ProduKtive Blog

Decision Triage – Invest Time in Critical Decisions and Save Time on Trivial Ones

Aug 31, 2017 | Productivity, The ONE Thing

Every now and then, the advice that sticks is the advice that arrives sideways. It surprises you. I was reading an investing book called Set for Life by my friend Scott Trench, soaking up his wonderfully aggressive advice on saving money. I was underlining passages, taking notes, and filing everything under typical categories like “expense management,” “wealth building,” and “saving money.” Then I stumbled on some unexpected advice for saving time that’s had me thinking about the book ever since.

Trench suggests that successful people don’t invest time in trivial decisions, they invest it where it counts.  He explains, “The vast majority of decisions that are made on a day-to day basis are fairly trivial. Yet, sometimes these small decisions can take up a tremendous amount of time.” For example, it can sometimes take as much time to pick a show to watch on Netflix as does to actually watch a show on Netflix.

This problem resonated with me. After all, I had experienced it with my daughter. Getting her dressed for kindergarten was a nightmare. Socks didn’t feel right. The decision between shorts or leggings felt like a car purchase. It easily ate up 20-30 minutes a day – and all of my patience. That is until my wife suggested we lay out her clothes at bedtime. Somehow, just changing when we made the decision made it effortless for her. My mornings got a lot better, and so did hers.

So when are we being a capricious kindergartner with decisions that simply don’t matter?

Most of us have struggled with these trivial decisions at some point or another in our lives, whether we’re standing in front of our closets unable to decide which shirt to put on, in limbo over which show to watch, or re-reading the menu multiple times, unsure about which sandwich appeals to us the most. What’s trivial to me, may not be for you. Just define trivial as a decision where the difference between good and great is meaningless. This time adds up quickly – we often don’t realize we’re spending two or more hours each week on them. Taken over the course of a year, these unimportant, yet time consuming, decisions equate to roughly two full work weeks a year. That’s two weeks dedicated to decisions that don’t give us progress or inherently contain joy.

Not only are these insignificant decisions fail to improve our lives, they actually harm our productivity. Getting caught up in the little things, instead of knocking down the dominoes that lead us to accomplishing our big goals, is not productivity at its finest. Rather, it’s a time thief hindering our ability to get the things that truly matter done.

When I’m at my best, I prioritize my decisions. Like a nurse in the ER, I assess what’s critical and what’s not. For the stuff that truly doesn’t matter — movies to watch, restaurants to try, destinations I want to visit and even stuff I need to buy at target — I maintain lists using Wunderlist. That way I can jot down stuff when I hear a good recommendation or simply think of it. It takes seconds. And then when I need to make decisions in the areas, I can make them efficiently. Other friends have shared their strategies like prepping meals on Sunday, tagging books to read in GoodReads and even grownups that lay out their clothes at night.

What tricks of the trade have you implemented in your life to avoid wasting time on inconsequential decisions? Click over to our Facebook page and let us know!

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