Fast decision making is the only productivity hack you need

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This is an issue of my newsletter focusing on the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, particularly remote work, online economy, and cognitive load.
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Have you ever had the experience of total clarity? That feeling of knowing exactly what to do and how to do it? If I can unlock that state for at least a couple of hours, I know I can get a month’s worth of work done during that time.

Highly productive people are not born superhuman (except Elon, who clearly came from another planet and now builds rockets to get back home). Nor do they spend their time chasing the latest note-taking tools or memorizing keyboard shortcuts. They don’t open their chakras or use secret Nepali meditation techniques.

All you need to unlock 50x output for yourself or others is to make decisions much, much faster.

Yes, there are critical decisions with long-lasting consequences that it pays to analyze for days. But, there are also decisions like picking your transcontinental flight to maximize the award miles that probably shouldn’t take 7+ hours of your time. And yet, I fall into this trap frequently. That’s why this post is as much a reminder to myself as it is advice to you.

All intellectual work boils down to decisions, big or small – even email, yet-another-DM-chain, or a request from your boss. What to do with the study? Should we publish that information, do we pay for the Docker Desktop license, and so on.

Most of the decisions are trivial and inconsequential, and you are better off making any call because indecision has its consequences, too.

Normalizing Inaction

If the decision is blocking – you cannot proceed until it is made. But it also normalizes inaction and sitting idle.

Preparing for both options is 90% less effective because if will make you work without conviction. Your brain will seek every opportunity to wiggle out of this situation like a floppy fish straight out of waters of productivity.

Procrastination

Do you often procrastinate about stuff you want to do? How often about that thing that you kind of don’t wanna?

Sure, it may be intellectually evident that you have to tackle that thing at some point, but is now really the time? Maybe future me can tackle that? What if I…

Procrastination is your brain saying, “If you can’t be bothered to make that call, I am not willing to do my part“.

It works down to the tiniest level. If I don’t know what to write in the next sentence – I will open Facebook reflexively, in a vain hope to find some “inspiration”. Once you make a clear decision if, when, and how to do the thing, you will magically stop procrastinating.

An entire crop of productivity techniques center around making you answer that when question – Inbox Zero, Pomodoro, and a plain old calendar.

Zeigarnik Effect

Putting off a decision not only blocks your progress and makes you procrastinate – it also makes you less effective at other tasks.

An unresolved decision or a task will siphon away your mental resources until the task is “done”, effectively living rent-free in your brain until you are done with it. It is quite possible to put off so many decisions that any progress on any task becomes impossible.

How to be faster at making decisions

I recommend starting with asking yourself a question:

What is a decision here, and how important is it?

That simple act will make you clarify the tradeoff, and realize that most of them don’t matter. You can prioritize making the call quickly instead of marinating in it.

How you can be a better leader

Get better at making decisions quickly. You will save your team from the downsides of indecision, multiplying their effectiveness. Some leaders will drag the decision-making process out of politeness or include too many stakeholders to make them feel heard. Remember the cost of indecision.

How to make Decisions

In a related article about Decision-Making, David shares a more thorough process:

If the decision doesn’t matter much, just pick something, more or less at random. Eliminate any options that are obviously worse than another. Like, if you’re being offered £200 or £300 you don’t need to think hard to pick the £300. Identify pairs of options that are obviously more or less equivalent to eachother and randomly discard one of them. Don’t spend too much effort on eliminating options. Spend only as much effort on improving your knowledge of the situation as the situation warrants. If after you’ve done that it’s still not obvious what to do from the remaining options, deploy whimsy and gut feel

I would kick myself if I didn’t include this quote:

People think that the best decision making approach given n items is to choose the best item. This is foolish and wrong, which is why the entirety of economics is based on this theory.

Surprising Things

Indian Villagers react to the true scale of the universe

In this hilarious video, you can watch people from Indian villages react to the depictions of the scale of the universe. The entire premise of the Common Man Show channel seems to be exposing rural Indians to new knowledge and western culture, with funny effects.

Starbucks, Monetary Superpower

Whenever you use Starbucks’ app with a preloaded balance, you lend the company money interest-free. It made them $155 Million in 2019. John digs deep into this process in his article.

Starbucks has around $1.6 billion in stored value card liabilities outstanding. This represents the sum of all physical gift cards held in customer’s wallets as well as the digital value of electronic balances held in the Starbucks Mobile App.* It amounts to ~6% of all of the company’s liabilities.

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I write about the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, focusing on remote work, online economy, and cognitive load. Every monday.

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