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Taking action isn’t always easy. On the eve of a U.S. vote, we may consider skirting our civic duty. Especially given this tumultuous and extended election season, burnout feels inevitable — after all, emotionally we’re all on edge. (The just-out November 14 issue of Time, for example, polled its readers to discover exponentially high anxiety levels.)

I find that big news and looming decisions take up the brain space for other tasks I enjoy, such as writing. How do I write about the drama of decorating and trend toward minimalism when I have so much to consider? I can’t possibly write about making time for postpartum fitness (let alone actually work out) when the news cycle leads me to be preoccupied with the state of the world.

Psychologists talk about this concept in terms of “decision fatigue,” a line of research that has discovered people tend to make poor choices (or no choice) when they are overwhelmed with information and decisions to make all day. It’s why it feels easier to just order takeout at the end of a long day. Or why we wander in the gym from machine to machine when we lack a clear plan. So many choices, but where to start?

What we will do — and when we will do it — are important considerations to accomplishing anything at all.

It’s why I thrive on deadlines as a journalist. Why I set a timetable for Christmas shopping, wrapping, and errand running at the start of November. Why we plan out our magazine’s issues more than seven months in advance, and account for the time needed to complete each step of the process.

And why even writing a simple blog post like this one needs time reserved on the calendar.

Boost Happiness with a To-Do List?

Once we start to take action, the forward momentum helps propel us and lightens our load. I see my to-do list start to shrink, and I feel more productive. I see progress and feel more positive. Consider this point from “As Good as Done” by Joseph Hart in our March 2011 issue:

“Volumes of research demonstrate that successfully getting things done — especially the challenging things that make a difference in our quality of life — builds higher levels of self-esteem, improves feelings of well-being, and boosts overall happiness.”

Even when I know that my accomplishments can lead to more happiness, however, I can still hem and haw along the way. I can and will question the copy I wrote, the headline I suggested, or the overall tone of the article. I’ll wonder (always) if the writing could have been stronger, my point made clearer.

That’s the funny thing about writing and decision-making — it can take a turn at any point, and your conclusion is apt to change. All we can do is our best along the way, and take the steps to move forward to a peaceful place.

Having trouble making a decision in your life? Read more about these six strategies for success in “As Good as Done”:

  1. Take small steps to get big results.
  2. Focus your energy and attention.
  3. Defend your big yeses.
  4. Reconstruct your confidence.
  5. Align daily priorities with life goals.
  6. Accept your limitations.

Get our roundup of time-management articles here.

Courtney Lewis Opdahl is the managing editor at Experience Life.


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