Human beings are creatures of convenience. 

Maybe I should say it a different way: humans often want to take the path of least resistance. (Myself, included.)

And that’s why your defaults are so ridiculously important.

Your defaults are what you do (say it with me) by default.

Without thinking about it.

Because thinking about it takes effort.

And because you’re likeliest to do whatever the default is, your defaults define the trajectory of your time, and by extension, your life.

I literally can’t stress this enough.

Don’t believe me?  Let me give you a few examples:

  • In countries where you have to opt-in to organ donation, 15% of people are donors.  While in countries where you have to opt out of organ donation, 90% of people are donors. (Source)
  • For companies that don’t offer “auto-enroll” for 401(k), 67% of people invest.  For companies that auto-enroll, 77% invest. (Source)
  • In countries where you are registered to vote by default when you become of age over a much higher percentage of people actually vote. And for countries, like the US, where you have to actively register to vote, far fewer vote. (Source, Source)

But let’s bring this back to productivity and time management. 

There are small tweaks that you can make to your own defaults that will help you to be more productive and less stressed without extra effort. 

Yes, you heard that right.

Let me share a few:

  • Calendar meeting default length
    • Calendar meeting defaults are generally set to 30 and/or 60 minutes.  So, we generally meet for 30-60 minutes.
    • However, you can use the “Speedy Meetings” setting in Google Calendar, or the “End meetings early” setting in Outlook to change your meeting defaults to whatever you want. 
    • What if you changed your default meeting setting to 20 minutes?  I bet you can get done in 20 minutes what you usually get done in 30 minutes, and then you’ll have a bit of a breather between meetings
    • And as this massive Microsoft study showed, even just 5 minutes between meetings reduced people’s stress significantly.
  • Calendar notifications
    • Your calendar default notification is likely set to 10 -15 minutes before the meeting.  But let me ask you: does this notification actually help you get to your meeting on time?
    • For me, the answer was an unequivocal NO, until I changed the default. 
    • I would see the notification, think to myself, ok, I have time to do one more small thing, and then be late to the meeting anyway because that “one small thing” took longer than expected or led to another “small thing” that led me to forget about the meeting entirely. 
    • Now, my meeting notifications are set to 2 minutes before the meeting, which is just enough time to wrap up, or put a pin in what I am doing, without starting something, new, and actually get to the meeting on time.
    • If you’re working in an office in a large building or campus and you have to physically walk to meetings, then YMMV; adjust this strategy to meet your own circumstances.
  • Other notifications
    • Every app, every game, every communication tool, every everything on your phone and desktop comes with notifications turned on by default.
    • So when you download a new app, go in there and turn off, or at least mindfully set, the notification settings.
    • You may think you’re ignoring all those pings, dings and flashes on your home screen, but science has a different story to tell.
    • Studies show that we spend about 23 minutes on average trying to refocus after a distraction, and I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that notifications are the platonic ideal of a distraction!
  • No vs. Yes
    • This one might be a bit controversial, but what if your default answer became no instead of yes?
    • And, no, I don’t mean you’re gonna start saying no to everything.
    • I just mean, instead of saying yes without thinking about whether you really want to do something, you’ll say “let me think about it” or whatever works for you. (This will help you combat the “Yes, Damn Effect” too!)
    • When you start defaulting to no, or at least to “hold on while I think about it”, you’ll find that, somehow, miraculously, you’re a lot less overloaded than you were before, you’re not overcommitted all the time, and you have some actual breathing room in your schedule.

What defaults do you have set that could stand for a little rethinking?

Tell me in the comments!


  • Alexis Haselberger

    Time Management and Productivity Coach

    Alexis Haselberger Coaching and Consulting, Inc

    Alexis Haselberger is a time management and productivity coach who helps people do more and stress less through coaching, workshops and online courses.  Her pragmatic, irreverent, approach helps people easily integrate realistic strategies into their lives so that they can do more of what they want and less of what they don't.  Alexis has taught thousands of individuals to take control of their time and her clients include Google, Lyft, Workday, Capital One, Upwork and more.