“No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.” – John Tierney
Something we often take for granted is our brains’ ability to make decisions. This is something we think of as being limitless in capacity and the assumption is that we can make as many decisions as we like and never ‘run out’ of decision-making fuel.
The reality though, is that our decision making capacity is finite. After a certain amount of time, making lots of decisions can eventually begin to take its toll on us and this can leave us exhausted and unable to make even the smallest choice. This is what we call ‘decision fatigue’.
This is something that Steve Jobs was somewhat infamous for and in order to help reduce his ‘decision fatigue’, he made the decision to only ever wear the same outfit. As such, he threw out all of his clothes and replaced them with multiple jeans and multiple black turtlenecks. His hope was that by removing the need to decide what to wear, he would be able to devote more mental energy to coming up with the next ground-breaking hardware and software ideas!
Apparently it worked out rather well for him, seeing as he went on to spearhead some of the most successful hardware products in history…
Now, I’m not suggesting that you should do the same. After all, most of us like being able to mix up our look and wear things that grab attention and make us feel confident. And there’s a lot to be said for this too if you subscribe to theories such as ‘the law of attraction’.
Fortunately, there are a number of simpler methods you can use to achieve pretty much the same thing. Here are some tricks to ‘simplify’ your life and thereby reduce decision fatigue.
Starting with clothes, there are some good compromise solutions we can use to emulate Jobs without directly mimicking his strategy.
One simple idea is to take some time out on a Sunday and to use this in order to plan what you’re going to wear for the rest of the week. This way, you won’t wear the same thing every single day but you also won’t have to make a decision each morning about what you’re going to wear – you can simply refer to your ready-made schedule.
This isn’t a fool-proof plan though, as you might find that you end up changing your mind halfway through the week based on the weather, or based on your mood. An alternative then is just to pick a selection of outfits and then to choose one of them to wear.
Another useful tip is to think about your clothes in terms of outfits and combinations. In other words, buy clothes that can be worn in multiple combinations so that lots your trousers go with lots of your tops etc. This will make choosing outfits much easier because most of the things you throw together should work as outfits.
If you maintain a similar breakfast and lunch every day then this can also help you to reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a day. Find a breakfast cereal that works for you, or a spread for your toast and then just start every day with that same meal. Likewise, look for somewhere that you can buy your lunch or find something easy you can make at home in a lunch box.
Eating the same breakfast and lunch every day reduces your decision making and it also makes it that much easier to track calories if you’re trying to lose weight and to save time.
For your dinner, try thinking at the start of the week what it is that you want to eat throughout the week and then you’ll have a plan you can follow. This is also a useful way to reduce waste (because you can plan meals that use the same ingredients) and also means that you can cook some of the bigger meals at the start of the week and keep them in Tupperware’s to easily set up.
Setting up standing orders is a great way to simplify your life and to automate a lot of the things that might previously have taken time and effort.
One of the biggest drains on our time and energy is the ‘weekly shop’ that most of us do at the start of the week. Shopping involves a lot of decision making as well as a lot of walking around and pushing through busy queues.
So why not set up a standing order and have your groceries delivered? Most supermarkets now offer this service and it basically means that you can receive all of your weekly shop automatically, right on your doorstep without even needing to leave the house!
Of course you’ll probably still need to do a little shopping to pick up those supplementary extras for your meal plans, but now you’re picking up a few eggs and some paprika rather than doing a gigantic shop that will tax you to the limit.
One of the easiest things you can do to reduce your decision fatigue is to remove the number of options available to you. For instance then, this might simply mean that you go to a smaller shop with fewer products on offer so you have less to choose from. It can also mean having fewer clothes, or fewer possessions overall.
You can also reduce your choices by designating certain days for certain activities (which is also a great way to ensure things get done). Thus, Monday might become ‘date night’ whereas Tuesday might become ‘chores night’.
Make Big Decisions Earlier in the Day
Avoiding decision fatigue is not only important to help keep your energy levels up and avoid falling asleep at work – it’s also important if you want to make the right decisions.
As you get tireder and as you use up your available mental faculties, you can exhaust your brain and leave it less able to make decisions. Studies show in fact, that as the day drags on and we get tireder, we actually start to make worse decisions – we even become less moral (1)!
While reducing the number of decisions you have to make is one way to prevent this from being a problem, another option is to make the more important decisions earlier in the day when you still have more energy. This might be different for early birds vs. night owls – but either way the key is to make the most important decisions when you feel most alert, awake and full of energy!