I love to automate.
Automate as many things as possible.
One truth that it’s really hard to wrap our head around is the fact that our mental resources are severely limited.
Each day, you have a limited supply of:
- Decision-making ability
- Emotional resilience
Once you are “spent” at the end of a day, your ability to produce good work and make quality decisions deteriorates rapidly.
This means that one key to productivity is to learn how to find the right kind of rest to recharge your batteries during the day.
But it also means that there’s great value in coming up with ways to keep your batteries from draining so dang fast in the first place. This strategy is our focus today.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
Chances are it’s all the small stuff that’s getting in the way of your ability to be effective.
Small decisions, little bouts of exertion, things that don’t seem like they make a difference. But there are lots of them.
Think about what happens when you wake up. Have you ever wrestled with the question what should I wear today?
It’s such a simple thing, but from time to time that question can get really involved:
- What do I have that is clean?
- Can I wear these shoes with this outfit?
- Does this look okay on me?
- Is it too hot outside to wear this? Too cold?
Before you’ve even turned to face the day, you’ve already started taxing your ability to focus and make decisions.
Then comes breakfast:
- What should I have?
- Should I eat it in the car?
- Should I stop and get something on the way to work?
- Where? McDonald’s? Dunkin Donuts?
- What should I get?
If you’re not careful, you could have easily made thirty worthless, insignificant decisions before you’ve had the chance to do anything important.
Automation and Routines
To maximize your ability to focus on the important things, you’re going to want to put as many trivial things on auto-pilot as possible.
Automating Your Wardrobe
For instance, instead of deciding what to wear every morning, you could come up with a schedule for what you will wear on what day of the week.
This allows you to select you very best, most versatile outfits and to wear those more often. It will also help you identify the items in your closet that shouldn’t even really by there, they’re not adding value to your life, just making your closet look cluttered.
On Mondays I wear my favorite button down with navy pants, brown shoes, and a brown belt.
Why? Because I decided that that’s what I would wear on Monday, and I have no reason to go back and tinker with a system that’s working.
Many successful people end up doing this and are even more extreme than having an outfit for every day one the week. They have just one or two outfits total. Steve Jobs favored a black turtleneck with blue Levi’s and white New Balances. Barack Obama chose between a charcoal and a navy suit everyday. Mark Zuckerberg wears mostly grey t-shirts.
Automating Your Meals
One of the interesting things that he recommends it to repeat meals as often as possible.
This is genius advice. Nobody wants to spend hours creating new meal plans every week, figuring out what needs to be bought, and then finally figuring out how to cook something new after a long, hard day.
The more you repeat things, the more familiar they become and the easier it is to produce those meals without thinking about it. You don’t spend any time meal planning because you already have a meal plan. You don’t spend much time shopping because you’re mostly buying the same things as last time. Cooking is a breeze because you’ve cooked the same meal three times this month.
Of course, there’s plenty of room for variety here, but the basis is repetition.
Since I started the diet (which I am following a bit more loosely now that I am happy with my weight), I’ve eaten pretty much the same thing for breakfast every morning: a three-egg omelette with shredded cheddar cheese, chopped scallions, and Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.
I call it the Buffalo Breakfast.
I guarantee it will keep you full until lunch time.
I’ve also developed a strange rule when it comes to lunches at work: if I forget my lunch, I skip lunch that day and go on a walk with a book instead.
It might sound crazy or extreme, but deciding where to go to get lunch is unpleasant. And eating out is unhealthy. And expensive. And driving is less healthy than walking.
Skipping a meal won’t hurt you. This is the first time in world history that over-nutrition has become a bigger problem in large populations than under-nutrition. Every single one of your ancestors ate way less food in their lifetime than you will.
Having a default decision made for the situation of forgetting my lunch keeps me from wasting time and valuable mental energy making a decision that would only hurt my health and my finances.
The Power of Routines
Not only can routines help you deal with all the trivial stuff, they can help with the important stuff too.
Sometimes it’s hard to sit down to do the important work. Fear and doubt often lead to indefinite procrastination and valuable time slips away.
But when your important work is part of a routine, it becomes much easier to sit down and do, because your environment tricks you into doing it.
Take my writing habit. I wish I felt inspired every day to write, but I don’t. I try to seize on those rare moments of inspiration when possible, but if I sat around and waited for them you wouldn’t be reading this article.
I get up at 6:17 every morning. My alarm wakes me up. One of the reasons why people rave about morning routines is that a good habit needs a trigger, and there are already plenty of triggers built into your morning. Chances are your alarm is one of them.
The first thing I do when I wake up is to read. Obviously you can skip this step, but I recommend that you read something. In his excellent book Essentialism, author Greg McKeown suggests starting your day with 20 minutes of reading a work of classic literature. Something like the Bible, or another religious text, or a piece of stoic philosophy. Anything written before our frantic modern era.
This is just how a normal day goes, I wake up, I read, I shower, I practice 5 different languages using an app, then I write, then I do.
You might not consider yourself to be a morning person, but the morning has several advantages. Not only do you have the built-in trigger of waking up, but you have a time where you are free from being reactive. There are no demands on your attention at 6:17 am unless you go looking for them.
As I once heard Tim Ferriss say on a podcast: “It’s easier to concentrate when the rest of the world is asleep.”
The other major advantage is that getting to work after a good night’s sleep ensures that you are refreshed and ready to perform. How often have you had intentions of doing things in the evening only to come home “beat” and ready to relax and unwind?
When you are trying to make progress, you can’t have your head buried in the minutia of the things that most people worry about.
The more of your life you put on autopilot, the more energy you have to break free of the relentless pull of mediocrity.