As 2016 draws to a close, I imagine many of you will spend at least a few minutes considering some things you’d like to accomplish in the new year. I know I am. But despite our best intentions, we probably won’t stick to any resolutions we make (only 8% of us will, according to one study). So for 2017, I’m forgoing resolutions in favor of a framework. Instead of coming up with an arbitrarily long list of random, vague goals, I’ve reflected on the past few years to try to piece together a clear set of principles that will hopefully make me more productive over the next 12 months, no matter what I end up doing.

Here’s my current list, in no particular order. I expect this to evolve over time, but I think it’s a good starting point.

Minimize and frontload decisions

I’m horrendously indecisive, and this gobbles up way more time than I’d like to admit. There are moments when having to make a decision at all genuinely annoys me.

A few practices I’m considering:

  • Stop making pointless decisions. Things like “where do I want to study,” “what do I want for breakfast,” “what kind of coffee do I want,” etc. In the long run, the result of these kinds of decisions don’t matter one iota; they’re just distractions. Replace the answers to these questions with one predetermined answer, or avoid them altogether when possible.
  • Schedule days the night before. I spend an inordinate amount of time each day just deciding what to work on. Having my day planned in advance removes the need to make those decisions in the moment and lets me focus on actually getting things done.
  • Morning routine. Contrary to most college students, early morning (5a-9a) is by far my best chunk of the day. Jumping out of bed well before sunrise and diving straight into highly technical work is, for me, incredibly productive. Thus, it’s imperative that I spend as little time and as little effort as possible getting my day started.
  • Set aside “decision blocks.” One of the reasons I hate making decisions so much is that I often have to stop what I’m doing to make them. All this context switching is inefficient. To remedy this, I’m going to try to block off time just for decision making to get it off my plate as quickly as possible.
    • Admittedly, aside from pre-scheduling daily agendas, I’m not yet entirely sure how to implement this.

Create immediately actionable tasks

One of the reasons lofty aspirations and big projects don’t turn out as expected is that they’re either vague (not actionable) or seem too big to start (not immediate enough). My plan is to clearly eliminate both of those problems.

I’ll be using the following criteria:

  • Immediate: can I see quantifiable progress in a day or in a matter of hours?
  • Actionable: can I do this task without making significant decisions?

If a task or goal fails to meet either of these criteria, I’ll break it into a series of smaller tasks and recursively repeat the process. As previously discussed, the goal is to frontload as much decision making as possible so I can focus on actually getting things done later.

Sustainable pace

Early in the week, I’m usually highly motivated and highly productive for the majority of the day. I can knock out a massive amount of work on Monday and Tuesday… only to be rewarded with exhaustion Wednesday through Friday. It’s not uncommon for me to only use two or three days of the week to their full potential.

A few possible fixes:

  • Don’t over work in one day. Setting some quantifiable limit on how much I allow myself to work in one day would be an obvious first step to avoiding constant burnout.
  • Schedule white space like any other activity. Set aside a few hours per day to read, be creative, peruse social media, complete easy tasks, etc. to avoid letting myself over work even when I think I have the energy for it.

Closing thoughts

As I said earlier, I fully expect this list to evolve. But as always, simple is best to start. Let me know what you think!

This post was largely inspired by Tim Ferriss’s “What I Learned in 2016”, and by his work in general. Definitely check him out if you’re interested in increasing your productivity on any level.