What to do when you don’t know what to do.

I’ve been reading a lot about ‘decision fatigue’ (I didn’t know it had a name).

To describe it, decision fatigue smells like initiative, angst, and Covid.

Another way I can describe it: when you have an idea or a goal and it turns into a big decision and no one can make it for you but you wish someone would come over and tell you what to do (and make you cookies).

I’m struggling with decision fatigue (and chronic hesitation), and it’s self-imposed, which makes it that much more ominous.

In 2009, Paul Graham wrote an outstanding essay called Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule. I re-read it the other day and it reminded me that, no, I’m not crazy. I’ve just been working in a directly opposite way of how I’m wired. If you’ve never read the essay, and you don’t have time to read the piece, here’s the gist. Paul Graham writes that there are basically two types of schedules, a Maker’s schedule and a Manager’s schedule.

Here’s a quote directly from the essay: “The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, each day cut into one-hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour. When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.”

To keep quoting: “When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon by breaking it into two pieces, each too small to do anything hard in. … For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.”

Now, speaking personally and thanks to this essay, I know that I do my best when I can position my schedule as a maker. But increasingly, I’ve been doing my work on a manager’s schedule. While it’s not a wrong schedule, it limits the kind of work I can do – and want to do. And it’s probably the reason for the overwhelmed feeling, decision fatigue, and chronic hesitation.

Let’s go back to the “self-imposed” point. Around December 28 (yes, one week ago), I began speaking into existence my 2022 goals – one, here and there, over several days. And now, four days into the new year, I realize my goals are an avalanche waiting to happen. All I want is for someone to come over and tell me what to do and make me cookies. While conducive to a manager’s schedule, these goals swamp a maker’s schedule. And as I just pointed out, I’m not wired for a manager’s schedule.

My goals list looks something like this:

  • Rebrand my blog.
  • Post weekly on said newly-branded blog.
  • Schedule 3 Writing Days a month (a writing day means I spend 3-7 hours writing consistently and without interruption or distraction).
  • Journal “Morning Pages” every morning.
  • Journal daily “One Line A Day in a Five-Year Memory Book.”
  • Be self-employed by June 30.
  • Have a completed first draft manuscript by December 31.
  • (Until Thanksgiving, moving back to Rhode Island on May 1 was on the list. This has since been deleted.)
  • Get really good at tennis and join a league.
  • Read one book a month (they cannot be writing books or marketing books).
  • Get deeper (and more serious) into my Buddhist practice.
  • Adopt a dog.

To not pass judgment on me and to name what was really going on, I asked myself two questions. First question, what feels life-draining? The second question, what feels life-giving?

What feels life-draining is not unsubtle: the thought of so many rogue, self-imposed, deadline-driven, high-reaching goals. It’s unrealistic to have this many at once, I know. And it definitely amplifies imposter syndrome.

What feels life-giving is easy to identify: Writing. Playing tennis (even badly).

I decided to make a list, for lists’-sake. I cut my goal list in half and deleted deadlines. Here’s what it looks like today.

  1. Hide all the journals in a draw somewhere and forget about them.
  2. Write 500 words a day.
  3. Read one chapter a day.
  4. Play tennis.
  5. Develop a consistent Buddhist practice.
  6. Adopt a dog.

For the record, this blog post is more than 500 words. I already feel victorious as I exceeded my goal without much trying.

I think the point of my story is to not let conventional deadlines (or rules) keep you from growth and from your own transformation. Your life is waiting for you to see it, to name it, and to do your next right thing. And if you suffer from decision fatigue, it’s OK to pause, wait, and clear the decks. We’re not robots. We’re meant to breathe in and out. Some seasons are for a deep inhale, and others are for a long exhale. It’s great to have goals – but not at the expense of having a life. The big truth is, our daily decisions are actually making our lives. We’d be wise to pay close attention.

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