time management

Decision Fatigue

Last Tuesday was a tough day. Nothing bad happened but nothing came easy either.

For the first time in over a month Alvy slept until almost 7 AM, I slept through my alarm and didn’t wake up until Alvy woke up – at 7 AM.

Instead of having my usual morning full of habit and routine, I found myself running around the house like a crazed lunatic trying to get the kids dressed and fed before I had to take Evelyn to school.

Nothing went well after that. I ran late to Alvy’s hearing test (I’m never late), I did three loads of laundry that never made it out of the laundry room (totally uncharacteristic). By the time dinner rolled around, I realized I had never made the bed or unloaded the dishwasher (the cornerstones of my morning routine).

Coincidentally, around that same time, Jason called me to tell me he was on his way home from work and asked what was for dinner. I was honest and told him that everything I needed to make dinner was in the fridge but I was emotionally drained. The thought of spending another hour and a half cooking and cleaning was the absolute last thing I wanted to do.

What’d we end up eating for dinner? Chinese take out.

It wasn’t until about 8 PM that I realized I’d never fed the the dog – something I normally do immediately after breakfast – sorry Baxter.

So what happened? What led to such a spectacular derailment?

Decision fatigue.

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What is decision fatigue? I read a great analogy written by James Clear that describes decision fatigue to the T.

“…your willpower is like a muscle. And similar to the muscles in your body, willpower can get fatigued when you use it over and over again. Every time you make a decision, it’s like doing another rep in the gym. And similar to how your muscles get tired at the end of a workout, the strength of your willpower fades as you make more decisions.”

The second you admit that willpower is nothing more than a decision to resist temptation, it all makes sense.

By sleeping in, I threw off an entire day full of habits, routines and schedules I worked for months to build. All of a sudden I found myself having to make decisions that I don’t normally have to make, starting with deciding how to get the kids fed and dressed without Evie being late to school.

It all went downhill from there. Instead of writing in the 5-6 AM hours I had to decide another time to get that done and without a schedule I found myself constantly distracted and having to use my willpower to keep myself on task.

To add fuel to the fire, on Monday Evelyn and I made Halloween themed sugar cookies which were sitting on the island, in the middle of the kitchen, in a glass cake platter. Every time I walked though the kitchen I looked at them and had to make the conscious decision to use my willpower to deny myself.

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By the time dinner rolled around I wasn’t physically tired but my brain was exhausted. All I wanted to do was stare blankly at the wall in silence.

As it turns out, dinner was doomed at 5 AM when I slept through my alarm.

So what happens in our brain that causes decision fatigue? Why does our brain get so tired when forced to make multiple decisions and use our willpower to avoid temptation?

Nutrition. Our brains run primarily on glucose and unlike other parts of our body they lack the ability to store their fuel. Each decision you make requires your brain to do just a little work, slowly consuming the fuel your body has available. As you eat throughout the day, it gets a boost of energy, allowing it to continue to run. So after a day of powering through hundreds of minor decisions it’s pretty shot – especially if you’ve been feeding it crap.

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t sugar bad?

Stand by for some biochemistry.

Not all sugars are created equal – of all the different types of sugar (sucrose, glucose, lactose, everything ending in -ose) the only one you need is glucose.

The sugar we all know is table sugar (sucrose), which is broken down by your body into equal parts glucose and fructose. So of all the sugar in something like a cookie, only half will be used to power your brain (and the rest of your body) the other half gets processed by your liver and then put into storage as fat.

Therefore, eating a cookie or drinking a Coke isn’t going to help restore your alertness and ability to handle tough decisions. Instead you need glucose which is found in naturally occurring sugars, like fruit and whole grains.

No wonder I feel foggy headed when I eat poorly.

So what can we do to combat decision fatigue?

  1. Make big decisions first thing in the morning when your brain is fresh.
  2. Create routines and schedules that minimize minor daily decisions.
  3. Build habits around your most important daily tasks.
  4. Complete the most important tasks of the day first thing in the morning.
  5. Eat a healthy snack in the middle of the day when you’re starting to feel run down

What was the first thing I did after doing all this research on decision fatigue? I covered up the sugar cookies with a dishtowel.

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At least one decision fatigue problem solved!

For more information about decision fatigue read this awesome article in the New York Times.

For a great biochemistry lesson about why sugar, specifically fructose, is so epicly bad for you watch this great lecture by Dr. Robert Lustig from the University of California – it’s long (1:31) but he does a great job dumbing down some very technical information and it will forever change how you think about sugar!

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Creating a Daily Schedule

We’ve been doing a lot of adjusting around here lately. Evelyn started pre-school earlier this month and though I’ve really enjoyed the little bit of break that only having to care for one child has brought it has really thrown a wrench into my daily schedule. Surprise! I keep a schedule! Okay, not a surprise.

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Being a stay-at-home-mom and a hater of waste, a daily schedule is very natural for me. The kids are already on a schedule – they wake up at the same time, eat at the same time, nap at the same time and go to bed at the same time – everyday. It only makes sense that I integrate my own schedule into theirs.

Even if you’re not doing it intentionally you’re running on a schedule too. You wake up, go to work, eat meals and go to bed at the same time – everyday. All you have to do is expand on it a little. Is there a goal you’re working toward? A project you’d like to complete? A closet you’d like to clean out? Can’t seem to find them time? Schedule it into your day.

For me, I know that if I don’t do something to structure my day by the time I go to bed I’ll have nothing to show for an entire day of life. That’s not cool.

I’ve been keeping the same general schedule for the past year. It worked well for me. Unfortunately, taking Evie to school, having her gone most of the day and picking her up has upended my routine and now I’m not exactly sure how to most efficiently use the time she’s gone. I’m ashamed to say that instead of spending it productively, I’ve spent it at Target. Bad for productivity – worse for my wallet.

Since I found myself thinking a lot about my use of time, I thought it’d take this opportunity to walk you through the process of creating a daily schedule.

The easiest way to plan is to see everything laid out on paper. I always block my hours off using a worksheet that looks like this (for a printable PDF version click here).
Joni's Planner-long day.xlsx

Step 1: Non-Negotiables – Start filling in the things that must get done at very specific times. For example, Alvy’s nap is a non-negotiable so it’s the first thing that gets put on the schedule. Evelyn’s pre-school drop off and pick up are next to go on the schedule. Alvy’s weekly visit with his teacher of the deaf goes on there. Meals are next, then my workouts. These things are priorities. Yes, my workouts are non-negotiable (yours should be too).

Step 2: Flexible Deliverables – Figure out the things that must get done but aren’t on a strict timetable. Chores, for example must be completed but can be done at any time. Blogging, MOMS Club and work for the cemetery all fall in this category for me.  Decide how much time you need to dedicate to these activities during any given week and start blocking them off on your schedule.

Step 3: Flexible Time – See what time is left. Having every minute planned isn’t going to set you up for success. If you have a non-structured day, like me, try to schedule 30 minute breaks if possible to give yourself some time to relax, read a book, etc. These little breaks will help renew your energy for the assigned block of time.

When I’m done laying everything out, it ends up looking like this.

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{Please note: This isn’t my actual schedule. It’s an illustration of how I prioritize my time and lay out my day. However, this is a very good representation of what my real schedule looks like. In the interest of privacy I’m going to keep my real schedule to myself.}

I color coded it because my calendar is color coded and it only makes sense to make the daily schedule match up with my calendar.

Pink – Personal/House Stuff
Red – School Stuff (either child)
Dark Blue – Blog Stuff
Light Blue – Alvy’s Nap
Yellow – Workouts
Purple – MOMS Club Stuff
Green – Cemetery Stuff

If I need to schedule something like doctor’s appointment, play date, etc I will schedule it in the time when allotted for laundry or chores.

The most important take away here is not to stick to your schedule religiously. Much like the meal rotation, use it as a guideline. For example in the few months leading up to the cemetery annual meeting and fundraiser I will do almost nothing but work for the cemetery and only the most important things for my other responsibilities will get done but as soon as that is over I will revert back to my normal routine.

If you find yourself with a lot of unstructured time and your to do list never seems to get any shorter try creating a daily schedule. It can help structure your day and make it more productive. It’s something easy you can do in just a few minutes to start adding some organization to your life – all you have to do is stick to it.

What does your day look like? How do you structure your day?

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Why You Should Wear a Watch

I’ve always been a time person and I’ve worn a watch for as long as I can remember. When I got my first smart phone though I ditched my watch. Actually, I think a lot of us did. What was the point? Why bother wearing a watch when you’ve got a clock on your cell phone?

Sometime after Evelyn was born I realized that my attitude toward watches was entirely flawed. One morning after a trip to the mall with my bouncing baby girl she became fussy. Entirely normal, I wasn’t worried. After almost an hour of crying and general angst I FINALLY pulled my cell phone out of my pocket to check the time. Hello! It had been four hours since I’d fed her! I was so distracted by my outing I completely forgot about needing to feed her. I immediately was bombarded by extreme mommy guilt for overlooking  something so glaringly obvious and decided I needed a better way to keep track of the time.

I went home and dug out an old digital watch I had back in college and started using the timer to track the time between feedings.

Though I had chosen to dig out my watch for that one specific reason I found I was looking at it all the time. That was four years ago. I still wear a watch, everyday.

A watch is good for so much more than just checking the time. I use the timer to administer time outs and make sure I don’t burn dinner. I use the chronograph/lap timer to keep track of laps in the pool and on the treadmill. I use it to check the date when I’m labeling stuff to go in the refrigerator. Yes, I use it to check the time and keep the kids on schedule.

In researching this post I read a nice quote, “It’s not about checking the time, it’s about your relationship with time.” Unfortunately, I’ve tried to find the source but it got lost in internet-land. (If it’s you, tell me!)

Even though I can’t find the source I had to use the quote because it is spot on. Wearing a watch makes you more time conscious. All of a sudden you’re more aware of the passing seconds and the fleeting nature of time. Something about appreciating a limited resource makes you less likely to waste it.

Like it or not, time management is a key tenant of productivity.  It’s hard to know what you can get done in an hour if you have no idea of how long an hour actually is. By wearing a watch you will become much more aware of the concept of time and how long it will take for you to get tasks completed.

Because I wear a watch I know that it takes me 15 minutes to complete my morning routine, 15 minutes to fold a load of laundry, 10 minutes to get to my daughter’s school and an hour and a half to complete my daily workout. By knowing this I can better plan these activities into my larger blocks of time throughout the day, allowing me to get more done.

If you’re still not convinced here’s five reasons you should wear a watch.

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It’s subtle. Checking the time in the presence of others isn’t always appreciated. It’s a lot more subtle (and polite) to glance at your wrist than it is to dig your cell phone out of your pocket. We are all guilty of being on cell phones too much anyway, one less excuse to stare at your screen isn’t a bad thing.

It’s convenient. When you’ve got your hands full it’s much easier to turn your wrist to glance at the time than it is to dig your phone out of your pocket.

It’s less distracting. Pulling your phone out of your pocket often leads to distraction. How many times have you pulled out your phone to check the time only to find yourself responding to a text message instead? You then put it back in your pocket and still have no idea what time it is.

It’s a fashion accessory. They’re some mighty fine watches out there if you’re willing to dish out the dough but there’s also some really good looking ones that won’t cost you the arm you’d need to wear it on. Find something versatile that you can wear often. If you’re an athlete like me, make sure you get one you can use when you work out!

It makes a good impression. When people see you wearing a watch they know you are respectful of your own time and therefore respectful of theirs. You also appear more responsible and more put together. A person who wears a watch is a productive person.

I have two watches that I use on a regular basis. I have a beautiful stainless steel and gold Seiko which I wear when I want to be dressy but most of the time I wear a Timex Ironman. I like it so much I’m on my fourth one. They’re sturdy, they’re resilient, they’re practical and they’re almost entirely indestructible – note I said almost, since I’m on my 4th one they’re obviously not completely indestructible. My current one has a white silicone band (which surprisingly doesn’t stain) and a pretty chrome bevel.

This watch is water resistant so I wear it all. the. time. In the shower. In the pool. At the beach. When I run (if I’m not wearing my Garmin). I even sleep in it. I literally never take it off.

It has the time, the day and the date right there on the face. It also has a timer, a chronograph, three alarms and a 50 lap counter (which I’ve actually used). Everything I need to effectively manage my day.

Aside from my cell phone, I use it more than anything else I own.

So, if you’d like to be more productive, be more organized, be more time aware, be a better parent and not burn your french fries then wear a watch! It’s the secret to life! Okay, not really but it will help you get more done!

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