How to avoid decision fatigue

Procrastination

I have to admit that for the first time since my good blogging streak started last November, I procrastinated with writing a blog post. I briefly thought about not posting anything – we’re all allowed to have an off day after all! But the accountability I’ve built up, both to myself and (hopefully) a couple of readers who are used weekly posts, removed the choice for me. Posting weekly just became a habit.

[As I wrote that sentence, my brain made a connection with the number 21. I quickly checked the calendar and to my amusement discovered that last November was approximately 21 weeks ago! But then I realized that the popular saying is that it takes 21 days to build a habit, which is actually false].

I thought about why I was procrastinating more than the other times. I still had an Evernote notebook with lots of ideas on what to write about. Perhaps the problem was the opposite – I had too many ideas and I couldn’t choose between them!

Decision fatigue

I learnt recently that not being able to choose, procrastinating and being unproductive is a result, is something called “decision fatigue” (Wikipedia). This applies to several other areas of my life as well, for example:

  • Handling email and trivial tasks first, and procrastinating on big projects, because I can’t decide where to start
  • Having a vague goal of “exercising more”, but having too many choices (weights? run? in the morning? in the evening? tomorrow? … )
  • Deciding what’s for dinner when it’s dinner time, being unable to choose due to already being too hungry and getting take-out in the end

Habits

To reverse this process and be more productive, the secret seems to be to eliminate decisions. Then you can spend less time deciding, and more time doing! Or, as Doctor_PMS recommends, “set up your personal habits and goals in a way that prevents you from having to take a decision on a daily basis“.

That is essentially what me, @Doctor_PMS,  @TheNewPI, @rebeccalinnett, @AidanBudd and a few others are doing on Habitica – eliminating decisions. I briefly wrote about Habitica before, but to summarize, it’s a habit tracker with game elements. Here is how I’m trying to tackle procrastination on important projects:

  • I have a “daily” (a habit you can complete at most once a day) called “Add most important task (MIT) of the day as a to-do to Habitica”. My MITs are tasks that move big projects forward, like writing papers or blog posts. Of course, adding a task as a to-do is trivial, but I get a little reward from it, so I complete it every day. But what makes it more effective, is that having to define task forces me to break up projects into parts that I can actually get done.
  • I have another daily, with a bigger reward, called “Spend 1 Pomodoro on MIT”. I put my headphones on, set focus@will to 25 minutes, and start working.
  • Often once I get this first Pomodoro done, I don’t want to stop there, and continue. To encourage this behavior more, I have a “habit” (something you can do multiple times per day) called “Extra Pomodoro”.
  • To top it off, I have the MIT to-do I added in the first place! The to-dos give me the most rewards and are very satisfying to check off. Here’s how this looks in Habitica:

Since I enjoy the in-game rewards, I use this system on most days, gaining gold and experience, and levelling up! This is me, in one of the many outfits you can collect in the game:

Conclusion

Once I decided my post would be about decision fatigue, the post practically wrote itself. To avoid procrastination on future posts, the solution seems simple. I need to have specific blog posts on my to-do list, rather than a “blog weekly” to-do with a long list of ideas.

For extra accountability, I’ll share the two upcoming blog posts! Next week, of course, will feature another “How I Fail” guest post! And in two weeks time, since I quite enjoyed writing this post, I will write more about how I’m using Habitica to improve other areas of life, such as food and exercise.

Leave a Reply