Since I began thinking hard about people who wear the same thing every day, I’ve been examining other ways to minimize decisions in my daily life.
I’ve put this into practice in obvious ways, and unusual ones. Here are a few practices to minimize decision fatigue and maximize productivity and creativity.
1. EAT THE SAME THING.
Back in my Crossfit days, many of our gym’s elite performers ate the same thing every day, and I mean the exact same thing: turkey, green beans, and almonds, 5 mini-meals per day, with only dinner for variety. They aren’t alone: many successful people regularly eat the same thing to free up mental space.
For the past six months, 95% of my weekday lunches at home have been the exact same thing. Will and I are actively discussing what lunch will look like when the weather finally warms up. (It’s looking like something involving salad greens and chicken.) Breakfast is always some combination of eggs and avocados. No decisions required.
2. … OR ALMOST THE SAME THING.
There are less drastic ways to implement the same principle. We have pizza every Friday. My friend goes further than this (and I’m thinking of following her lead): she’s made a loose weekly formula for her family’s meals to guide their choices: Asian on Monday, Mexican on Tuesday, Italian on Wednesday. (More ideas on formulas here.)
3. EMBRACE DAILY ROUTINES.
I make coffee every morning, then sit down at the computer (or grab a legal pad) and start writing. (Not facebook, not email. Writing.) Then I’m out the door to exercise.
It turns out I’m doing something right: time management experts say if you don’t know where to start, start with implementing a morning routine and evening routine. I also have a routine for the 2:00 hour, which is when I hit my daily slump.
For an amazing look at possible daily routines, check out Mason Currey’s fascinating book Daily Rituals.
4. ESTABLISH HARD EDGES IN YOUR DAY.
This tip is from the pithy guide Manage Your Day to Day. “Set a start time and a finish time for your workday, even if you work alone. Dedicate different times of day to different activities: creative work, meetings, correspondence, administrative work, and so on. These hard edges keep tasks from taking longer than they need to and encroaching on your other important work. They also help you avoid workaholism, which is far less productive than it sounds.”
I’ve been gradually building more of these hard edges into my day. I’d especially recommend it if you flirt with burnout.
5. CREATE IF-THEN RULES FOR YOURSELF.
I learned this trick from 3 tiny habits and the Heath Brothers. You’re much more likely to follow through on your good intentions if you use if-then planning: if X happens, then I will do Y. The if-then allows you to decide your course of action in advance, before you’re tired, stressed, or swamped.
For me, this looks like: If I pour a cup of coffee, then I pour a glass of water. If I’m at Trader Joe’s for the first time in a week, then I buy fresh flowers. If it’s 4:00 p.m. and I haven’t been to the park yet, then it’s time to walk the dog.
6. IF IT INCITES DECISION ANGST, DROP IT.
A few years ago, we dropped our Costco membership for this reason. I could never figure out when to go, and I thought about it a lot. (Now that they’ve opened a second area store much closer to where we live, this isn’t nearly as nerve-wracking.)
7. LIMIT YOUR OPTIONS.
This is straight out of The Paradox of Choice. Too many options are just as bad as not enough: we’re happier and more productive when we consider fewer possibilities. Here’s a recent example. We’ve needed new bedding for a while. I didn’t like the options at our local bedding store, but when I started looking online I was overwhelmed by the choices. I couldn’t handle shopping the whole internet, or even the whole mall. I needed fewer options.
I explained my dilemma to my designer friend and asked her to tell me where to shop. She recommended a single store, which brought my options back into the reasonable range. (Her answer: Pottery Barn.)
I’ve been on an organizing kick lately, and the amount of organizing goods out there is completely overwhelming—so many tips and tools from so many sources. I am helpless against all of Pinterest. Last week I decided to limit my options, and resolved to focus on just one area (the pantry) and place an order from just one store (The Container Store). And now our pantry looks pretty great. Are there better, cheaper options out there? Probably. But the job is done, and that’s good enough for me.
How do you streamline decision making in your daily life? I’d love to hear your obvious and not-so-obvious tips and tricks?