by Rochelle Melander
You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.
– John C. Maxwell
At a conference, I heard a speaker instruct the audience to list their habitual tasks on their to-do lists so that they could experience the joy of crossing off items like brushing their teeth, showering, and eating. When was the last time you forgot to brush your teeth? If it’s a habit, you don’t. For most people, certain tasks are automatic. We don’t have to think about where to put our keys or what toothpaste to use—because we do the same thing every day.
And that’s good. According to the work of social psychologist Roy Baumeister, we have a finite amount of mental energy for self-control. Making decisions depletes that energy, and it becomes harder for us to make good decisions. In the article “Do you Suffer from Decision Fatigue?” John Tierney wrote: “The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways.” Either we make a reckless choice (Oh sure, I’ll eat a bag of chocolate) or we avoid making a choice (You decide, honey).
Nutritionists often recommend automating one’s meals—eating the same rotation of healthy foods to avoid temptation. Instead of pitching in cash for the office’s daily pizza order, we pack one of three pre-chosen meals for lunch. Or we plan and prepare our evening meals ahead of time so we’re not tempted to stop at a local fast food restaurant on the way home from work. Anytime we can automate our decisions—what to wear, what to eat, when to write—we free up brain space to think about writing.
In this quest, you’ll automate some portion of your life to free up more time for your writing.
Review the past three weeks and note any decisions that you regularly make that take a lot of time. As a freelance writer, I spend most of my days working in my yoga clothes. But a few times a month, I put on my big girl clothes to give a speech or attend a networking event. Because I rarely get dressed up, it often takes me an hour to decide what to wear. If I automated that decision, choosing ahead of time five outfits that always work, I’d save time and energy for creative endeavors.
Here are common tasks that can be easily automated:
+Meals or snacks. Take a day to plan the next week’s meal schedule or choose a rotation of healthy dishes to eat regularly. Instead of choosing from myriad choices for breakfast, select from three options: oatmeal, a smoothie, or an omelet. In addition, plan your snacks for the next week. You can make a list of healthy snacks or create a snack cupboard or shelf in the refrigerator.
+Clothing. Instead of waking up and wondering what to wear, create a uniform for each of your main activities. Each day, choose a different set. If a uniform does not work, arrange your closet by outfits and select one of those each day.
+Work schedule. Every job has certain tasks that must be done regularly. Clustering those tasks and then doing them at the same time each day or week can eliminate some of the drama of deciding when to complete each task. For writers, setting aside the same time each day to write, participate in social media, or submit query letters can increase productivity. Automate as many work tasks as you can.
+Email. Set aside time to decide how you’re going to triage your inbox. What will you automatically delete? What will you answer quickly? What types of emails will get set aside for a longer response? What kinds of emails get filed?
+Regularly used items. If you spend time searching for items you use regularly like sunglasses, keys, or library books, make a plan to automate where you keep those things.
- Choose an area or a task to automate. Create a plan and put it into action.
- After 1 to 3 weeks, evaluate. Did automating the task save you time? Did it free you up to think about other tasks? If so, keep it. If not, look for another task to automate.
Game Play Tips
- Repeat this quest for any task that takes up too much time, that you worry about, or that distracts you from your work.
- We save time when we automate specific tasks and make decisions ahead of time. To increase the success of this quest, list any decision you can make in advance and then do it. This might include choosing what you’ll write about, how you’ll spend your free time, or, like me, what you will wear.
For the Win
But what about spontaneity? Habits provide the security and time to entertain serendipity. When we automate the smallest decisions and schedule our pressing tasks, we open up space to think big thoughts. But this practice also prevents the schedule jams that happen when we forget to complete tasks on time. We’ve got extra time, and we can say yes to the surprises that show up!