This week I decide less
I have two seemingly unrelated theories about life.
First, successful people eat boring breakfasts. Crude, but true. Look around the busy exec-y types you know – they eat vegemite on toast, or porridge. Every day. And don’t put any further thought to it. It’s only ratbags like me who deliberate wildly between boiled eggs, quinoa porridge and left-over Indian.
The second, kids – despite their protestations – don’t actually want to be asked what after-school activity they prefer for next semester, or what they’d like on their sandwich today. I don’t have kids, but I was talking about this with friends-who-are-parents last weekend. As one said, “It was better, wasn’t it – for everyone – back when we were told ‘hey, kids it’s devon and tomato sauce today’. We’d move on to wrestling with our sister. What have we done?” We’ve bludgeoned kids with decisions, that’s what.
I’ve touched on this issue before in this column: the chore that is making decisions. But, seriously, it’s the sexiest topic doing the psychology rounds at the moment and so I thought I should re-penetrate with the latest findings. They all say the same thing: we’re a society suffering “decision fatigue”. The New York Times magazine this month ran a long feature on the subject and there’s emerged a spate of books to choose from about the art of choosing. At every turn, we have to make more decisions – whether to reply to an email, to pay for extra legroom, to subscribe to the weekly newsletter. We’re expected to have an opinion on everything and it’s leaving us choicely buggered.
A study earlier this year found, unlike, say, running fatigue – which sees us hit a wall – decision fatigue sees us do dumb things, like reverting to default or safe options, or to making decisions that keep our options open…which just prolongs the fatigue. After a day spent making decisions, judges in the US were found to default to more severe parole sentences in the afternoon. They were decision-spent, so set conservative sentences that kept options open (they could always reduce them later). Another study found when we have to choose the customized extras for our car, we deliberate conscientiously at the start of the form, then eventually “give in” to the default options (nattily, companies put the more expensive decisions at the end of forms). Or, of course, we put off deciding.
But, friends, I’m interested in solutions here. And preferably ones that are dictated to me. Because this is the point: the less pithy decisions we make, the more decisive energy we have for the important ones.
Fix #1: set your life up to make less decisions.
Eat the same breakfast. Wear a suit. Buy the same brand of frozen peas. Again to revisit, a while back I shared I was living out of one suitcase. I have done so for six months now and I do in fact think it’s made me more successful. I don’t deliberate what to wear– I have one exercise ensemble and three “day outfits” that I rotate – freeing me to make more important decisions, like whether to include this example in this column.
Fix #2 Do whatever grabs you.
I stumbled on this productivity advice a while back: scan your to-do list and just do stuff that appeals, thus saving the decision of whether it’s a priority. It warms you up and eventually you get through the lot. I’ve been applying this to life generally. Grabbing the first item on the pub menu that I see and not worrying I’ll get food envy, for instance. It’s strangely motivating because you know you’re doing it for an important reason – to conserve choice power.
Fix #3 Spend an hour making choices.
Most stuff we “can’t get to” (emails, paperwork, etc.), says Steve Chandler in his book Time Warrior, bank up because they require a decision (that we’ve been too buggered to make). Fly through your to-do list and make a fast decision; make it a game, he says. Again, I found it worked knowing it was for a greater cause.
I’m not a parent, but perhaps telling your eleven-year-old that the reason they’re having devon (again) is because you’re saving them from choosing a drop-kick husband when they’re older might work too?