Why You Should Simplify Routine Decisions
Research shows that later in the day, judges are more likely to deny parole. And doctors are more likely to prescribe antibiotics, even when they aren’t needed.
If we have already used up our decision making energy for the day, then we may rush through later decisions just because we want to get them over with.
But, what happens when we reduce the number of routine decisions, in order to save energy for the choices that matter? If we are able to give important choices the attention they deserve, we might make better decisions where it counts.
Below are a few ways you can cut down on routine decisions in your life to make room for important ones.
Simplify Your Wardrobe
My kids’ school has a uniform. If you were to ask them about it, my kids would say they’d rather not have a uniform. But, guess what my son wears on free dress days? The uniform. Because he’s not interested in figuring out something else to wear.
As a parent, I love the uniform. It makes school mornings much easier. It’s one less thing to think about.
It turns out this is a strategy employed by some highly successful people. Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs are a few examples of busy people who reduced decision fatigue by defaulting to nearly the same outfit day after day.
Now, I’m no CEO, but I have fully embraced minimalist attire. I have a handful of pants and shirts that I like. Comfortable, easy to wash, neutral colours. When my clothes wear out, I buy a few more identical pairs. Same brand, same size, same colours. Easy as can be.
Simplify Your Food
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, eats one meal a day. He says it makes him feel more focused. Not having to decide what to eat during the day frees him up to concentrate on the demands of running two major companies.
Intermittent fasting has its fans and its critics. I’ll leave it up to the experts to decide the merits or drawbacks of time-restricted eating.
But, whether you skip meals or not, there are many ways to simplify your food. I’m a big fan of cooking up extra on weekends. At the end of a weekday, I want a tasty, nutritious, home-cooked meal. But, I may not have had time to shop or cook that day.
So, on Sundays, I’ll cook up a big stew. I put one meal’s worth in the freezer to save for next month. Then, we eat leftovers for the next few days. While the leftover stew is heating on the stovetop, I make a simple green salad. I love not having to think about what’s for dinner.
Simplify Your Stuff
James Altucher lived out of one carry-on bag for three years. He had a couple of outfits, a laptop, and a phone. He gave up his apartment and stayed in AirBnbs.
Not having a bunch of stuff simplified his need to make decisions. He didn’t cook. He stopped shopping, because if he bought something new, he would have to throw something else out so that everything would fit in that one bag.
With no stuff to maintain, he had a lot of time on his hands. He spent hours everyday reading, thinking, and writing. He doesn’t try to glorify that time; in fact, he says he was probably depressed. But, a pared-down lifestyle suited him for a time.
You don’t have to throw out all your stuff. But you could donate or sell the things you don’t use. With less stuff to keep track of, you can more easily find the things you do use. No more hunting around in the back of the cupboard for the blender.
Simplify Recurring Tasks
Early in my career, I travelled weekly for work. A tip that I picked up somewhere was to keep a fully packed travel toiletry bag ready to go. Keeping one set of toiletries at home and one packed saved me a ton of time.
These days I don’t travel for work, but we do travel as a family. Each time we go, we tend to pack the same things. I finally saved a packing list to the computer. I print it up each time, so I don’t have to figure out all over again what to take. After the trip, I tweak the list for next time. It makes packing a whole lot easier, and I’m less likely to forget something.
There’s no sense in recreating the wheel each time you have to do something. Think about what tasks you do regularly, and look for ones that can be automated. For example, if your bills aren’t on auto-pay, that’s low-hanging fruit right there.
Simplify Your Accounts
Having too many accounts to keep track of can lead to cognitive overload. If you have retirement accounts from old jobs in various places, see if you can roll them over into a single IRA.
Consider closing credit, banking, and investment accounts that you don’t use. Look for opportunities to consolidate accounts that you do use. As tax time rolls around, the fewer places you have to go hunting for forms, the better.
Audit your subscriptions and memberships. Cancel ones you don’t use. Put a reminder in your calendar to do a good clean-out annually, because these things tend to creep back up over time.
Look at every statement in the mail, card in your wallet, and recurring charge on your accounts, and consider if your life might just be simpler without them.
Simplify Your Time
You can say no when someone asks you to do something. You can graciously decline an invitation to a social engagement. Saying no is your superpower. Use it to protect your time.
Eknath Easwaran, in Take Your Time, recommends what he calls the “red pencil exercise” to identify how you spend your time, cut out the fluff, and focus on what’s important. He recommends:
- Make a list of everything you feel bound to do.
- Take a red pencil, and cross out everything that isn’t necessary or beneficial.
- Use the time freed up to do the things that are important to you.
It’s simple, but effective. It’s worth repeating this exercise periodically, since activities have a way of falling back in.
To focus your energy on what’s important, find ways to cut down on the number of decisions you make each day. Consider how you might simplify:
- What you wear
- What you eat
- What you own
- What you do
Then, focus your efforts on what’s truly important to you in life.