[NOTE: The rules in this post have been extended indefinitely, as they worked. In other words, I’m no longer reading books in the same year that they are published.]
Donald Knuth, a renowned mathematician and recipient of the Turing Award (considered the Nobel Prize of computer science), retired from using email in 1990.
He issued a public statement on his Stanford faculty page, which I saved to Evernote 1–2 years ago. I think of it often, and my favorite portion is below:
“I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I’d used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime. Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration.”
I want to make 2020 a year of smarter decisions.
To make that a reality, I’ve been pondering how much I want to specialize in speed versus finding targets that don’t require speed. That is why I bolded and underlined the above lines in Donald’s post.
Looking back over the last decade, I have made many good fast decisions, but I have nearly never made good rushed decisions. The former can be made from a place of calm, whereas the latter come from a place of turbulence and blurred judgment.
How can we create an environment that fosters better, often non-obvious, decisions?
There are many approaches, no doubt. But I realized a few weeks ago that one of the keys appeared twice in conversations from 2019. It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve that I noticed the pattern.
To paraphrase both Greg McKeown and Jim Collins, here it is: look for single decisions that remove hundreds or thousands of other decisions.
This was one of the most important lessons Jim learned from legendary management theorist Peter Drucker. As Jim recounted on the podcast, “Don’t make a hundred decisions when one will do. . . . Peter believed that you tend to think that you’re making a lot of different decisions. But then, actually, if you kind of strip it away, you can begin to realize that a whole lot of decisions that look like different decisions are really part of the same category of a decision.”
Much like my startup vacation/retirement in 2015, I’m now asking myself across the board: what can I categorically and completely remove, even temporarily, to create space for seeing the bigger picture and finding gems?
To that end, I’m committing to *not* reading any new books in 2020. This means I will not read any books published in 2020.
Here are a few reasons why:
- We don’t have that much time left to read books. Tim Urban’s The Tail End makes this clear. Based on his calculus, he might only read another 300 books before he dies. He and I are roughly the same age, and Tim is a very fast reader. Considering that, taking a year to read books that have stood the test of time seems worthwhile.
- I’m susceptible to fear of missing out (FOMO) when it comes to new and popular books. I’ve always found refuge in books, but being wedded to the identity of “the well-read guy” can breed keeping-up-with-the-Joneses consumption. Taking new books off the table for 2020, in a sense, also takes that type of FOMO off the table. I can’t compulsively scratch the itch of new, so I’m better able to calmly use other criteria.
- Each week, dozens of unsolicited books are mailed to me. Here’s an example from one day(!) in 2008, which is perhaps 20% of the current deluge. These books have recently come from publishers like Avery Books and Knopf, among others. I immediately donate all such books to libraries, but it still consumes energy and is a waste of trees. Thanks for permanently removing me from your lists, guys.
- I’m not good at moderation. I’m much better with fasting than caloric restriction, for instance. “No dessert” is a lot easier for me than “some dessert.” I thrive with loving constraints: strict, binary rules that remove all deliberation and protect me from my lesser self.
- For years, I’ve had a public policy of not blurbing books. This is to avoid picking and choosing among friends, which is awful. I’ve put this policy on the blog and in my email auto-response, but it’s not visible enough; I am still asked on a weekly basis. Things can and do get uncomfortable. So, I’m publishing this blog post and fixing the problem further upstream: I’m not even reading any new books in 2020. No “What I’m reading” bullets in the “5-Bullet Friday” newsletter will feature books published in 2020.
- I am prone to procrastinating via reading. It’s a socially acceptable form of avoiding things, but let’s make no mistake: reading is often used to avoid things. If I want to write more, for example, it behooves me to dramatically limit the types of books I’m allowed to read.
To quote Bishop Desmond Tutu, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
Making too many decisions is often symptomatic of poor systems or process. I’m as guilty of this as the next person. In 2019, I made waaaay too many decisions, and it exhausted me.
But guilt can serve as a useful diagnostic tool. As one of my favorite people, Maria Popova, said in our last conversation: “Guilt is the flip side of prestige, and they’re both horrible reasons to do something.”
Here are some questions that have helped me think through all of this:
- In my life, where am I making decisions or saying “yes” out of guilt? Can I create a blanket policy that makes it easier for me to say “no”?
- In what areas am I making a lot of decisions, or sending a lot of communication? Are they concentrated anywhere? Can I create a blanket policy that makes it easier for other people to make those decisions?
- In what areas am I making a lot of decisions, or sending a lot of communication? Are they concentrated anywhere? Can I create a blanket policy that entirely removes the need to make those decisions?
How can you make higher-level decisions? Look further upstream.
Do you want to try to stay on top of things, or do you want to try to get to the bottom of things?
Personally, I’ve vowed to focus on the latter in 2020. No new books is part of that, and there will be more divesting. Much more.
Where have you made single decisions that removed many decisions? Or where could you make single decisions that remove many decisions? Please let me know in the comments, as I’d love to share ideas as a community.
Here’s to making the right de-cisions (as in “cutting away”) . . .
Onward and upward,
P.S. If you’re interested, this is the last “new” book I’m allowing myself to read. There are two reasons for this particular book: 1) it was sent to me in 2019, and 2) it’s the updated version of an older book that helped me out of a dark place when I needed it most.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)
288 Replies to “Finding the One Decision That Removes 100 Decisions (or, Why I’m Reading No New Books in 2020)”
I own a business and am constantly contacted by phone and walk-ins to buy services, ads, fundraisers etc. Those requests are diverted to set up a 15 minute appointment before 9:00 on Friday morning. I have found that the overwhelming majority never show up. I save face by being open and my workweek isn’t interrupted.
Your decision resonates with what I have learnt from Hinduism. In Mahabarath, there is one hymn which some Hindus recite everyday as mantra. In that, the Goddess Devi, asks God Shiva : “Which is the one mantra, if recited, is equivalent to reciting 1000 mantras”? (the translation here is only a rough one – and not exact). Different religions talk about knowing that one thing – by knowing which you know everything – or – you don’t need to know anything else.
You have exceptional influence. I am excited to see the impact of this post. It is counter culture and subtly taoist.
Great idea. I’m going to eliminate blogs, podcasts and productivity listicles.
Since nobody else seems to have mentioned it, for me the *one decision* was to get married. Even before that, in fact, to have one committed relationship. No more shopping around for a partner, one person as my focus. That relationship is now in its 34th year.
I have been carefully considering not attending any business conferences in 2020. I usually go to about 6-8 a year and missed the first one I was supposed to attend. Despite FOMO I realized that I have all I need to DO what needs to be done. I am convinced that All who I need to meet will be brought to me in a different way. I am determined to do more deep work in my business and eliminate the mental intrusion that conferencing brings. Thanks for the confirmation.
There a thousand hacking at the branches of evil, to one who is striking at the roots. HD Thoreau
Very interesting..I use this technique in the workplace on what is the one question you want to ask your stakeholders that answers all questions, that will save time and energy. Such single decision can be made at different levels i think, if you consider work, family, friends, health as separate domain. Thanks Tim for making a difference!
Almost 20 years ago I made a decision to do an experiment to see what would happen if I made choices based on “following my charge” – a sensation of yes and energy with a choice. Twenty years later I’d call this embodied decision making rather than idea based decision make. For years I had made choices based on good ideas with no inclusion of my whole system response – as if mind was an isolated choice maker rather than an inhabited aspect of my being. So I would write a brochure, do social media – all kinds of choices that seemed ‘smart’ or necessary’ but had ‘NO charge’ – physically they felt weighty and dead. I wanted to test if my system was a reliable system, giving me signals through sensation to guide me. My guess would be all hell would break loose and I’d be a wreck. But instead I am happy and the experiment continues.
Babette, this is wonderful. I’ve been thinking a lot about this as well. Might be the topic of a future post, as I wrote a draft chapter on the “whole-body ‘yes'” based on others’ work. TBD…
Great idea thanks! 🙂
Oh my friend… Leave that book alone… Not worth the time… Read instead Inner Engineering : A Yogi’s Guide to Joy 😉 Just saying 🙂 Have a wonderful day!
“Where have you made single decisions that removed many decisions?”
As others have mentioned, I decided never to have a social media account. This has eliminated all of the decisions involved in managing it. I remain in social contact via e-mail, text message, telephone calls, and (gasp!) hand-written letters. (The more methods of quick communication we develop, the more my friends and I appreciate taking the time to write a letter.)
For professional networking, I use one site. I make or respond to a networking request only if one of the following conditions are true:
— I already have contact with this person, either from working the same office, or electronically;
— I have read a paper by this person;
— A person satisfying either of the above conditions recommends making contact.
(Again for professional work, I am active in my societies, and use their web sites.)
Also, I would like to thank Tim for his “no new books” pledge. One decision we cannot ever make, no matter how many other decisions it might remove, is to exempt ourselves from Mr. Murphy’s rigorous enforcement of his eponymous Law. Therefore, as a consequence of his pledge, Tim has ensured one of The Greatest Books Ever Written (A True Classic!!) will be published this year. (Now, if only we could look back from a century ahead, and learn which one it is…)
Seriously, Tim, thank you for your thought-provoking post.
That deserves a big congratulations. As hard as anything you can aspire to and a very worthy goal. Well done and thanks for the lesson about priorities.
I’ve done this before, and always it’s very liberating. As a “theatre person,” I get asked to see a lot of shows, but when you know 80% of the community, there are always invites to more shows than you can possibly make time or money to see. One year, I decided to only see plays that were new…meaning contemporary (past ten years) plays that had never been produced in our community, or which I had never seen produced. I love Shakespeare, but there’s only so many times you can see Midsummer or Romeo and Juliet. Giving myself temporary restrictions allowed me to relieve the pressure of feeling like I needed to see everything that I was invited to and focus on the type of work I was most interested in.
My single decision came a few years ago. I eliminated my extraneous email addresses. I like to look stuff up and I prefer to use the internet instead of books. I found I was providing an email address to gain access to more info so created separate email addresses for specific areas of interest. I created a swampy bog.
I clearly recognized that what I called “organizational” and “tidy” was really a place for me to store my unfinished business. The idea of returning to the emails was suffocating. And it made me very angry that I had repeatedly emptied and refilled these email boxes.
WHAT A WASTE OF TIME AND EMOTIONAL ENERGY. Today I have only three addresses and I am In process of streamlining down to two.
Those past addresses are significant; Truth Tellers if I remain open. Each of them reminders of my incompletion and procrastination.
It is now time to go up stream and figure out why I put things off and let them pile up, leaving me a whirling dervish of frustration and stress until It’s all cleared.
Thanks Tim Ferris!
I Build about two homes per year and sell them to make a living. The management of the subs and process is intense and takes about six months per house. I have chosen to now do Modular homes which are built in a factory in about two months (Zero management). All I will need to do is site work and then set the house. My plan is to go from one house in 6 months to one house in about 1 month!
For some old material, I’d suggest Matthew Ch. 6. It covers charity, prayer, fasting, prioritization, focus, fear-setting, humility, and anxiety in 34 lines.
Here is my favorite: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”
[Moderator: link removed.]
I’d encourage those of you who have read this far and have a reaction to this comment to 1) step back and think about why you are having that reaction and 2) consider the text with an open mind. There is a reason this text has lasted 2000 years – some of it is just good old practical advice. And if you don’t believe in God, try adjust it to your own situation to examine your own priorities.
No kids meal toys. That’s my current “one decision”. It feels like all of parenting is making “one decision” rules.
I enjoyed this, mine is more about attempting to implement more structure in my life and strictly adhering to it (scheduling my week, prepping my food and being more organized).it eliminates a lot of guess work. For example, Im on a MWF weight training schedule, unfortunately I missed Monday and began to overanalyze (common habit of mine) when I would make it up and how that would effect my other plans. Instead of going Tuesday and shifting other plans I said screw it, count it as a miss and make up the exercises W and Friday somehow. Sounds stupid but little stuff like this bothered me in the past and forced me to miss out on other activities/events due to my habit of paralysis by analysis.
I was unemployed and looking for a job in 2016. It lasted 14 months. After the 6th month, I decided to de-cise some unproductive habits I’d created.
1) Logged off of Facebook on my phone and laptop, and deleted the autofill password. I can’t believe how much that simple act procrastinated my procrastination.
2) Turned off ALL phone notifications except for calls, texts, and exercise reminders. That included Linkedin.
3) Got out of the house completely in the early morning. Cutting off the distraction of unnecessary puttering freed up resources I didn’t know I had.
4) Completely STOPPED doing any online job applications. They are a great way to procrastinate and have something to tell your wife when she asks “How’d it go today?” Except for public sector employment, I never received any callbacks from that method, and in fact it led to unnecessary calls from “recruiters,” some of whom I learned had purchased lists of applicants from the companies I was applying to!
5) Do phone calls instead. The very first set of phone calls I made to a former employer and a guy I met at a conference resulted in two months of project work.
It’s kind of weird but a higher-level decision for me it is to follow my heart. I take it ‘kind of literal’ so further upstream meant for me going back to my childhood and packing up the dreams I had as a child. To say it simple: follow my joy! That also means keep playing, keep creating, keep building. Right now I’m not on the right track. I’m not happy with my life. Mostly about work and money. I want to create my own things. Not because some clients tells me to do so. I want to be proactive and taking risks! I want to be an inventor, an artist, a writer, a dreamer. That’s what I always dreamt of. So I’ve made the decision on 2020/01/22 to live these dreams!
I am an executive director of a nonprofit (dislike that label) in small town USA I have found my life passion so I am fortunate. I have researched on Google creating podcasts for a “cause” I don’t find much yet believe podcasts can create a ripple of change in an individual, groups of friends, neighborhood, community, etc. Would you be available for a conversation on this project I have started?
I have one personal email with a good spam filter. And a second one for everything else. The first gets checked frequently. The other doesn’t.
I’ve hit the same walls my friend and reading you list them just became very clear to me that I need to get back to myself.
Thanks for being so open with us all and you admitting your weaknesses in certain points made the lessons sink in that much more. I will also commit to getting to the bottom of things and stop spending so much time dwelling on the surface.
P.S. Please interview Nassim Nicholas Taleb for your podcast 🙂
Sounds like a great way to reduce decision fatigue while still being generous.
“Never download a game for mobile”prevents me from choosing between many games, over and over again
When started working out on a regular basis. I am talking 1hr, 4 times a week. After a short period of time I realized that this decision alone automatically removed a long list of health related decisions, I had (wanted) to make at the time.
Hey Tim. Thanks for helping me make this decision: I am only going to reread books this year.
After running myself ragged this Christmas, trying to choose the perfect gift for everyone, I decided that for 2020, I will host an amazing Holiday party for family & close friends. That will be my gift to them.
Hi Tim, this is Benjamin. One area where I made a big decision to eliminate others has been with finances. I’m automating a lot more when it comes to saving. I’ve read plenty of books about it, but for some reason still had a mental block about actually doing it. I have everything set up and my mind has instantly been more at peace. It will save me even more time at the beginning of the month making sure I transfer funds to certain places. It removes the temptation of me dipping into money that’s for saving which I have often done. It’s allowing me to get out of my own way of accomplishing what it is I want to accomplish. Thanks for your blog. I’ve been feeling the same way about books. You’ve given me some more clarity about FOMO even when it comes to books.
Same! As Seneca said: “Desultory reading is delightful, but to be beneficial, our reading must be carefully directed.”
Tim, I am always amazed at the quantity of valuable content that you curate and produce. I have benefited tremendously from your seemingly relentless efforts to serve. As I engage with your service, I am curious about the super human energy it must take to produce this voluminous content, to continually optimize your life, to never waste time….and I indirectly get a sense of your FOMO. So I applaud your decision to share the wisdom of making less decisions, on books and possibly other aspects of life. As you say, to do more from “a place of calm”. Less is more!
Thanks so much, Robert. Please be sure to search my name and “neurotic” on this blog to find a post that will show you how much time I do waste! I do well because of 80/20 and a handful of rules, but I’m definitely no paragon of efficiency (though I’m pretty effective on the big things).
Best decision yet…I work out Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday signed up to class and go no matter what no decision required its a done deal has happened for almost 5 years no more resolutions. Not four decisions a week one five years ago and that’s that
At the end of my first mini retirement (thank you 4HWW 🙂 ):
I was asking myself : what to do as a paid job ?
And a thousand questions arrived : at one time I had a very good offer from my former boss in Paris 9° district, but I knew this city is not a good place for me, I wonder if my girlfriend would stay with me, and what would I do if she doesn’t, and more and more.
So I commit myself on a seemingly stupid but very effective idea : I will run non-stop up and down the closest hill from my home until I find the answer to this very simple question : what should I do ?
So I began : 1 time, 2 times, the night falls, 3, 4, now the rain begins to fall and the temperature to drop drastically, 5, 6, I encounter a wild pig, quite aggressive during the hunting season…
And I finally made it : eventually I made the choice, and hold it until today (4 months later).
It was perfect : I was completely tired, wet, cold, lighting the path with my small head light. But I knew what to do.
I don’t know if someone has a better process ? But for me, the right way to have enough clarity is during or after intense and uncomfortable exercice 🙂
Great post Tim, and with perfect timing. Thank you for everything that you do.
In response to your prompt:
I write here from a cafe out of suburban Boston, a local real estate agent operating in an unusually busy winter market (and here I am spending too much time on this post, lol… but I care, and I want to share, so here it is.).
The decision I am pondering at the moment is one that I hope will simplify my life in exchange for peace of mind and a heightened sense of security.
As a commission based salesperson (and I’m sure many here can relate) it can be quite tempting to sacrifice strategic proactivity (working on your business) for production urgency (working in your business), to neglect long term sustainability for the sake of the short term gains.
For many people in my industry, opportunity strikes, duty calls, and we drop everything we are doing for the sake of making the sale.
This trap is an easy one to fall into – I am 100% guilty of it on a number of accounts (catching myself constantly) but it gets old. While it may be profitable to an extent, the lifestyle it breeds is nothing short of chaotic: sleepless nights, burnt out days, the snowball effect influencing everything else.
We’ve all heard the stories of the classic businessman neglecting his family, health, personal life, etc.
This kind of life is exhausting, and for yours truly, it’s time to move on.
In order to accomplish this change, to eliminate this chaos in my life for a more peaceful profession and overall lifestyle, I am pondering a shift of operational strategy in favor of the long term.
In short, the days of dropping what I am doing for last-minute requests are nearing an end.
This new approach will stretch out the traditional sale cycle, forcing me to plant seeds long before they must be sewn: to line up my clientele long before their needs arise and become urgent. in turn, it will provide ample time for thoughtful preparation and flawless execution.
In summary, I will be eliminating the high pressure process of decision making that occurs with the speed approach of keeping on top of things.
It’s time to play by a new set of rules, to strategically plan out my time for the long term, to respect my time and furthermore myself, in a way that welcomes peace of mind and a heightened sense of security.
Here’s to a better and brighter future. 🤙🏻
I read Pliny the Younger and realized we have not changed in 2000 years nor have all the problems. I stopped 2 years ago reading or watching the news. nothing has changed. Less distraction. Amazing net focus has returned.
Despite the many benefits of Brazillian Jiu Jitsu now in popular culture, I have decided to step away from it after consuming about 5 years of consistent training. BJJ can become obsessive, and for an explorer like me, I’ve found simplicity and the same flow I was chasing with Jiu Jitsu in running. I don’t have to wait for a class to start at 6:30 pm. I can just put my shoes on, run around for however much I need.
The decisions this has removed are many. No more watching instructional videos during down hours at work. No more watching videos of matches before bed. A whole window of time opens when there is no class to tick off. I will miss BJJ dearly, but the benefits of time outweigh the benefits of strangulation. After all, how much detail do you need to know when a little will go a long way?
Hi Tim from Cambridge, New Zealand. Loved this post. I have decided on the strength to not buy any books for the rest of the year. I bought quite a few last year and now have the chance to get around to reading them. So buying no books, not even recently published ones. I’ll see how I long I can hold out. Thanks for the inspiration.
Last year I decided “no more hacks”. Hacks are cutting up something, rather than thinking through why or how to do it in the first place, much less come up with something better.
Taking time and making a well informed choice is so much more satisfying.
This was like when I gave up speed reading. What’s the hurry? Quality over quantity.
Books. I have a house full of books. I still go to the library. I find that I am filled with a sort of sadness that I can’t live long enough to read all I already have. You are so right about the decisions. E-Mail- and here you are Tim- comes 100-200 per day. Not only do I delete 75%, but the ones I read often lead me down the “rabbit hole” of information I can live without but enjoy as much as any addict enjoys his vice, but then the guilt of the unaccomplished.
I read in “groups” three or four or more different authors around the same or connected subject- almost all history all the time. “Pioneers” lead to “Separate” lead to “The Republic for Which it Stands” which brought me back to “Grant.”
My resolution is taking me in a different direction. Uninterrupted and quiet hour-long reading sessions. Chair, lamp, book, no screens, real books. The Great Books and The Harvard Classics are sitting there looking at me daringly.
Scruton’s death has made me resolve to delve into Burke, Jaffa, Strauss, and Scruton himself.
A suggestion, take a look at the “Wine Lover’s Daughter.” A very loving look at a bookish man. Clifton Fadiman, a public intellectual of his time.
That i geht a Tattoo which quotes:
„Dont ever close„
Which relates to Michael Singer.
Do not ever close your heart. It is always your decision
In a world where we are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of content to read, watch or listen to, I find myself cutting back more and more. Short blogs like this one with a succinct powerful message are definitely staying in the keep list. Thank you for doing what you do and sharing with all of us. As for a decision I can make in 2020 to reduce a thousand others… I will have to reflect on that… wouldn’t want to rush it.
I´ve stopped taking my phone with me when I leave the house if it is not avoidable (e.g. for navigation). It´s a big relieve. No more decisions to be made regarding answering messages, phone calls or surfing a bit. When I´m on the playground with my kids I´m the only father, that doesn´t pull out his phone once. I highly recommend trying it. My first strange discovery: You get the feeling it might actually be dangerous to leave the house with no phone. Bullshit! I´ve done it for 20 years when I was young (I´m 45 now).
Sometimes I say to my wife when we leave the house:”Gosh, I almost forgot to leave my phone home.” 🙂
I really dig this. It’s such a stress reliever to leave your phone home.
This declaration is deeply troubling. It means that you’ll continue to amplify the voices of those published in the past, voices that have been, most often white men (because that has been who has most often been published). And that means that the views and insights you’ll be promoting will be those voices. Which might be fine for you, as a white man, but as a white woman who has often been surprised by how your words, because they have sought the insights of some women and non-white folx, are inclusive and applicable to my life, this is a disappointing declaration. Everything good hasn’t already been said (or published), and as women, persons of color, and non-binary people are more likely to get published (and hopefully this trend will continue), this decision means that you won’t hear, learn, and share what they have to say. I find that sad and disappointing and, frankly, like taking the easy way out. It’s hard to challenge oneself to hear new perspectives and challenge frames of reference. Is there another way to reduce the “noise” without restricting what new books (and, therefore, new perspectives) you read?
I appreciate the comment, and thank you for sharing this. At the same time, I think it’s a bit presumptuous to assume that all older books I’ll choose will be authored by white men. Mary Oliver and Hafiz (Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī) are currently what I’m reading. Neither are white men, as far as I can tell…
If you are enjoying Hafiz, perhaps you would also the Persian epic poem, Shahnameh, an epic of Persian Kings and monsters. You’ve likely already read Omar Khayyam’s Rubayat as well. With that being said, I hope you get a chance to enjoy the Persian New Year, Nowruz this year during the Spring equinox.
I did this a year ago on my fiction reading list. I realized I had missed MANY classics along the way, so I went about collecting lists of the top 100 books of all time and have set out in earnest to read them all. This isn’t to say I won’t mix in other books (non-fiction, new titles, etc.) along the way, but this is a focused effort to complete these important works in my lifetime. I even created a blog to track my adventures – [Moderator: link removed.]
I’ve given up weekday TV viewing this year and I’m reading instead. When I watch TV, I’m tempted to drink alcohol, which is something else I’ve temporarily given up. I generally like to read in the mornings, but morning is my creative time, so I need spend that time writing. By reading in the evening instead of watching TV, I‘m able to read everything I want, I’m not tempted to drink, I’m experiencing the health benefits of drinking less, and I can spend my mornings writing. I thought this process would be difficult. Instead, it’s’ been thoroughly enjoyable and productive.
Hey Tim, I did something similar with podcast by the end of the year. One day I felt my head was full of other voices and couldn’t hear mine any longer.
You don’t miss. You choose what is the best for you at this time.
Hi Tim, I left a comment yesterday. Afterwards, I began thinking more of your question. I recently signed up for Stitch Fix. This one decision will help me eliminate numerous other decisions when it comes to me buying clothing. I don’t have an eye for fashion. I don’t how to layer. I don’t have a big desire to go to the mall to buy new clothes. This one decision has freed up more time for me.
I think that is a perfect idea to read books for this year but it sound good to have a sens of prioritie in all stuff.Iam a young guy who like to join the new rich in the world but
in 2019 i felt well, i felt big in my busness,my blog area and others…it sounds a hard sometimes seing the work you done but you felt big,i still love what iam doing and keep acting to reach my goals,this year i found my life in The 4-hour workweek and Tools of Titans who help me a lot with my motivation in college and doing new things as it posible.Thanks TIM for your great idea who helpme up.
Decision: Take a break and time to reflect on the “upstream”.
I’d suggest to you, Tim, to explore taking a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. You would randomly meet people from many countries. Some processing pain, many seeking something (purpose, meaning, etc.). Go “incognito”. See if anyone recognizes you.
Sometimes pressing ourselves to perform at high levels takes much of the randomness out of life. I’ll bet you could put an awesome podcast together from interviewing people you randomly meet on the Camino. Watch the excellent movie made by Emelio Estavez and Martin Sheen “The Way”. You’ll be hooked on the idea.
I love this idea. Thank you for the comment. Kamal Ravikant planted the Camino de Santiago seed a few years back, and perhaps this is just the fertilizer I need!
Paulo Coehlo’s book “The Pilgrimage” is worth a read, if you decide to go for it!
Missed this kind of Posts Tim, thanks for sharing.
I am cheering you on for your decision! i went through a similar revelation after reading The One Thing by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan. I’ve been paring back my roles in various areas if they don’t fuel me in some way. Spending more concentrated time on areas or causes that are important to me.
I love this idea and it was last year that I decided that I needed to stop reading new books. Instead, I wanted to go back and focus on what I had read, digest it, and see where I could apply those learnings in my life. Otherwise, what’s the point in consuming the information if it’s not going to be used? And a lot of it won’t be used. It does take time to go through the information, distill it, use it to make decisions and then act on those decisions. I found myself getting overwhelmed by the amount of really good information out there. If we put it to practice though, we can discover whether it works for us or if we need to try something else.
I really love this. I am currently looking to create more space in my life to pursue a new career and this is a brilliant reminder that we can find the time if we step back and look at our life in the right way. Thanks for sharing.
Excellent post and very relatable. I noticed you are 42 now!!! This may have something to do with your decision. As in this post on the Sydney Morning Herald titled Douglas Adams and Why Life Begins at 42… Also, Osho said there was a lot of significance to this age, as there is with 14.
I’m not quite at the no more new books stage yet but I have to become more and more selective as time goes on. It’s been a while since I found something new that really struck me. I’m mostly sticking to classic authors these days. I plan to be pretty much finished with learning from the book form by the time I’m 42.
[Moderator: link removed.]
Sitting in Edinburgh library, surrounded by a sense of happy calm. I thought to myself how much I loved the course. A voice in the back of my mind said “but I love programming more”.
So I got up and left, became a cashier, worked minimum hours to teach myself programming, moved to australia with a backpack and am now working as a developer in a job that while is part of a small and lovely team, is completely free. I decide what I work on. Very few emails, lots of experimentation and deep diving. It’s a true joy.
My current decision is healing 100% from PTSD by the end of 2020. Lots of domino decisions as a result.
This article reminded me of The Depth year article by David Cain over on raptitude [Modeator: link removed.]
Also, I love the questions in this post. Taking time to answer them shifts things. Thanks
I can relate so much to this. Reading is one of my favourite hobbies and people often assume that you can only procrastinate by playing video games or watching TV. But I’m guilty of procrastinating through reading as well.
Fortunately, once you read a lot of books about a specific niche yoi already know most of the content of the new books you read. At least that’s my experience.
Tim you need to be reading books on AGENDA 21 – by the UNITED NATIONS.
watch some youtube videos on it, read this book: Behind the Green mask: UN Agenda 21.
WHY AREN’T YOU TALKING ABOUT THIS tim?
AGENDA 21 BY THE UNITED NATIONS. LOOK INTO IT tim.
AGENDA 21 how is it going to change EVERYTHING.
You are a thought leader, your 4 hour work week book was revolutionary, you need to start working on this, it’s the most important thing. Don’t believe me, please spend 21 minutes watching videos on youtube about it. You have a huge voice and are so well connected, you figured out how to get your books ranked so well, you can help spread the word about this. Take 21 minutes to learn about this please! Nothing is more important trust me.
This is what I term causing our life. Nature exhibits this principle of “doing one thing, in order to effortlessly create the whole thing“. We can get our inspiration from nature and the natural laws, and once fully understood, we can download them into our being and as we share our experiences, true wisdom will develop. I call this “Whole Life Development” . Personal development, by its very terminology is restricted , as it is only concerned with the “person”. All people are a whole entity made up of many parts, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual, and we need to integrate and synthesise those parts, with real knowledge, so we become a greater whole.
I answer the phone and take orders for propane. People call to report they are out of gas. They want the gas the same day. If they are on the plan that says they are supposed to keep an eye on their gauge and call to order propane when their tank is between 10-20%, I tell them that we can’t bring the propane until the next day unless they pay an extra $100 because their driver already has too many tickets ahead of them. I say this regardless of whether it’s true.
Decision fatigue is an unrecognized plague. Here’s a few things that I do:
1. I never schedule more than one work related activity after 5pm each week.
2. I never schedule recurring appointments in the last week of each month.
3. I block off the last week of the month to prevent others from booking time on my calendar.
4. When I get a request to meet to “pick my brain” or other seemingly non strategic connection, I automatically brush them off for 2 months and ask them to get back to me in 6 weeks. If they follow through, then I’ll usually accept a meeting with them.
5. I ceased attending all networking events.
6. I schedule my workouts a full month in advance.
7. I never, ever complain what the trainer has programmed for a workout.
I especially like 3, 4, and 6.
In true form: my significantly delayed decision in acquiring a commercial agent—theatrical? Next. Literary? not if you won’t be reading any new books, ha. Thank you for the powerful insight!
Additionally, I realize that my comment of my decision to acquire an agent, earlier left very little insight into the contextual contributions within the presiding scenario of my current situation: an Agent means a business representative for locating and negotiating opportunities for a particular individual/client vs. the hassle of spending time sorting through every email- “role” out that one might potentially be considered for and sifting through the assorted “muck” of relevance.
In the early stages of following this principle. Never drinking alcohol or using any other substances the day before I serve people in the office has eliminated the potential of thousands of decisions. Thank you for your work!
Tim, I love this idea. I’m painfully aware of how much decision-energy I waste on choosing what to read – I download hundreds of Kindle “samples” and rarely end up finishing the books. But I have a question about your method – what’s your source of truth for whether or not a book has “stood the test of time?” In some ways, the digital accessibility of books has made it harder for me to know which titles are truly stand-outs, worthy of opening up. Do you just go by personal recommendations, or do you look at aggregate reviews (Amazon, Goodreads, etc?) Is there some other means you could share with your audience?
How I am going to know if “that” decision it actually going to remove tons of other decisions? What if it´s the opposite?
As a lit major, I have long been very choosy about what I read–very few books published really meet my standard of skillful use of language telling an interesting story or providing useful information. No FOMO here. But to categorically say no books in 2020 is a extreme, I predict that will be one habit you will change in the near future.
My finest decisions (which lasted until today): 1973– no more TV; also 1973– wear “the color of the day” every day (saved thousands of daily wardrobe decisions!); 1974– eat vegetarian; 1992– eat vegan; 2000– move to Maui; August 4, 2000– no more mind-altering substances (including alcohol); 2010 (after forced retirement)– ask the Universe for my next assignment (it took nineteen months to answer); also 2010– no more new (only recycled) clothes; also 2010– go to Burning Man (seven times); 2019– eliminate S.O.S. (salt, oil and sugar) at home; 2020– lose 30 lbs. and keep them off (I’ve lost 25, so far); also 2020– start my doctorate before age 75 (did it).
I’m elated to know I’m not the only weirdo who thinks like this.
Maybe quitting social media is that one decision. Quitting it would eliminate the need to decide what to post, who to follow, what to share, what to like, what to comment on etc.
Its a pity you won’t read the book I’ve just read because if people start doing what is suggested in it the climate crisis would be averted and the whole world economy would become focused on cleaning up the mess we have made. Yes, there are massive fortunes to be made out of simple changes to how we do things.
Burn: Using Fire to Cool the Earth by Albert Bates and Kathleen Draper
Tim – in many of his books, John Maxwell shares about making one powerful decision and managing it daily. My wife and I have practiced this singular decisions in the ~12 areas he often cites:
While funding a wedding, finishing a master’s degree, paying off veterinary school student loans, financing flight training, and still managing to travel and visit family, our big decisions often mapped to the financial category. E.g. “I will manage my financial decisions daily.” was one decision that eliminated many others. Eating out was huge for us. Now, when we consider which restaurant to eat at, the decision is usually made for us: grocery store + our kitchen.
We appreciate you,
I have made the decision to always “have a meeting/work in the morning”.
I’m 26 and still have lots of friends who I enjoy to spend time with to “unwind” during the odd 2-3 hour period. However most 26 year olds in a big city working 9-5 spend that “unwind” time drinking untill the wee hours of the morning.
By making the decision of working in the morning (typically some block 2hr block between 6-10 am everyday doing business development work, the stuff you never get time for) I aways can leave when it fits my schedule and not face the social pressures. On weekends or the odd day during the week, my meeting my be with myself and a yoga mat, or my journal, however it’s a thing I need to move forward and feel happy.
Having my own business and choosing to be strict with my time allows me to avoid the social obligatory traps but still maintain life long friendships, just on my terms. It’s socially acceptable to be “busy” when it comes to work, so I use that to create my wellness time.
Another thing I am contemplating starting is just saying no to drinking alcohol. 3 drinks and I feel less then optimal the next day, and one drink is just pointless that night.
Would love to know the list you WILL be reading this year.
Stopping talk with my ex. Breakups are painful and even though she wanted to be friends, it was too hard for me. I spent many months holding onto something that I should have let go of. I made a binary decision nit to talk to her as that creates the best space for healing 🙂
Hi Tim. Thanks a lot for sharing ideas on this topic. I used to say ‘Yes’ out of guilt or to be kind, to please others. I achieved a lot but, some years ago, I realized that I was not living my life, and that it was an endless story if I didn’t change something. A day has a limited amount of minutes, just as our life has a limited number of years, and obviously a limited amount of acts. We have to choose carefully where we want to invest our energy. I’m much tougher with myself in the decisions I make: is it in line with my goals or not ? Black or white. I’m very curious and I’ love to read books, watch videos (like the interview of Brene Brown you made, a great one),etc but again if I do not refrain this curiosity and greed, I loose myself. I used to be lost in the middle of so many very interesting things. The only question: does it serve my current goals? If the answer is unclear, I consider it as a ‘no’. Not easy but considering that the number of acts in a life is limited, I’d prefer to be wrong sometimes than to be lost. Thanks again
Kind regards from Luxembourg.
I recently earned my doctorate in clinical psychology and am working to leverage it into a professional writing and speaking career. That means sacrificing evenings I used to spend mindlessly watching tv or succumbing to social obligations to now working on my goals.
I’ve worked to set better boundaries with myself and other people to prioritize my goals over mindless leisure and what I give a fuck about (to reference Mark Manson). The people who respect me will respect my boundaries; the people who won’t respect my boundaries can fuck right off.
I still relax or hang out with people, but I cap it at once each week. That gives me six other days to be productive and keep my actions aligned with my values and goals.
“Why Successful People Wear the Same Thing Everyday”
Tim, which books have you decided to focus on for 2020?
I work as a physician and now I’ll be attending USC Film School. To explain: a few years ago I was considering transitioning out of the clinical setting to things I thought I should be considering: medical consulting, medical startups, pharmaceuticals, etc. Nothing particularly compelled me. Then my sister asked me a simple question: “are you even passionate about consulting?” I realized the answer was no. And I thought, why pursue something I did not care about? Instead, I decided to stop thinking about transitioning careers and just work on towards what I always loved, film. I realized I was much happier at work, knowing I was also pursuing something I also cared about on the side. This culminated in applying to USC Film School last November. I found out about my acceptance this past March. Eliminating one decision eliminated a hundred and allowed me to refocus on what I really wanted.
True commitment does exactly this. Committing to do something (or not to do something) eliminates so many smaller decisions and choices. Committing gives us “options” within the choice, but all these options align with the choice we committed to, thus eliminating any choice/decision that doesn’t align.
I just settled in a tent next to a forest. Doing OMAD keto which is cheap, easy and healthy way to eat. Reading, metal detecting, exercising, working a bit in a farm, doing what I really enjoy. I made it simple 😀
This is a brilliant perspective and habit-creating. Thanks to you and the other people who you have quoted.
I have a few decisions that have really contributed to relieving decision fatigue:
1. Going paperless. It would cause me a lot of stress asking myself, “Should I keep this piece of mail or brochure? Should I throw it out? What if I will eventually need it?” I made the decision to buy a portable scanner-feeder; I keep it by the front door so that when I have important mail or mail that I may need (e.g. like bills or notices), I just scan it and throw it away (with the exception of government-related documents like W-2s, which I scan and keep in a safe place). Now I don’t have to constantly decide between keeping or not keeping.
2. I use a GTD type system for emails. Like paper mail, it used to stress me out what to do with an email. Do I delete? Do I save for someday? Now, I use rules for specific emails depending on the email: if it depends on action for me, I place the email in my task list and in my “Awaiting Me” folder. If it depends on action for another person, I place it in my “Awaiting Reply” folder. If it contains information for reference later, I place it in my “References” folder. If it is a problem I have resolved, I placed it in my “Resolved” folder (every month or so I go in and wipe the folder clean). I am consistently at Inbox Zero and do not have to think about what to do with my emails.
3. Keeping a second brain (i.e. a note-taking system). In GTD fashion, I have let go of the idea that I have to try to remember ideas, details, to-dos. I’ve accepted that my brain is limited in its capacity to remember, so I’ve decided not to waste its time doing something it’s not very good at. If I have a task or idea, I immediately write it down and don’t worry about whether it’s a good idea or bad idea. It’s more important to relieve the burden an idea has on the mind than to continue wrestling with it. Keeps you from enjoying what’s in front of you.
4. This is probably a silly example, but illustrative: I don’t pair up my socks after doing laundry because I buy the same kinds of socks. So I just dump all my socks in one sock drawer and pick two when I want to go out. Picking socks is just not where I want to spend my mental energy.
5. There is a rule I try to follow when it comes to shopping: Don’t buy anything unless you can clearly envision how you can use it RIGHT NOW to contribute to your life. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it could be useful in the future or the price will never be this good. Spending money right now for something you won’t use just because it is cheap is just a cheaper waste of money. If it’s something you are unsure about, put it on your wish list and review occasionally to see if it’s still worth purchasing.
I’m trying to think of systems now for dealing with two stressful situations in modern life: where to eat and what to watch. Haven’t been successful yet.
Get a flip phone. SO many fewer decisions. I am a happier person for the last five years because I got rid of mine.
Just discovered this blog posting, excellent all around, including the comments. My one decision, after the 2007/8 crash, was to dollar cost average into in a balanced portfolio of index funds and bond/MM funds indefinitely, rather than making hourly/daily/weekly stock trading decisions. This left me with a lot more time on other financial pursuits.
After what happened on January 6th, I decided to sign off of Facebook. I was spending way too much time obsessing over what people were saying and also reading the frivolous posts that were meant to elicit knee-jerk responses was exhausting. Plus I grew tired of only keeping up with people through such a superficial platform. I find now that I am a lot more focused on information that adds to my self improvement and have more energy to play Just Dance with my daughter. Also, I am not as anxious.
Allow me to start by saying I absolutely identify with this concept. But to be able to site an example of single decision to me would be like explaining a flow chart in long hand. The single decision (to me) circumvents the ‘possibilities’ of a wrong answer when I already know the correct answer (for me). This sounds overconfident, but in fact is drenched in experience and pattern recognition. The frustrating part is understanding you aren’t the smartest in the room, but baffled as to why the others can’t see the obvious answer all the while not being able to articulate your process to those people in said room.
When I stood up for myself and said I’m not going to do that or I’m not going to let you do that to me.
I deleted my FaceBook account. Saves me from countless decisions.
hello, very recently I came to realize that often doing something will exert a response within me (reaction). Doing it or no depends on one point :
Will it be create peace inside me or not ?
If not, I’ll don’t pursue.
(there are still lots of tims when I don’t think to ask the question)
Hi Tim, this post got me thinking of Derek Sivers’ either Hell yeah or no. That one decision will remove 100 decisions. I’ve found in my company that every time I say no to a new customer, not long afterwards a new opportunity presents itself, like a universal force.
Thanks for being the inspiration for quitting my corporate job 9 years ago and deciding to take the entrepreneurial path. I’ve never met you, but even though I see you as one of my mentors 🙂
For those in the future from now (2021), it is safe to say that all plans anyone had for 2020 went out the window holding an anvil….
I like ‘directional’ reading, drilling down to a specific topic and researching books, blogs and studies that help me understand. I may only read one chapter from a book that is relevant.
Lao Tzu once said, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Cheers, here’s to an abandoned yoke.
What an incredible article and discord.
Tim, thanks for the great question.
A small hack for me occurred 3 years ago, when I stopped taking on new habits, and instead asked, “Is a rule more appropriate to create the life I want?”
Take alcohol or desserts as a great example. I used to eat desserts “only on special occasions” which left both me and people I share those occasions with blurry boundaries.
Now, I have a rule that I agreed with: I don’t eat desserts.
Do I break that rule? Very rarely.
The real power is that people closest to me know my rule, and they honor it when we break bread in their home, my home, or at a restaurant.
I’ve eliminated a lot of decisions by using random task selection. I have lists of my top tasks and all my tasks and select from each every so often. I’ve also made it a policy of whatever is selected doing at least 5 minutes with it.
One meal a day (OMAD)
One decision removes 100 decisions and many more frustrations.