed by the digital treadmill that saps your time and focus. Then it is on to the first project or meeting, all the while clearing a never-ending series of messages.

By mid-morning, you realize the edge is off the day’s energy. What you’re feeling is the impact of decision fatigue and the world seems to be awash in it. Decision fatigue is when you start making less-than-optimal choices because your thinking gets fuzzy due to your inability to focus. In some cases, you feel too tired or hesitant to make the decision, so you just don’t. This is all the result of your body exhausting the supply of blood glucose (sugar energy) created while you slept. Instead of concentrating on significant decisions, it has been squandered on the hundreds of micro-decisions demanding your attention.

But this scourge is not just confined to emails, text, and social media. Consider the last time you searched for something online, only to end up battling all the pop-ups designed to distract you from your mission. What about trying to choose between ultra-white, super-white or optic white toothpaste? Or maybe the 200 shades of white paint in the home center? Perhaps it’s the information overload forced on us by the 24-hour news cycle.

We all deal with decision fatigue. But some people manage it much better than others. I’ve spent the past few years figuring out how they do it. Here is a sampling of the strategies they use.

Reverse the first two hours of your morning. Refrain from grabbing your smart phone the minute you wake up. Instead, center yourself. Eat a healthy breakfast and prepare mentally for the day. When you begin work, do the most critical thing first. Complete a project. Conduct an important conversation. Outline the upcoming presentation. THEN check your email, texts and social media. This simple switch enables the best decision-makers to use the top of their energy on the tasks that really count.

Close your message apps. The job of tech companies is to distract you any way they can. After all, eyeballs mean money. Those who best manage decision fatigue, turn off the endless array of applications when not using them. This stops the pop-ups, the vibrations, the sound effects and other distractions that impede their concentration. Over time, people will accept that you only respond during certain times, including your team and customers. (This might even inspire them to do the same thing.)

Eliminate your APPoplexy. APPoplexy is having too many apps on your phone. Have you ever spent five minutes trying to save two minutes, because you couldn’t find the right app? I’ve met people with as many as 210. Most are never used. So, uninstall them. Waiting in line? Uninstall an app. Waiting for the movie to start? Uninstall an app. Waiting to pick up a food order? Uninstall an app. You get the idea.

Use these phrases to shorten meetings, regardless of whether you’re in charge.

  • At the beginning of the meeting, ask, “So what are we going to accomplish here?”
  • If you sense the meeting is drifting, ask, “Can we take a minute to review what we’re trying to accomplish?”
  • Or, “I feel like we’re getting off track. What exactly are we trying to decide?”

Again, regardless of whether you’re in charge, it is acceptable to ask these questions.

Ask before you agree. Ever had someone ask for a “few minutes” of your time and end up spending more than an hour trying to extricate yourself from their task? When they ask, say “Perhaps, tell me what’s involved.” This will help you avoid time wasters and limit your unplanned commitments.

Frame commitments with time-limiting phrases. Here are a few that work effectively:

  • “Sure, I’ve got three minutes. Will that be enough time?”
  • “Let’s take five minutes right now and make a decision.”
  • “I’m committed right now, but I’ve got ten minutes at ___ PM. Will that work?”
  • “I’d be happy to help. Do you have all the details so we can make the decision?”

All of these will compel the other person to better organize their time and clarify the actual commitment.

Eliminate your multi-tasking. In spite of everyone claiming to multi-task, it is physically impossible. The brain can only attend to one task at a time. What we think of as multi-tasking is really time-slicing, bouncing back and forth between two or more tasks. Every time we bounce, we needlessly expend sugar energy. Those who beat decision fatigue focus on one task to completion and then move on.

My book, Overcoming Overwhelm, contains more than 40 of these proven strategies. You can order a free copy at www.decisionfatiguebook.com. Just pay shipping.  

Bob Wendover, the author of Overcoming Overwhelm, helps managers to improve workplace decision cultures and get the people around them to think on their feet. Connect with him at bobw@commonsenseenterprises.net .