Changing your mind and analysis paralysis

I’ve recently made a couple of changes to my current Day Zero list. A Day Zero list is a list of 101 bucket-list like things you want to get done in the next 1,001 days. The idea is that by breaking a bucket list down into smaller chunks of time, you stand a better chance of doing some of them sooner. It’s nudged me to do some cool things in the past and is an enjoyable tradition among my friends.

The idea is that you pick things you want to do for the list and then spend the next 1,001 days trying to complete the challenge you’ve set yourself. You’re not meant to just move the goal posts part way through. That said, there were a couple of tasks on my list that I now feel pretty certain will be a waste of time to complete. Not a fun waste of time as some of the tasks are intended to be, just a waste of time. For example, while I liked my Daily Greatness Journal when I bought it, I’ve since established my own version of daily review in Evernote that is much more targeted to the sorts of things I want to review and improve. I’ve found this new process much more useful and so continuing the journal no longer makes sense. I’m still glad I bought it as it put me on the path to making journalling and reviewing my day a daily habit but I see no merit in continuing.

My Day Zero List is usually the topic of my more personal 24joy blog, so why has this crossed over here? I’m writing this here, mostly because the process of reviewing my currently active list raised a few questions for me. The main thing I’m curious to delve into here borders on to the more self-improvement and ethics space this blog approximately covers. I am wondering: how can individuals best balance changing their minds while avoiding analysis paralysis?

When I realised there were already a couple of things on my list that I particularly didn’t want to do I noticed I started thinking: that’s fine, it’s important to change my mind if circumstances have changed. My mentor from the Centre for Applied Rationality (CFAR) workshop I attended recently shared a useful framework with me in one of our follow-up, problem-solving sessions. She suggested you could get a win on something in one of two important ways. Clearly, you can think of something that you want to do, know it is a good idea and then do it. Win! But you can also realise that you don’t want to do something and that it’s not actually going to help you meet your objectives and decide not to do it. That’s a win as well as you didn’t waste time on something that isn’t accomplishing anything. Plus, since it turned out it wasn’t truly your goal to complete whatever it was then you’ve met your objective not to do it!

I started thinking that things have changed so it would be foolish to just keep on trying to complete things I know I don’t want to do. And why waste space on tasks I ignore when I could be working towards something better?

The thing to be wary of, I realised, is the type of tasks that you don’t want to do (especially in the moment) but are ultimately beneficial for some reason or the things you want to do that look likely to be ultimately harmful. I don’t think anything on my list falls into the latter category, but there are plenty of things I added specifically to nudge me to do because I know I really do want to do them. By adding them to my list not only do I have a reminder, but crucially, I can use the strange power that ticking things off lists holds over me to get them done.

In re-evaluating my list, I realised of all the tasks I was considering scrapping only a couple had anything truly changed on; the daily greatness journal challenge and realising that it was foolish to try and write 500 words a day for 66 days. I don’t want to do that, not in the moment or long term, it’s not the best way to get me to my actual goals, it just sounded cool. The others even if I didn’t want to do them right now they were achievements I wanted to make (like contributing to this blog more regularly). Or they were things I often considered doing, and it seemed useful to give it a go and see what I learnt rather than keep wondering (like writing on Tumblr).

Wondering if it’s the whims of the moment or the right decision wasn’t the only thing making me less certain I should just change my mind and change some tasks. I came to realise that wondering about what to put on the list just left me making no progress on anything because everything felt called into question. Perhaps the whole structure of my list should change? Perhaps I shouldn’t make Day Zero Lists anymore? On the one hand, it’s important to think carefully through any long-term commitment you’re mentally tying yourself to, however loosely. On the other, I had already spent a lot of time thinking about this when I first made the list and constantly re-questioning my decisions was just leading to inaction.

Analysis paralysis seems an easy place to get stuck in a lot of contexts in life. It’s easy to question the goals and targets we set for ourselves. The world is awash with new information and exciting new projects. If you keep chasing the next big thing you’ll never finish anything. If you tie yourself to goals that have become irrelevant you waste time going in the wrong direction.

I’m afraid this post isn’t working towards sharing the answer. It seems like a hard problem.

One possible solution I’ve found is planning most of my personal objectives quarterly. I then break down my months, weeks and days into goals and tasks that I think are most likely to move me towards my quarterly goals. My quarterly goals are fixed. If they seem wrong, it’s just three months, and then I can re-evaluate, but I have to try and see what I learn in the process. Sometimes you have to try things to get more information. As the post I got the idea from explains, three months is long enough to make progress and genuinely try something but short enough that you never go too far off track if you make a mistake.

I’m not sure this gives space for the slightly longer term goals of the Day Zero List. What about things that take a few months of planning or a few months to complete? The post’s solution is to have a broad “north star” life goal you’re aiming. But even if you decide on a vision for your life (I’m unsure, I have more of a rough, ever evolving direction), that leaves quite a big gap between the next three months and the next 25 years!

Until I come up with a much better plan, I’m going to continue striving to do 101 things in 1001 days. I enjoy that it’s something that my friends and I do together. The few great adventures and life changes the list has helped cause seem to outweigh the less relevant ones, and I feel I learn about my goals and my whims in the process.

There might not be an easy balance to be struck between moving forward and checking you’re going in the right direction, between learning more and getting things done. In this instance, there seems little harm in erring on the side of doing. In other circumstances, it’s less clear. Wish me luck with my day zero tasks and of course, if you have any better solutions for these challenges do try and change my mind.

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