How a Decision Log Can Help You
Move from Scattered to Streamlined
Don't be embarrassed if you occasionally feel scattered. It's a normal transition state. For example, after you've finished a major project, you may feel somewhat scattered until you've figured out the next big thing to focus on. But don't let yourself remain feeling scattered for long.
A scattered state is an indecisive state. None of the items attracting your attention draw you in. You look at a piece of paper, then put it down. You read an email, then go on to make a phone call. You can waste a lot of time being scattered--there is much activity, no actual progress.
The way forward is to choose something specific to work on and stick to it. A "decision log" can help you do both.
A "decision log" is just a pad of paper on your desk devoted to recording your decisions about what you're going to do, each time you set a new purpose. So, for example, recently the following items were entered into my decision log:
8:37 Work on book
11:05 Edit TD Update
11:21 Fix up 2nd version of TD Update
11:34 Break for Callanetics
11:39 Back to editing
The small discipline of writing down the decisions when I'm feeling scattered helps me be more focused.
When I've made a good decision, writing it down helps me commit to it. I give a mental "yes" as I write it down. When other ideas or distractions occur to me, I remember my decision.
When I've made a poor decision, I find myself reluctant to write it down! When that happens, I stop to figure out what the problem is.
For example, one time I decided to start a writing assignment at about 5:00 p.m. I thought I should try to finish it before dinner. That reasoning sounded persuasive in my head, but I hesitated to write the words down on my pad. When I asked myself what the problem was, I noticed how poorly I was feeling. I was slightly sick that day, and I ran out of steam a little earlier than usual. What I really needed was a short nap to revive my energy, so I could do a little more work after dinner.
The pad also helps when I haven't made a decision. If there's no current decision on the pad, I write down, "Figure out what I should do right now." That becomes my current decision.
And of course, periodically I notice I am not doing the thing I said I was about to do. I found this entry on an old log:
10:15 Found myself organizing scrap paper. Get back on writing.
I'm always surprised when this happens--and somewhat chagrined. Writing down what happened definitely motivates me to get back to doing what I intended.
For all these reasons, I find that a decision log is a gentle, effective way to keep me streamlined rather than scattered. I don't use it all the time, only when I need a little extra structure to stay on task.
This is the kind of tactic I like to share with this list: it addresses a recognizable problem, the tactic is easy to understand, it's easy to implement, and the payoff is large relative to the effort it takes.
Next time you feel scattered, I encourage you to start a decision log.
This article originally appeared in the Thinking Directions newsletter on 10/11/11.