Week by Week – Deciding Less
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” – Barack Obama, Vanity Fair
Decision Fatigue is a real issue. As I get older I think more about how I can avoid mental exhaustion. To that end, we’ve automated a lot of key repetitive tasks in our lives. From grocery delivery, to landscape maintenance, pest control, dry cleaning, house keeping, food delivery, pet sitter, and much more. The goal is not to be lazy and have the free time to lounge around, but instead to open up our creative and critical thinking capacity.
Many would not think that most of the above activities would be a brain drain, but when measured against the total number of decisions someone is asked to make in a day, it can lead to decision fatigue. That state has a measurable effect on the quality of your decisions as the day progresses. Moreover, I recently read an article about how we are constantly inundated with prompts from the smart devices around us which are really creating more and more decision points.
One topic that can lead to decision fatigue is the everyday battle with clothing choices. As part of a recent experiment, I wore the same outfit four days in a row to work and no one seemingly noticed or mentioned it. We make too much of deciding what to wear everyday. This interaction kills time and can drain creativity from our brains before we’ve even left the house. Therefore, I am going to make this experiment a permanent one adopting a life uniform; joining the likes of Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Tom Ford, and Michael Koda. I will be combining this approach with a Capsule Wardrobe technique and switch between two basic outfits everyday.
The goal is to optimize one more area of decision making that I have hated dealing with since High School. Appearance, is extremely important to most of us. We derive confidence and, for better or worse, some sense of self worth. So what I am suggesting is, find one or a FEW really great items that go with almost anything, so that you can make that decision point one of the smoothest and fastest everyday. Then go into the world with that same confidence and high degree of satisfaction you need.
It’s not just on the topic of clothing where I want to bring precision level planning to my life. Some other areas I want to optimize include the list below.
Decision Optimaztion Areas:
- Exercise: Create a simple and effective workout routine that can be repeated everyday and anywhere.
- Finances: Reduce the number of financial accounts we have to 6 or less and have them all automated.
- Wardrobe: Reduce wardrobe options and inventory a max of 99 pieces of clothing entirely.
- Mornings: Simply my morning routine, to be completed within 30 minutes.
- Food: Limit meal choices to 1 of 3 healthy options for 80% of meals; mostly breakfast and lunch.
- Passwords & Security: Utilize a password generator and manager.
- Software Applications: Delete apps that do almost the same thing with no key differentiator.
Beyond these areas, I’ve also started to eliminate the notifications on electronic devices that are really inputs asking me to make a decision every time they pop up. I’ve also started to block and avoid advertising in my email by unsubscribing from everything, using ad blocking apps, and avoiding TV. In fact, I rank advertising as one of the worst assaults on our mental faculties. Email marketing campaigns, social media, search ads, and TV commercials all work together to erode our will power and eventual our ability to make informed and intentional decisions. When that comes to money, it can be disastrous. Below is a great action plan I came across that can help you fight this onslaught of stimulus.
Action Plan for Combating Decision Fatigue:
From: Tony Wideman
- Make your big decisions in the morning.
- Choose the simple option.
- It does not have to be perfect.
- Limit Your Time On Social Media.
- If it is not a Hell Yes, Than It Is A No.
One could argue that suppressing the amount of decision making you have to make could starve the brain of much needed mental exercise. I would agree, which is why it is important to fill the newly freed up decision making capacity and time with creative, educational, and experietianal pursuits. From learning an instrument or language, to traveling to new places, or even just communicating better with those around you.
To be fair, not all decisions are the same. In fact, it’s because they are not all the same that they should not all carry the same prioritization. Given our ever busier and busier lives, it only makes sense to me automate the lowest value choices so that greater analysis can be put into the decisions that really matter. The shoes you wear don’t matter compared to a decision to buy or hold on a particular stock.
Minimalism factors big into avoiding decision fatigue. The decluttering of your life has a direct connection to decluttering your mind. So, I have created and I am sharing here my target Capsule wardrobe to illustrate how detailed and organized I have tried to make my clothing options and remove a decision point from my everyday life. Also, I have shared some examples of highly successful people who took a similar approach.
|Pants||6||Blue, Grey||Denim & Travel Jeans|
|Shirt||1||Blue||Casual, Short Sleeve|
|Shirt||1||White||Formal French Cuff|
|Shirt||1||Black||OU Golf Shirt|
|Shorts||3||Grey, Blue, Khaki||Casual|
|Swim Trunks||2||Khaki, Red||Board Shorts|
|Long Sleeve T-Shirt||5||Grey||Casual|
|Thermal Bottom||3||Grey, White||Casual|
|Tie||2||Grey, Blue||Skinny Tie|
|Athletic Shorts||1||Black||Cycling Shorts|
|Athletic Tops||5||Black, Blue, Red||Sport|
|Athletic Tops||1||Black||Cycling Jersey|
|Athletic Socks||6||Black||Running, Cycling|
|Long Athletic Socks||5||Various||Ski, Compression, Soccer|
|Hats||3||Various||Patriots, Kauai, California|
|Bracelet||1||Red||Casual & Formal, Leather|
|Ring||1||Grey||Tungsten Wedding Band|
Famous Decision Automators:
- Karl Lagerfeld – many famous designers wear a uniform outfit themselves.
- Barack Obama – limits wardrobe to two suit choices, used simple email responses of “Agree,” “Disagree” or “Discuss” for most emails, keeps a select social calendar.
- Mark Zuckeberg – limits wardrobe to gray t-shirt with a black hoody and jeans majority of the time, simplified food choices.
- Steve Jobs – wardrobe and car limits, black turtleneck with jeans and sneakers daily, same silver Mercedes for years.
- Ablert Einstein – wardrobe, several versions of the same gray suit.
Here are some additional articles you can read on Decision Fatigue if you want to learn more.
- Why You Should Limit Your Number of Daily Decisions – Andrew Cohen – Entrepreneur Magazine
- Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? – John Tierney – New York Times
- Daily Decisions Make Mush of Your Mind – Dave Mosher, Live Science
- Tough Choices: How Making Decisions Tires Your Brain – On Amir, Scientific American
- Minimalism, The Nemesis of Decision Fatigue and the Overall Bad Day – Tony Wideman