This is Why You’re Stuck in the Trenches (and, what you can do about it)



Our love/hate thing with the internet is that it’s always there. It’s there tucking us into bed at night with its blue-ish phone glow, it’s keeping us company on the toilet, and it’s helping us to find the last minute location details for the party tonight. But, this also means that there are always more tweets to queue, design tweaks to make, bugs to fix and support emails to answer. Oh, you should also update the ambassadors who shared your launch campaign last week and revise next quarter’s content strategy based on the current strategy’s performance. No big deal. Just more things to do.

But with more things to do comes more decisions. And, man, all that decision making is exhausting. Says Roy F. Baumeister,

“Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs or illicit sex… It’s the same willpower that you use to be polite or to wait your turn or to drag yourself out of bed or to hold off going to the bathroom. Your ability to make the right investment or hiring decision may be reduced simply because you expended some of your willpower earlier when you held your tongue in response to someone’s offensive remark or when you exerted yourself to get to the meeting on time.”

For us community professionals, as well as all others in people-centered roles, decision making fatigue is compounded by our emotional investment. Soon enough, we find it easier to do the mundane work rather than the hard, necessary strategic stuff. Decision making fatigue keeps us from climbing out the trenches to make moves that are more effective and efficient and that achieve greater results.

So, how we do overcome decision making intertia? The solution is simple: make less decisions. Have less decision making fatigue. Of course, easier said than done. And, ironically, making less decisions involves some upfront decisions with your team.

Decide how to decide.

Deciding how to make decisions is critical for getting work quickly and easily. That’s why it’s important to understand what you value as a company. What does success look like? You’ll need to benchmark these values against others.

For example, is it more important to have the best user experience possible for the end user, or is it higher priority to be able to manage the platform from the backend for data purposes? Are we more concerned with cost or efficiency? If cost is a concern, perhaps you’re more willing to forego specialized software to take a few hours to set up a manual excel script.

d72b6e23e2f9b86688d5ce945d250a46Here are some considerations:

  • user experience vs. management
  • cost vs. time
  • perfect vs. done
  • reach vs. authenticity
  • on-brand vs. collaborative
  • customer satisfaction vs. sales
  • bugs vs. product updates
  • speed vs. efficiency

There are so many more!

Decide in advance.

As much as possible, eliminate future decision making up front. Removing in-the-moment decision making helps to retain energy for strategic decisions.

Here is how:

  • templated email responses
  • crisis and contingency plans
  • protocol and process documentation
  • contributor and/or user guides
  • playbooks for repeatable company initiatives
  • brand, voice and copy guidelines
  • uniform work wear (just kidding! but, seriously, that’s a thing)

Again, are dozens of ways to make decisions in advance. Start out by identifying what small decisions you make everyday and figure out how to eliminate them.

Decide how much time is reasonable to decide.

As Collis Ta’eed wrote about on ZenHabits:

“Deadlines have a way of quickly prioritising things and revealing what is trivial and what is essential.”

If you give yourself less time to decide and stick to that timeline, you will surely decide faster. Try setting aside a short block of time first for strategic decisions, and then for later, small ones.

Decide for someone else to decide.

This is much easier for larger, more role-specific teams, though you don’t need to make every decision on your own. In fact, it’s often easy to allow someone else on your team to have final say on specific areas of decision making such as copy, design, timelines, etc. Don’t even think about it; just decide up front to delegate the decision and every time a decision in that zone comes up, delegate the decision making task. Done.

Now, that’s enough deciding about deciding. It’s worthwhile. As President Obama says:

“You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

  • Ryan Steinbach

    I feel this way about email. What is email? A bunch of small, but compounding decisions you need to make. I try to finish a “deep work” task before I dive into my email each day. If I don’t, I find myself pushing that task off.

    • sarahjuddwelch

      @ryansteinbach:disqus 100% agreed. I usually start out by answering any time sensitive emails or ones that are blocking movement for team members/partners (yes, no, feedback, etc.). Then do creative work, then do all the other emails. Important stuff first!

  • Christopher Martin

    I’ve found that setting an agenda for tasks to be accomplished at the beginning of every day is very useful for focusing on priorities. I use Evernote, and just have a notebook of “To Do” – when something doesn’t get checked off on a given day, I roll it over to the next day. “Sort and reply to email” is also booked for 30 minutes on my calendar, after which I try to only use email to accomplish other tasks. Absolutely agree that making decisions about how to decide is the key!

  • Creative Consultancies

    Great advice about making less decisions, particularly for any of us that are mothers who make a multitude of decisions daily, when you combine this with work it can be overwhelming! That’s why we focus on helping women find that inner balance with some specialised retreats we run.

    • sarahjuddwelch

      You are right! Such a great applications for motherhood.