The Working With… Podcast

How To Get Better At Making Decisions

January 17, 2022

This week, it’s all about how to stop overthinking and just get on with the work.

 

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Episode 214 | Script

Hello and welcome to episode 214 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast to answer all your questions about productivity, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

Do you occasionally find yourself paralysed by decisions? Having too many choices and not knowing where to begin? I think a lot of us find ourselves in this situation and it can have negative effects on our overall productivity. 

One of the things I have conditioned myself to be able to do is to quickly decide what needs to be done and where something should go. This takes quite a lot of practice but can be speeded up with a few simple questions. 

Now before we get to the question, I want to give you a heads up about my weekly newsletter. If you want to receive all the content I produce each week in one convenient place, you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter. This newsletter goes out every Friday and contains my YouTube videos, blog posts and podcast all in one convenient email. 

In addition to my content, I share with you a couple of articles of interest from other people as well as some of the videos I have been watching that week. AND, I also share with you a short essay on a productivity or time management tip that I am sure will help you to develop your out systems.

The link to my weekly newsletter is in the show notes.

Okay let me hand you over to the Mystery Podcast Voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Alan. Alan asks: Hi Carl, I follow the Time Sector System and it has really helped me to process my inbox much faster. However, I do still find myself not being able to decide where to put a task. How do you process your inbox so fast? 

Thank you Alan for the question. 

One of the reasons I developed the Time Sector System was because I found myself wasting so much time trying to decide where a task went. When I managed my tasks by project I would have twenty to thirty open projects in my projects list and while tasks related to specific projects were quite easy to process, there were a lot of tasks that didn’t neatly fit into a project. 

Then I had to decide whether a new task was a project or not—based on the principle that anything requiring two or more steps was a project—if it did require two or more steps, I created another project to add to my already overwhelming project list. 

It was crazy! I found myself spending so much time deciding what something was and precious little time doing whatever that something was. And don’t get me started on the time it took to review so many projects each week. 

That’s how the Time Sector System was born. It came about because of frustration and when I analysed what was important about a task, I realised the only important factor was when I was going to do it, not what project it was associated with. 

Basically, I removed a step—a step that was taking up a lot of time each day and week. Now the only decision I need make when I get a new task is when am I going to do it. There are no more grey areas because I’m not thinking about how many steps are required. All I am deciding is when I am going to do it. 

My thoughts and ideas about a project are kept in my notes app. If I want to add information, ideas or a checklist of things to do on a project, I can jot them down in the project note and not worry about dates, labels or anything else you need to think about when you manage projects from a to-do list. 

Many of the old style task management systems require you to make a lot of decisions, and as we now know, our ability to make decisions each day is limited. As the day goes on, our capacity to make good quality decisions diminishes. And, as most people are processing inboxes at the end of the day, it’s at that time when our ability to make decisions is at its lowest. This is why we struggle in this area. We get caught up in overthinking a simple decision: What to do next.

So what about those decisions I alluded to earlier? Well when you are processing your inbox—whether that is your task manager’s or email inbox, the first question to ask yourself is: 

What is it? 

If you are processing your email, there are many different types of email. There’s spam that got through your spam filter—of course you delete these immediately. Then there are those emails you were CC’d on, but you have no action to take personally and there are emails that do require you to take some action. 

I’ve found this one question can eliminate as much as 50% of the email in my inbox because knowing what something is, tells me what to do with it. If it’s spam or has no interest to me, delete it. If it’s something I need to know, but not take action, I archive it and if it’s something I need to reply to, it goes to my action this day folder for replying to later in the day. 

I apply the same question to my task manager’s inbox. Here is a little different because anything going into this inbox has been put there by me. There’s a reason it’s there. However, again, I am looking to eliminate and as I process my inbox, I am thinking: do I really need to act on this?

Often, as time has passed my enthusiasm for doing something has gone and I can delete it. That a positive result for me. 

However, after deciding what something is, and that I will do something about it, the only question I need ask then is when will I do it? And with that a lot of the time the decision is already made. If I’ve been asked to send an invoice or receipt to a customer, I’ll do that within the next twenty-four hours. If I’ve added an idea for a future project, I will transfer that idea to my ideas list in my notes app or, if it relates to a current project, to the existing project note.

 Deciding which projects to work on and what to do with those projects will likely form a major part of your daily decision making and certainly when it comes to managing projects, you will be making those decisions when you do your weekly planning. 

The best criteria for deciding which projects to work on is time sensitivity. When is the project due? When’s the deadline? If the deadline is imminent, then that project needs to be worked on this week. If the project is a few months away, I can add it to my Next month folder. No need to be thinking about that project just yet. 

However, the secret sauce in being able to process inboxes quickly is practice. The more you do it, the faster you become. When I am processing any of my inboxes it’s automatic. The questions about what it is and what needs to happen, can be answered very quickly. 

But it wasn’t always like that. It was slow at first and it will be slow for you when you begin doing something new. Don’t expect to be fast immediately. You will be asking yourself what something is and when will you do it consciously at first. But over time, those decisions about a task or email will be almost automatic. You begin to see patterns in the different types of tasks and then you will be making decisions very fast indeed. 

Now that should take care of basic decision making process for you. The next decisions you will need to make are what do I want to accomplish this week and what will I do today? 

Now a quick tip here. Deciding what you want to accomplish next week, is best done Saturday morning before you do anything else. Remember our capacity to make good decisions diminishes throughout the day, so if you leave doing your weekly planning session to late Friday or Sunday, you will certainly not be in the right mood to plan next week and you won’t be making good decisions.

The best time to do a weekly planning session is Saturday morning. Get, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea (or whatever you favourite morning beverage is) turn on some of your favourite music and sit down for thirty minutes or so with your calendar and task manager open. 

Then go through and decide what you want to accomplish based on how busy your week is going to be. You may need to refer to your project notes to see where projects are, but all in all you only need to move tasks from your Next Week folder to This Week, give them a date based on when you are going to do them and make sure you inboxes are clear. 

Do that Saturday morning and you are going to get a lot more enjoyment from the weekend. Your week is planned, you do not need to think about your work and you can really settle in and enjoy the weekend. 

But the most important thing about doing the weekly planning session is it makes the daily planning sessions so much easier. Because you did the hard work on Saturday morning, when you do the daily planning sessions, all you are doing is confirming what you planned is still the right things to be working on and adding in anything new that you picked up during the day.

Now how do you stop overthinking tasks? 

Here, you need to ask yourself what is the result you want to accomplish from this task. Focus less on how you are going to do it, first ask what result you want. 

More often than not, once you are clear on the outcome, the ‘how will I do it?’ Will take care of itself. 

For instance, if you want to employ a new staff member, what’s the outcome you want? To get a fantastic new team member for the department. Okay, how will you do that? Now in this case if you work for a large organisation you may be lucky and have an HR department who can do a lot of the leg work for you. So the first step is to request assistance from your HR department. 

If you are not so fortunate, and you have to do all the work yourself, then the next step would be to draft out a job description and what the ideal candidate will be. 

From there, the next steps will take care of themselves. 

You see the idea here is to only focus on the very next step. You don’t climb mountains in one step. You climb one step at a time. That’s also the way to complete your projects and goals; one step at a time. 

I think of it this way, never leave a project without first deciding what the very next step is. You can then move that task to your task manager or leave it in your project note. 

So there you go, Alan. I hope that has helped. Try to make your processing and planning as automatic as possible: what is it and when do I need to do it? 

When it comes to individual projects, don’t focus too much on the process. Decide what the result is you want and then make sure you know what the very next step is. 

Thank you for your question and thank you to you too for listening. It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week. 

 

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