Michael Adams

Trying to make each day better than the last and writing about it.

Author: Michael Adams (page 1 of 32)

How to Overcome Decision Paralysis

I make a lot of decisions. Some are HUGE. Some, tiny. For example:

  • What am I going to have for lunch?
  • Should I run or lift?
  • What should my workout be?
  • Should I watch Law & Order now?
  • Oh, a new Chicago Fire? That’s next.
  • Should I call Grandma?
  • Where do I want to go on vacation?
  • I wonder how Drew & Paula are doing?
  • Were there any new jobs posted?
  • I need to ship that order. Oh look sunglasses.

Sure, you could call this brain pong — but, really it’s just a look into all the decisions randomly dispersed over the course of my day.

Each decision takes effort.

Should you forget about it? Act on it? Delegate it? You mean I have to make a decision to make a decision? Yes.

Even this blog post was a decision.

I hadn’t written in a couple months.  My blog was quiet. And I know a lot of people don’t read this, but I don’t write for readers. I write for myself. It helps me process what I’m thinking.

And I’ve been thinking a lot lately.

About my company, happiness, priorities,  relationships, and health.  Some of that list has been bearing down on me for months. (You know, the “What the heck am I doing with my life?” questions.)

This paralyzed my brain.

It’s hard to eliminate some decisions because, to make sure you’re making the right decision, you solicit feedback from others (your family & friends).

This makes the decision complex.

Mom said this. Sara said this. Brittany said this. Ryan said this.

So, I thought I’d take some time to write down what I’m doing to eliminate decision paralysis (after all, it’s incredibly important to make decisions). Because something has to happen. Whenever I’m pressed with a decision that affects my life one of two things happen: I either push it off — or worse — don’t make the decision at all.

5 strategies to overcome decision paralysis

1. Talk to less people

Less is definitely more. When I’m having trouble making a decision, I call the people best suited for the situation. Maximum people allowed to give me their two cents? Three. The more people I talk to, the more opinions. The more opinions, the harder the decision gets. Talk less, listen more. Make up your mind.

2. Runs on auto-pilot

My morning is a well-oiled machine. From 6am – 9am, I know what I’m doing — and it doesn’t change. This eliminates any decisions. Curious what it looks like?

  • 6:00 – wake up, stretch, get ready for the gym
  • 6:30 – 7:30 – gym time
  • 7:30 – 8:00 – get stuck in traffic & shower
  • 8:00 – 8:30 – Breakfast and make to-do list for the day (no laptop)
  • 8:30 – 9:00 – Email – then pause inbox

After 9:00, I hammer through my list. However, I lose structure given meetings, phone calls, deliveries, etc.  (Oh, random cravings for dark chocolate).

I’m trying to bring structure to the rest of my day. Choosing a time I “go home”, go to bed (usually 10pm), and what my life looks like after work (which never ends for a small business owner).

3.  Eliminate options

I only buy American Eagle jeans. Yes, I’m 26, but they fit great – and they’re affordable. I (try to) only shop at Price Chopper. It’s familiar and I’m out in 10 minutes since I buy the same groceries every week. I watch four TV shows on Hulu Plus because I don’t have cable. They are all scheduled into my week.

These are easy decisions.

I’ve trained my brain to think there is nothing else. Yes, I could shop at Hannaford or Trader Joe’s (their chocolate-covered turbinado sugar coated almonds are addicting), but shopping at Price Chopper down the road wins out every time.  I could buy other jeans, but it’d take too much time to find the cut and size that fits – at the right price. Speaking of time….

4. Ask for help

Whenever I find myself stuck on a problem or thinking “I wonder if…..” I just ask. There are no stupid questions. And I reach a decision faster.  This means picking up the phone and calling. Or simply asking the produce guy where the bathroom is. The more time you spend thinking about making a decision, the more you waste on things that are more important to you (like friends & family). Why do you think Simon Cowell only wears black t-shirts?

5. Plan ahead

I know what’s coming up this week, so I plan to make decisions. Those decisions are sometimes scheduled in my Google Calendar. Some are recurring – others spontaneous. For example, I travel a lot on the weekends. Meals are always a decision. So, I find restaurants I’m going to or buy all my meals at the grocery store. Now, I’m not only prepared for the weekend, but I’m not tempted by the food at all these festivals.

What do you do to help yourself make decisions?

Photo courtesy of JakeCaptive

The 3 Productivity Hacks I’m Using to Get More Work Done

Do you hate the feeling of being overwhelmed?

I hate it. There’s lots to do at work, people to follow up with, friends to hang out with, kids to pick up from school, gym, eating healthy. All that stuff adds up. I’m sure you’ve battled it at least once.

The unfortunate circumstance of being overwhelmed is the feeling of getting nothing done. Sure, I do things. but they aren’t moving me – or my business – forward. Something had to change.

First, I identified why I was unproductive:

  • Email
  • Phone notifications
  • Not having a to-do list

Then, I went in search of a solution to help me control these 3 “triggers”.

Let’s tackle each of them using a system (because you all know I’m type A): situation, problem, and the solution I’ve found to help me (albeit some of them simple).

1. I hate my inbox.

Up until last week, my inbox owned me. The 60-80 emails I get each day controlled my every move during the work day. The little window that slides across my monitor saying I have a new message made me feel like one of the dogs in Pavlov’s dog experiment.

I’d click on it immediately.

But, what I found was that 8 out of 10 times, the email was useless. Maybe a sale on Express shirts I haven’t purchased in years, a Vistaprint sale on business cards, or some daily newsletter I signed up for 7 years ago.

And only on occasion would I get email I’d have to take action on. Maybe 5-10 a day required a response. The lesson? Email was taking over my day. This created a false sense of productivity.

Going through emails does not equal getting work done.

I started to research what I could do about. I wanted to find a solution that is easy to use and didn’t require me to create a new habit. Ironically, as I was wasting more time browsing Facebook, I stumbled on an article my friend Matt Wilson from Under30CEO wrote about email hacks.

In the article he wrote about InboxPause, a Gmail app that pauses your inbox so no new email can’t come in. After installed, simply click the blue “Pause” button and incoming emails get sent a hidden folder until you un-pause your inbox.

This has changed my life.

Inboxpause helped me:

  1. Check my email 4-5 times a day (working on making this 2 times)
  2. Process 50-60 emails in 15 minutes
  3. Get work done to move my business forward – not spin my wheels.
  4. Respond to people when I want to respond.

Give InboxPause a try. For the app haters (cough – Dad – cough) you could also log-out and back in to your inbox. However, to me, that’s not the same thing. I still would like access to my inbox to process what’s already in there while no new email is coming in. It’s batch processing and I’m falling in love with it.

2.  Phone notifications

Ok – so this isn’t a hack. It’s just helped me. And I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. Last week, I shut off all the notifications to my phone except for text messages and phone calls.

The result: I love the silence.

Yes, I could put my phone on silent (which is what I had been doing) but then I miss phone calls and text (some important) from friends, family, and my kitchen manager.  I’ve had to scramble to solve several time-sensitive problems recently.

While I still have some Facebook notifications popping up (rather mysteriously, I might add), I’ve eliminated everything else. No twitter, Instagram, email, map, or calendar notifications. My phone is on and it alerts me when it needs to. I have less of an urge to pull my phone out of my pocket. And you know what? I’m less stressed. Before, I’d see a handful of emails, someone writing on my wall, and maybe a comment on Instagram. I’d feel the need to respond. Now, I don’t. And I love it.

In summary, I made my phone 90% dumb and 10% smart – because that’s how smart it needs to be.

3.  No to-do list

As a small business owner, there are a million things to do. And sometimes that feels like an understatement. One way productivity experts say to get more done is write a to-do list.

I tried that. And figured out I was doing it all wrong.

Months ago when I was on a to-do list kick, I’d write page and a half long to-do lists. I called them weekly lists so that what was on the page (which was usually 2 columns) would get done within the week.

But that just stressed me out.

The plan I’m working to implement now:

  • I hand-write a to-do list in my notebook for each day.
  • My list is no longer than 15 items.
  • The list includes 3 priority (or $ generating) items.
  • I write the time I’m going to stop working.
  • Tomorrow’s to-do list gets done at the end of the day.

And now, the reasons behind why my to-do list is so rigid:

1. Why I hand-write:

Writing commits your to-do list to memory because you read it over and over again. Plus, all we seem to do is type on our computers these days. Hand writing is falling by the wayside. My notebook stays right next to me all day. I use it to cross off to-do’s take notes during phone calls, and scribble down thoughts to mull over later. During the workday, it never leaves my side.

2. Why my to-do list is limited to 15 items

Big lists are, well, big. They’re intimidating. And beastly. I limit my list to 15 tasks because that’s enough to get done in a 9-10 hour day. Some are big, some are small. Some get completed in a couple minutes and some require a car trip. 15 is manageable for me so I’m going to stick to it and see how it goes.

3.  Why I include 3 revenue-generating items

I could easily fill my to-do list with 15 tasks that will not make me any money. Or I could mix in tasks that either bring me closer to making money – or make me money. This could be sending invoices, doing follow up calls, or managing Facebook ads. Most of the time these are the prioritized items unless an administrative task is time-sensitive.

4. Why I write when I’m going to be done

I work a lot. In fact, I work too much. The old “unproductive” me used to send emails at any time of day, work from 5am-11pm because I felt like I got nothing done. Plus, I left no time to relax. To think. To laugh. And to have fun. Being productive isn’t about working long hours. It’s about getting the most done in the limited time you have to do it. That means, if I write down 7:00pm (which includes breaks for lunch and dinner), I’ll have a set amount of hours to conquer my to-do list. And sometimes I write 3:00pm as a challenge – so that I can take the afternoon off (ok – I’m kidding – I’m still working on that).

5. Why tomorrow’s to-do list gets done today

I used to wake up in the morning, hit the gym, take a shower, eat breakfast, and sit down to my laptop without a thought to what was going to get done today. Now. I try to make a list the night before that is at least 5 tasks long and includes 1 priority item to get me started for the day with some “quick wins”. I’m still getting into the habit of this and hope to have it down in a couple weeks.

So that’s how I’m increasing my productivity. While it largely centers around a rules-based to-do list, InboxPause has mad the biggest difference in my productivity.

What about you? How do you get more work done?

Photo courtesy of Flickr 


My Dad Has Been Trying to Teach Me This for 26 Years. I Finally Get it.

It only took 26 years.

My Dad complains the only reason people call him is when they have a problem or need advice. I’ll be the first to admit that’s pretty much true. I mean, there have been a couple times I called him to celebrate in ridiculous excitement (because Mom didn’t pick up the phone), but he’s right. Most of the time, I have a problem. Some are stupid. Some are crushing. And some are legit “how-the-heck-do you-(insert problem here)?”

I’m conditioned to ask my parents for help. (Damn you, millennial tendencies).

My immediate reaction when I have a problem I can’t solve is “DAAAAAD!” Am I right? Seriously. I think every child and young adult goes through this — and some daily. We automatically throw our problems onto someone else to solve. In short, we give up. I give up. And I shouldn’t.

I want to tell you a story.

When I signed the lease on my apartment two years ago, I bought a couch. When the couch came in, I brought my Dad to get it from the factory back to my apartment. We drove the SVU over together and I helped him load it into the back of the car.

But, how was the couch going to stay in the car?

Knot tying blows my mind. And (from his college sailing days) my Dad knows every knot. Me on the other hand?

I can tie my shoes.

He got down on the ground to tie a trucker’s hitch – in fact, multiple – to the car. A couple huge loops around the roof-rack and through the car to finish up and we were good to go. When he was tying the trucker’s hitch, I said something I always think about when I call him with a problem:

“Dad, if you were hit by a truck right now, I would be so screwed. I don’t know any of this stuff.”

He looks at me with a smile on his face. “Yep.”

This goes beyond knots.  It includes all the stuff he knows about solving life’s problems. Like, McGuyver stuff. You know, all those school projects our parents helped build, all the car maintenance, and even simple tasks.

Let me tell you another story.

Last week, I traveled to NYC with my parents on “business” (aka eat the biggest gyro of my life). The first morning, I went to take a shower. The shower was ancient. It had 4 knobs to turn. Without hesitation, I yelled “Dad, how the heck do you turn the shower on? There’s 4 knobs!”

“Just think” he yells back.

I stared at the four knobs (granted, I didn’t have my contacts in so I couldn’t read a thing). A couple seconds later it hit me. The top two knobs were hot and cold for the shower head. The bottom two? Hot and cold for the bathtub part. It was a successful shower.

The bigger lesson hit me when I got home. I could eliminate nearly half the calls to both of my parents if I just thought about it first. It sounds stupid and well, it is. But, seriously.

Think about it.

Whatever the problem, try to solve it first before you call anyone. Because, you know what? There’s going to come a time where your parents (who by default know absolutely everything between the two of them) aren’t there to solve your problems.

And to those who haven’t grown up with Mom, Dad, or either parent, you kick some serious butt every day. You’re the best problem solver out there. I think we use our parent’s as a crutch to get ourselves through life. (Mom and Dad, I’m still coming over for dinner – especially when steak is involved).

Since things are always better in three, here’s my final story:

Last night, my vacuum stopped working. Through hell or high water was I going to use the hose extension to vacuum my apartment. I reached for my phone. I could hear the conversation playing through in my head “Dad, my vaccuum’s broken. What the hell.” “What’s wrong with it?” “It won’t vacuum.”

I mentally slapped myself in the face. You moron. That won’t help at all.

I flipped the vacuum over and checked to see if the brush was clogged. Nope. Then, I noticed 2 screws holding the bottom together. I got my screwdriver and loosened the screws. The cover was not coming off. Turns out I missed three screws. Ok, the cover is off.

I unclog a couple parts and then see the belt. It’s broken. Now I know that if the motor in the vacuum is running, it’s probably a clog or a broken belt. Broken vacuum belt. “Dad, how do I…..” — No. I was so close. I was going to solve this by myself.

Hello, Google!

“Broken vacuum belt” — TADA! It showed me how to replace the belt, how much it’s going to cost (~$4) and where to buy them. Thank you, Google. You’re like my Dad, but digital.   (Not quite).

I scribbled the part number down, the vacuum brand and the model number. I’m all set for a trip to the hardware store in the morning to solve the whole broken vacuum problem. And Dad wasn’t needed. Boom!

So, what’s the point here?

I hope you don’t think the point here is that I’m an idiot. Yes, I should know how to solve these everyday problems. But there comes a time when I don’t know how to solve a problem.

For 26 years, my parents have been trying to teach me to JUST THINK. You have a problem? Solve it. Other people won’t be there for you all of the time. Soak it all up when you can. Know that a tire should be at 30-35 PSI. Know how to fix a vacuum belt. And know how to design a boat to win your kid’s 5th grade boat race. Think about it.

I know this sounds simple. But, all too often, I want to throw my hands up in the air and quit. The problem has beat me. Time to call my parents. They’ll know what do. Well now, I’m going to consciously try to beat the problem.

Photo courtesy of Martin Abegglen


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