Decisions, Part 5

If you missed the earlier posts in Dave’s series on decision making, check out part onepart twopart three and part four.

– Naomi

Welcome to part five in the “how do I decide what to do when everything seems equally important” series.

In the earlier posts in this series, we talked about comparing your options by looking at relative impact, probabilities and bottlenecks, and today we’re going to tackle “personal cost”, or what pursuing that project will end up requiring of you.

Let’s dive in.

Just because something is simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy. And vice versa.

Let’s take it out of business for a while and get personal. Let’s say you want to get in shape this year, and some of the things you know you need to do are lose weight, start eating better, quit smoking and get more sleep.

(That should be enough to make most people stop reading and go hide. Stay with me.)

Those are all good and valid and healthy goals for those who need them. And all of them have their own equation of “simple/complex” versus “easy/difficult.”

And because of that, trying to combine multiple projects at once can cause your stress to go up and your willpower to be depleted.

For a lot of people, quitting smoking AND losing weight at the same time is just too much to handle. Too much willpower all at once.

For other people, getting more sleep and eating better is just too much at once. Too many changes in routine and too many decisions leads to decision fatigue.

This is why so many people crash and burn when they try to pack in too many projects at once that require far higher amounts of decision making, willpower, or change of routine than is reasonable for where they are and who they are.

This is because there’s only so much brain to go around.

Take any typical person driving to work, and have them listen to an audiobook on the way. Chances are, everything will go just fine. They’re taking the same route to work, and driving is kind of on autopilot.

Now, have them try and find a street address in an unfamiliar neighborhood. They’re going to have to pause the audiobook. Now they need to concentrate.

Replace audiobook with conversation, and the same thing happens. You’re driving along the highway chatting with someone just fine, and when you realize you’re getting close to that exit you’re taking for the first time, you have to stop and focus. You have to figure out something new.

This is how normal brains function.

When it comes to setting goals and packing projects in, however, it’s common to forget this.

Look at how your projects might interfere with each other, and you can save yourself some heartache down the road.

If you’re putting together your plan for what you’re going to be focusing on over the next quarter, or your next six months, or your next year, you’re likely to have a few things on your plate that you haven’t done before.

Maybe it’s learning how to use a new social media platform. Or revamping your website with a conscious focus on conversion. Or managing the details of a complete and total rebrand. Those require learning curves and doing something new.

There will also be things you have done before that you’re just ramping up. Maybe you’re going to blog more. Or finish a book in progress. Or get back to sending emails to your list. Those require doing more of what you’re already familiar with.

The first batch have a higher personal cost, both mentally and emotionally.

The second batch likely doesn’t. (Though they can have some emotional costs, if you’re ramping up things that you have a lot of internal drama around.)

It’s helpful to think of it like a budget, like you might consider a willpower budget in the quitting smoking example earlier.

It’s a very good idea to look at the projects you’re pursuing at the same time to see if they’re likely to “break the bank”, as it were.

You want to be careful to strike a balance between stuff that’s taxing and stuff that’s not.

I can’t tell you what goals and projects you should be pursuing or focusing on – that’s your call. But I can tell you that you do yourself a service by looking at what pursuing that project will cost you.

Everything costs something. It’s just a good idea to spread out the costs. Combining a project that will be easy to make traction on with one that demands a little more of you can help you get farther over the long run.

That’s no fun, though. It’s human nature to resist that and say “No, but these three things are really important and I want to be working on them at the same time!”

If those three things are taxing in the same way, and they’re making demands on the same parts of your brain or your emotions, it may not matter how much you want it. It may simply not work.

There are ways to make it work, though. If you’re creative, there are ways to make taxing things not so taxing. And that’s the helpful part of assessing why they might be taxing in the first place. You can come up with solutions when you have that data.

So, just think about it. Maybe you can do a bunch of hard things at once. Or maybe you should spread them out and balance them with easier projects.

What matters is where you’ll be six months from now, not six weeks from now. When you look at a longer time horizon, it’s easier to decide what to do now, and what to do later. Life is long, even though it doesn’t feel that way a lot of the time.

Consider your choices. You’ll sleep easier after you do.

Now, go read the last post in this series.

All my best,

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