Would it surprise you to know that we make approximately 35,000 choices every day? Once you factor in the amount of time we spend sleeping, that means that we are making thousands of decisions every hour. It’s no wonder that we are exhausted at the end of every day.
There are many ways people make decisions in every moment. What I find interesting is that so many of us are willing to hand over those decisions to others. Rather than making a conscious decision, we (subconsciously decide to) answer to whomever or whatever is immediately before us.
Part of being a skilled attorney is the ability to answer to many masters and juggle various projects all at once. But what I often see is that when those masters ratchet up the heat and those juggling balls become flaming wands, all decision-making goes out the door. Instead, in that instance, we hand over our agency, put our heads down, and just keep taking the blows.
In those moments, it may feel like you don’t have a choice. That this is just part of the job. But the truth is that you are making a choice in that moment–to answer the phone, to say yes to that new project, to respond to that email. You are choosing to allow whatever is in front of you to slide into the front of your priority line.
The nature of having various projects on your desk at any given time is that you are going to have to make decisions about which projects to handle first and where new projects fall with respect to your already strained attention. When we allow our project list and the demands of those around us to overwhelm us, we wear out our resolve. We simply run out of clear-thinking. At that point, we just keep drinking from the fire hose until it calms down.
What I offer is a different choice: put in the legwork ahead of time to minimize the decisions to be made in any given moment.
We make decisions ahead of time so that there is no decision to be made in the heat of the moment or, if there is a decision to be made, it is simplified. This means planning in advance from our prefrontal cortex (i.e., fully functioning, good decision-making adult-y brain) instead of allowing our primitive brain (i.e., a tantrum-y, capricious, toddler brain) to make any decisions whatsoever. With my weight loss clients, this means planning meals in advance. For my other clients, this means setting priorities and scheduling each of our to-do list items on our calendars.
We know that work is going to get crazy and we make decisions ahead of time what gets our attention that day; we don’t invite the toddler to the dumpster fire.
When we go into each month, each week, and each day, knowing our priorities, we can get to work the minute we sit down.
There is no need to agonize over the to-do list or make ANY decisions about what you are going to work on or when you are going to check your email. We’ve already decided what is important and everything else has gotten it’s own place on our calendar. There is no decision-fatigue because the most important decision of the day has been made: where we are going to focus our energy.
Having avoided that decision-fatigue you will have the energy to re-evaluate any new project or fire that comes your way. For each item presented to you for your attention, you can decide:
How does this compare to my priority for the day? Is it consistent with my priority? Why or why not? Does this new project require heightened priority?
Those are the only decisions to be made. We don’t have to step into the pool of overwhelm about all the other projects on our list; we don’t even have to look at the whole list. The only metric for comparison in that moment is your priority for the day.
If the new project conflicts with your priority and there is no justification for reshuffling priorities, then you either don’t take the new project or you decide if you have other open time on your calendar for that project. When our priorities are clear and when our non-priorities are scheduled out on our calendars, we know exactly how much availability we have and we know exactly whether we will be able to fit in anything new.
This approach does not allow room for: When am I going to get this all done?! I can’t say no to this project. I’m never going to have enough time!
If you find your days regularly hi-jacked by surprise projects and feel overwhelmed by your to-do list, I encourage you to implement mechanisms to start minimizing the decisions you make in every moment. That will require you to get clear on your project list–What is a priority? What are the real deadlines? What can wait? Do I have to say yes to this?
Set priorities in anticipation of the chaos that comes with practicing law.
You will get pulled in various directions.
You will be challenged to “do it all.”
Don’t hand over your power.
Don’t offer your day to the mercy of others. Make decisions about your time and your priorities and evaluate everything else from there. Make decisions ahead of time so that you are better equipped to make decisions in the moment.
Need support getting your daily practice in order? I offer three free sessions every week to get you back on track–sign up now before they are gone.
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