Want to Thrive? Make Fewer Decisions
It was nearly 2 p.m. and I was sitting at my desk staring blankly at three lunch menus. My eyes were endlessly roving between the glossy pages and my brain was unable to decide between my standard kale salad, vegetarian pad thai, or the new vegan place. As I continued to decompensate, I realized something was off — how was I so out of mental energy that I could barely make simple decision like what to have for lunch?
After a busy day of early morning meetings, answering emails, checking Facebook, updating my LinkedIn, and beginning to think through a board presentation I hadn’t merely run out of steam, I had run out of capacity to make a decision.
In the customized age we are making more decisions than ever, this day in age the average American adult makes approximately 35,000 decisions a day. No wonder we all feel exhausted. Everything from what to wear to work, which train to take the office, to what printer to send your documents. And in a 24-hour period of time, there is a limit.
Numerous studies have shown that using up your mental bandwidth for small decisions negatively impacts your capacity to make larger, more complex, and ultimately more impactful decisions. At work, this can compromise our ability to become an innovative and valuable leader and colleague.
The trick? Make fewer decisions.
Our own POTUS Barack Obama is well-known for routinizing the routine. He says, “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.”
Want to simplify your life today? Here are three simple steps to get on the path to fewer decisions.
1. Almonds in a snack bag are you new friend. As much as commercials try to tell us that most of us are waking up and calmly eating Greek yogurt in a terry cloth robe before work starts, I know that this is not true for the majority of us. That said, keeping a desk drawer full of oatmeal, sandwich bags of almonds, fresh fruit, granola bars, tea bags, etc. helps answer the question of what to have for breakfast or snack. Go buy yourself a reusable snack bag and start your decision making off the right way for the day.
2. All black everything. Or the true story of how I stopped getting lost in my purse. Have you ever needed to find a business card or your lipgloss only to spend 15 minutes searching the bottom of your purse and only coming up with a handful of crumbs, loose change, and a golf pencil with an indeterminate origin? Well, take back your sanity by taking my advice. Last year I made a switch to a single black purse that contains five all black items (makeup bag, iPhone, iPad, moleskin, and business card holder). Try it, trust me, this step alone will change your life.
3. Purchase a mannequin. Ok, please don’t really do this, unless you are a costume designer or have a kitschy vintage home theme, because I doubt this would work well for your social life. That said, taking the time to lay your clothes out the night before is an easy way to save your early morning decisions for something more valuable, like negotiating a raise or facilitating a meeting.