Two seconds after hopping into the car, the phone gets turned on.
While it's powering up, I get a short window to ask, "How was your day?" which she responds to courteously, but in short, clipped sentences. It's obvious she cannot wait to look down into her lap. Then she starts taking pictures. Random pictures of the side-view mirror, the glove compartment, the sky …
"What in the heck are you doing?"
"I'm doing my streaks," she says.
At least I understood what a streak was. Streaks are a ‘thing' on SnapChat. When kids message each other every day, they are ‘streaking.' What I didn't know was it doesn't matter if she sends a picture of the inside of her pocket. It matters that she sends a photo every day so as not to break the streak she has with her friend.
I'd heard an expert warn how these streaks can be stressful on teens. Some even give their passwords away to friends when they realize they won't have access to their phone so their friend can log into their account and keep their streak alive.
Curious to gauge if my daughter also experiences this pressure, I ask her how long her streak is. She informs me that of the 13 streaks she has going, the longest one is over three months old. This, she tells me, is child's play. Many go on for years.
Worried, I ask, "Isn't that stressful having all those streaks?"
"Actually, for me, it's relaxing. It's sorta mindless. Although I don't care if they break, when a streak continues, it feels like you've accomplished something and I guess that's what makes it fun… mindless accomplishment. I know that probably sounds stupid."
When put that way, it doesn't sound stupid at all.
What I thought would be a conversation about social media and its detriments (Not to worry, that blog post is coming in a few weeks!), turned into a curious conversation about decision making, time management, perfectionism, and the brain.
Yes… they are all related in this case because it's our brains' fault. (Don't you love it when our shortcomings can be blamed on biology?!)
But why should we care?
An essential trait of leadership is being a decisive decision maker. We don't admire the clueless leader who waffles or is uncertain. Therefore, we need to understand what is going on with our brain so we can take back control.
We all enjoy escapist behavior. Isn't that why we watch cat videos? It doesn't matter what age you are, whether you are 50 or 15, whether you are male or female, whether you are on social media or not, we all get distracted. We all procrastinate. We all experience analysis paralysis.
Research shows this is because our brain has a decision "bank." In other words, you have a limited supply for the day. You can use up your mental energy just like you can use up muscle strength during weight lifting. "For instance, it's long been recognized that strenuous cognitive tasks—such as taking the SAT—can make it harder to focus later on. But recent results suggest that these taxing mental activities may be much broader in scope-and may even involve the very common activity of making choices itself," says On Amir for Scientific America.
The bank includes all the decisions your daughter makes in a day. This includes the small ones such as what to wear, eat, whether to walk on the left or the right, salt her meal, do her homework, or choose A, B, C, or ‘None of the above' on that day's pop quiz. One estimate puts the number of decisions she makes in a day at 35,000.
It's no wonder our daughters are escaping into their technology by the end of the school day. It's probably a sign that her brain's decisions have been depleted for the day and she is about to spin her wheels all evening.
Demir and Carey Bentley of Life Hack Bootcamp explain why productivity issues such as decision fatigue, analysis paralysis, and perfectionism, are all related. They also give us 6 easy tricks for tackling these problems.
Decision Fatigue is physical exhaustion but for our brains.
Our mental strength runs out, and our willpower and quality of our decisions deteriorate (like eating cake at night when tired). Decision after decision takes a biological toll. "Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs, or illicit sex," says Roy F. Baumeister, a psychologist who studies decision fatigue and the co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.
When we don't realize our brain is depleted and keep trying to push it, the brain looks for shortcuts to save energy.
Its favorites are:
A. Not thinking through consequences and doing something reckless
B. Doing nothing! The status quo is the ultimate energy saver.
Analysis Paralysis is another manifestation of brain fatigue.
This is when we loop over and over again on decisions. We throw up our hands and exclaim, "I don't know!" We just can't move forward. Analysis paralysis stems from our uncertainty over choices and their outcomes. "When you ask yourself what should I choose, it tells you what you ought to want tomorrow. When you ask yourself what you want, we are very aware of the fact that what I want right now might not be the same thing I will want tomorrow or even the next 10 min," says Sheena Iyengar, author of the book, The Art of Choosing.
Perfectionism is closely related to analysis paralysis.
Our desire to gain the approval of others means we can spend way too long on tasks. Are we ready? Afraid we aren't qualified? Are we making wrong choices? This inclination to be successful feeds our need to get it perfect, so we avoid delegating, we hem and haw over choices, we erase and re-do with a ‘better choice,' and we once again drain our brain.
So what can we do? Are we doomed to peter out at the end of every day? Every week?
The Bentley's have 6 quick productivity hacks to help ease your noggin and get more done.
1. Plan the night before (or week or month) -
You'll have more control when you plan ahead. Did you know we make 226 decisions about food a day? I didn't! Before going to a restaurant, go online to check out the menu. You'll have more willpower when you are less distracted. For your daughter, have her plan her weekend out on Saturday morning or even Friday night if it looks like a busy one, so she's fresh on Monday.
2. Make big decisions in the morning -
Front load your days and weeks. Psychologists say the first three hours after waking up are the most productive. In a famous study tracking the rulings of judges, the scientists found that, as the day wore on, they subconsciously changed their verdicts to more and more status quo rulings. So schedule your toughest work or decisions first thing in the morning. You'll have the greatest ability to deal with complexity and have a lot more patience.
3. Time your decision making -
Figure out how much time you need to decide something and force yourself to choose within that time! Go ahead and break out that egg timer. This will help you maximize your morning time - because you are going to plan all of these tough decisions in the morning, right?
4. Cut decisions from your life -
The late Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, and Mark Zuckerberg have uniforms. Here's Barack Obama on why he only wears grey and black suits, "I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make." You can simplify your makeup, hairstyle, or make food on Sunday for the entire week. You can declutter your spaces and delete apps. There is a reason people say they feel ‘lighter' after doing these things.
5. Aim for 90% perfection -
Try not to make it perfect right away. Get feedback and then improve. Iterate. Many startups use this approach. Taking massive imperfect action is better than none.
6. Schedule trivial tasks in the evening -
As you can see, people woefully underestimate the number of decisions they make each day, and each one kills your productivity. By the end of the day, you are mentally spent.
Therefore, if you have the sudden urge to ‘streak,' save it for the evening.