2021: The year of informed decisions

Optimizing my daily decision making with UX and design thinking techniques

After looking at my end of year to-do and look-into lists on Trello, I became overwhelmed with anxiety. I had so many uncompleted checklists, most of those thoughts and ideas should've never left my notepad. I tried to use my time this past year to absorb, learn, and create to my fullest capacity, but 2020 had a different plan for me. Being stuck in my Brooklyn apartment didn’t make it any easier…

I had too many things I wanted to do. I knew it wasn’t possible to complete everything on the list, but I didn't realize the cognitive drain I put on myself by not narrowing down my pie-in-the-sky wishes. In previous years, I would have a graveyard of notes, tasks, ideas that would be deprioritized, but not this year. EVERYTHING was a priority.

There was a reason for that. I generally never left my apartment unless I had to, and even though I’m literally never bored, I wanted to make sure I never ran out of stuff to do and was the most productive I could be.

Linkedin certifications, music to produce, design groups to join, apps to study, the list goes on and on. I never gave myself the opportunity to feel the emotions associated with what I was experiencing in the world around us.

Eventually, everything blurred together and could only do the bare minimum. By the end of November, I couldn’t concentrate more than an hour at a time, and I had to psych myself into remedial tasks. The pressure to do, anxiety from not doing, it was clear — I was burnt out.

Work smarter, not harder

That being said, I’m gonna try something new this year — setting actionable terms and establish guiding principles by which to abide as I start to consider what makes my to-do lists in 2021.

Find clarity

When you’re stuck in a small space, surrounded by the same stuff, never looking further than the walls around you, your brain becomes fuzzy. Everything begins to blur together and basic decision making becomes difficult. Finding time and space away, at least once a day might help bring some perspective.

I’ve been taking baths at 3 am, but all the drying off is starting to get old.

Slow down

I’m in a bad habit of working until everything is done. In doing so, I work fatigued and I’m prone to wasting more time making decisions than necessary. Feeling overwhelmed with how many things need to get done, doesn’t mean I need to overwork myself to have a clean plate. I should know by now that the plate will never be empty.

Also, I need to allow myself to feel ok with not being as productive as I think I should. This year has affected me in ways that I never could’ve imagined, I might want to let off the pedal a bit.

Maximize my time

This means not overloading my schedule, being more present when I’m not working, and practicing time-blocking and sticking to it. My sleep schedule has also suffered because of this. I don’t need to write down every thought that comes through my head or read about design strategies all night.

Generate more value

This is more abstract but implementing a design method to things other than design. In particular, making music and cooking both in the short term and long term. Creating an overarching plan, framing my challenges, and documenting the process, ideally will help me have benchmarks and make adjustments to recipes and track ideas that need further iteration.

Lower my footprint

I don't mean just green here, though that's definitely on the list. After watching people who I genuinely respected act selfishly regarding their following pandemic guidelines, I realized they don’t understand or care about how they affect others around them. That bothers me. If your actions, like going to a giant rave on NYE without masks is a priority, and then you get on a plane right after, you’re dead to me and I wish you social death.

It’s my responsibility and my civic duty to act in a way that helps and doesn't hurt my community. At this point, I have the privilege of being able to stay inside, and, no matter how shitty it is for me, the thought that anyone is suffering is enough to not add to it. I’ve lost people both young and old because of this pandemic so, yeah…

Don’t feel guilty

It’s important to not feel guilty about not completing my to-do list, and since I know that’s impossible, I need to make sure that only the highest priorities make the list.

How will I achieve this?

I’m a visual person, so it makes sense to rely on my favorite tool, A priority matrix.

Per the Neislen Group:

A prioritization matrix is a 2D-visual that shows the relative importance of a set of items based on two weighted criteria.

By weighing my items on an impact vs effort basis before they get to my list, I hope to become more disciplined regarding my uncompleted checklist.

Learn how to create a game: Impact & Effort Matrix.

The only question I have is, “how far will this get me when I’m the only voice in the matrix?”

Going forward

I realized that I need to set some boundaries for my own expectations. 2021 is most likely going to be like 2020, at least until the fall. For my own sanity, I need to pace myself, because another 10 months in my cramped Brooklyn apartment is going to take a better strategy than keeping my head down. I bought a whiteboard (a modern-looking frosted piece of glass type) for my desk in my living room/office/kitchen/dining room and I’m going to move from my pro and con list, to a priority matrix to who knows…

UX Designer w/ a background as a photographer and digital artist. I’m a visual storyteller dedicated to solving complex problems & producing creative solutions.