Tag Archives: time management

4 Things You Need to Do to Be Happier

3 minutes to read

Some days I feel bombarded. It seems like everyone needs me to make a decision. Can we get another dog? Can we go to Knott’s Berry Farm this weekend? Can we have pizza for dinner tomorrow night? May I go to my friend’s house? No, no, no, yes. That should keep them satisfied for a few minutes. But it will start again soon, you know what I mean?

4 Things You Need to Do to Be Happier

 The Connection Between Choice and Happiness

When someone asks me a question I feel obligated to give it due consideration before answering. Then there’s all the decision that I initiate. Some days I barely make it to bedtime before collapsing. Others, well let’s just say it’s not pretty when I hit decision fatigue before my day is over.

Barry Schwartz, in his eye-opening book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, puts his finger on one of the central challenges of life. For much of human history, lack of choice has made people miserable. So it would seem the more choices we have the happier we’ll be. Turns out that too many choices decrease happiness.

Professor Schwartz identifies two tendencies: maximizing and satisficing. Maximizers strive for the best. Satisficers seek to meet self-defined criteria. When they do, they make the decision.

Wanting the best becomes ever more elusive as the number of choices increases. When you have three of four options, deciding on the best one can be straightforward. But when you have twenty, fifty, or even a hundred, comparison becomes impossible. Still, you have to make a choice. Whatever you do choose will leave you unhappy since you’ll have the niggling feeling something better is out there.

Satisficers tend to be happier because when their criteria are met they can move on without regret.

Limiting Choice to Be Happier

Understanding how choice affects happiness will help you to be happier. By reducing the number of choices you have to make you’ll reduce decision fatigue and leave more time for activities that increase happiness. Counterintuitively,

You can make choices on four levels:

Ignore. Some areas just don’t need your attention at all. I used to vote the proxies for every stock I own. But rarely is an issue decided against what the board recommends. Now I ignore them. Try ignoring a trivial choice that takes up too much time relative to the benefit you get. Then ignore one more.

Habituate.   By creating good habits you’ll be happier. Your health is a prime candidate for developing good habits. Have a set bedtime and wake-up time. Schedule regular times and routines for exercising. Focus your diet on healthy foods. This will improve your nutrition while cutting down on the time and number of decisions you have to make when shopping. Set regular visits to the dentist and an annual checkup. Set reminders on your cellphone and when pinged just do them.

Satisfice. Learn to accept good enough as the standard in most areas of your life. Do you actually need the best cellphone? Must you have the best body or children? Heretical! I know, especially for a Californian. But wouldn’t you and your family be happier?

Maximize. You don’t have to give up maximizing altogether. Save it for one or two of your passions. I maximize in my work and relationships. I want the best relationships I can have with my wife and daughter. So I do my best not to insist they be the best. When we argue you can bet I’ve violated this principle.

Combine Ignore ← Habituate ← Satisfice ← Maximize with the Three Pillars of Fitness.

Physical Realm → Health ∞ Finances ∞ Play

Mental Realm → Intellectual Challenge ∞ Social Engagement ∞ Emotional Soundness

Spiritual Realm → Family ∞ Life Purpose ∞ G-d

For each domain within each realm, examine what you need to do. Then decide whether you’ll ignore, habituate, satisfice, or maximize in that area. If you think you satisfice, try habituating a choice. You may be surprised how much you maximize. Being aware of this tendency will help you control the urge.

Living intentionally doesn’t require your making hundreds of decisions.

If you want to be happier, focus on deciding when you’ll exercise choice. Bringing clarity to when you choose will ease decision fatigue and give you more time to spend with who and what you really love.

Where do you unnecessarily maximize?

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How to Stop Working Too Much

Friends I haven’t seen in a long time usually ask what it’s like being in the Navy. Amid stories about Okinawa and an aircraft carrier, how my wife and daughter handle military life comes up. You know how tough families have it. At times my daughter didn’t see me for a week. I was out of the house before she woke up and didn't get home until after she went to bed. Of course, you don’t have to be in the military to be absorbed by work.

How to Stop Working Too Much?

Despite Surveys, Americans Work Too Much

A recent article in fastcompany.com carried the sub-headline, “A New National Study Finds Americans Work Reasonable Hours and Get Enough Sleep, Even if We Often Think Otherwise.” Based on the 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey, the article said, “The average full-time work week comes out at just a bit shy of 42 hours.”

Call me skeptical. But the data gathered is based on people’s recollections of how they spent the previous day. Do you remember the precise amount of time you spent sleeping, grooming, preparing meals and snacks, eating and drinking, driving to work, and working at your main job yesterday? Me either. The Internet and cell phones make us more productive. But they allow work to intrude into other activities. I suspect this didn't get factored in. The survey probably underreports work time by at least 10% to 20%.

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Set Boundaries to Help You Stop Working

Juggling navy duties, civilian work, and a 2-1/2 hour daily commute the past year, I’ve learned a few simple rules to reduce my working time:

  1. When told to take on another project or task, decline it. If that’s impractical, agree to “see that it gets handled” rather than “do it myself.”
  2. Delegate or rid yourself of all tasks except those only you can do. It may not be as hard as you think. Often coworkers would love to tackle something on your to-do list because it’s more interesting than their regular duties. Other tasks can sit uncompleted and no one will notice.
  3. Take care of loose ends before leaving work or on the drive home. Normal home cell phone mode should be off (or muted if you have to respond to emergencies), especially during meals.
  4. When you get home, leave your work in the car, mentally that is. No sense tempting fate by leaving your computer where it might get stolen.
  5. If you have to work at home, have a set place and time for doing so. You can complete your tasks more quickly without interruptions.

While the 40-hour workweek is much maligned, I think it makes a lot of sense. With only 168 hours in a week, at least 49 of which should be spent sleeping, working 40 hours takes up a third of your waking hours. Wouldn’t it be nice to confine them to 9 to 5? But there’s no use pining for what once was.

Hopefully, you’re not intent on having your tombstone read, “Worked Massive Numbers of Hours.” (If you are, please contact me immediately!) By learning to restrict your work you’ll find much more worthy words to place on it, and most likely have many more years before they have to be placed.

How many hours a week do you work? 

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I Bet Your Life is Nothing Like a Marathon

Popular as it is in personal development circles to equate life to a marathon (I’ve done so in the past), the comparison falls apart when you look more closely. Consider, where else in life do you have three to five months to prepare for an event that will last for five to eight hours after which you take one to four weeks off? In your work, marriage, raising children? Not even close.

Useless goals take you to places you don't want to go

A Marathon Isn't Real Life

I’ve been souring on the metaphor of life being a marathon for a while. During the lead up to the Los Angeles marathon, several people asked me if I would be running it. I jokingly said no, my wife won’t let me (well, I did promise her I wouldn’t take up ultra marathons as a result of reading Born to Run). But I watched a couple colleagues prepare for the race.

One had recently come through a life-threatening health challenge and used the goal of running a marathon to get back into shape and prove to herself she had completely recovered. The other confessed he had no idea why he was running it. Both trained for months, racking up tens of miles a week.

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They both finished the race with respectable times. Yet the race took such a heavy toll neither made it to work the following day. Pain from racing troubled them for days afterward. As you might guess, the first felt it was worth it since she had reached her goal. The second still wasn’t sure why he had bothered.

Plan and Train < 50%, Execute > 50%

In a corollary to Peter Drucker’s famous saying, “There is Nothing Quite So Useless as Doing with Great Efficiency Something that Should Not Be Done at All,” I would add:

If you’re going to spend four to six months attaining a goal, be sure it aligns with your life’s purpose. Otherwise, drop it and focus on one that does.

Recognize life is not a marathon. If you want a running metaphor, it’s like being a sprinter: Series of wind sprints for training interspersed with race days. Rarely do you have the luxury of months of preparation. Yet you can be called on virtually at a moment’s notice to give absolutely peak performance.

As well, taking so much time to plan and practice without using the skills in a real situation puts too much emphasis on those few race days. You’re better off consistently putting into practice what you are working to develop so you can pinpoint your training toward areas that most need improvement.

My advice. Forget running a marathon. Don’t practice living 70% to 80% of the time. Plan and prepare when you can. But place your focus firmly on living life now.

What goal should you jettison to pursue something more meaningful? 

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Book Review: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Being overwhelmed can be beneficial if it leads you to understand you cannot have it all. Steeped in this fallacious boosterism throughout the 1970s and 1980s, baby boomers, in particular, swallowed it hook, line, and sinker to their unending frustration. Only by contracting out such difficult responsibilities like child rearing have many been able to fool themselves into believing they can have it all.

While generally skeptical of the idea that I could have it all, only after years of slow business growth, lack of satisfaction in my interpersonal relationships, and spiritual emptiness was I convinced about its mendacity. When I narrowed my focus I made meaningful progress. My journey as an Intentionalist began.

So when one of my Facebook fans recommended Greg McKeown’s new book Essentialiam: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less I ordered a copy right away.

Highly readable, the book makes its case for becoming an Essentialist. McKeown sets forth a three-step process through which you explore what is essential in your life, eliminate the nonessential, and execute the vital few things you identified in the first step.

Steeped as I am in living intentionally, I have already integrated two new practices and identified a third to work on down the road. One of the practices is based on McKeown’s assertion when deciding whether to take an opportunity, “If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.” True enough. But the simple evaluative tool he presents on page 111 turns his stock phrase into an actionable habit.

He unmasks such unprofitable beliefs as sunk-cost bias whereby people continue to invest in a project long after knowing it is a losing proposition simply because they have invested so much already. This and other insights into human nature will help you identify and change behaviors that impede your becoming an Intentionalist.

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I have two criticisms. The first, though perhaps minor, comes from a book design issue. Several pages are highlighted through reverse printing: white text on black pages. While this technique is effective for sectional title pages, the regular text printed this way bleeds to almost illegibility.

The second is more substantial. McKeown seems to be advocating the minimalist perspective, popular among a subset of Gen Xers and Millennials. While I find nothing inherently wrong with this philosophy (it is a refreshing counterpoint to the ubiquity of marketing in today’s society) I see Essentialism more broadly as a methodology for pursuing Intentionalism, be it minimalistically or expansively.

This reservation aside, I recommend Essentialism as a valuable tool in your pursuit of being an Intentionalist.

How do you determine which opportunities to embrace

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How to Be Decisive

Do you sometimes feel like the indecisive vultures from Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book?

Buzzie:  Hey Flaps, what are we gonna do?

Flaps:  I don't know, what you wanna do?

Military life involves lots of decision making.  And while it may seem that decisiveness increases with higher rank, decisions are more difficult when they affect more people.  So I spend a lot of time helping people at all levels when they struggle to decide something.

As an entrepreneur and sole owner of my company, I determined strategic direction with little input from others.  Then I delegated operational and tactical decisions to my staff.  If I were commanding a squadron or a ship the process would be similar.  But as a chaplain, achieving a consensus of other chaplains and senior enlisted people is crucial.  This process feels less decisive to me but in the long-term is more efficient for getting work done.

This all demonstrates that:

Decisiveness comes from understanding the importance of a decision before you begin deliberating.

These three questions can be quantified quickly and will aid you in determining the gravity of the decision you face:

  1. How important is the decision?  Most decisions are not life or death.  A decision’s place in the continuum from minor to major can be determined by asking:
    1. Who and/or how many people are affected by this decision?  As the closeness of your relationship and/or the number of people affected increases so do the repercussions.
    2. What is at stake?  When the cost to your relationships and financial, mental, and spiritual wellbeing, or that of your organization, gets bigger so does the gravity of your decision.  As the risk to life and property rises, there is a greater need to gather input from others.
  2. What is the context of the decision?  Lengthy deliberations and getting input on choices may be appropriate but:
    1. How crucial is the time factor?  Will you lose the opportunity if the decision is delayed?
    2. How will you implement it?  A military chain of command and a board of directors of a nonprofit are poles apart in making and executing decisions.  The latter generally requires significantly more buy-in from stakeholders.
  3. What are the consequences of a wrong decision?  While the results of your decision may seem permanent, rarely is that the case.  In reality, what is the cost to set things right?

Not only will answering these questions help you decide how much effort to put into a decision, it will also reveal other people with whom you should consult if necessary.  This information enables you to take the next step.

Decisive people self-impose a deadline for deciding.

Having assessed the situation, you can conclude whether:

  1. No decision is necessary.
  2. You must decide immediately, or
  3. The amount of time you should use in the event you rejected options 1 and 2.
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Like so many things, decisiveness comes with practice.  Take every opportunity.  If your family needs to decide where to go out for dinner and all are saying they don’t care, seize the opportunity and decide.  When you are not the ultimate decision maker, offer a reasoned recommendation to the person who will.

Apply this three-step process:

  1. Assess the importance.
  2. Set a deadline.
  3. Make the decision, if necessary.

It will become second nature.  You will also find that most of the decisions you have to make are not so consequential, thereby requiring far less time and anxiety.

Whether in your personal, family, work, or communal life, the time you spend deciding subtracts from the time you spend doing.  In the final analysis, the purpose of making a decision is so you can get on with your life. So . . .

What prevents you from being decisive?

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