You need to start making less decisions

How many decisions do you have to make a day? The average person has to make about 35,000 choices every day. At first glance, that doesn’t seem right. Surely, you aren’t faced with that many decisions on a daily basis? Wait. Think about it. When you wake up, you get out of bed, which foot do you swing down the side of the bed first? Left foot or right foot? When you brush your teeth, which side do you start from? Which tooth do you brush first? Do you stroke upwards, downwards or sideways? Fortunately for us, most of the decisions we make on a daily basis are almost automatic. The brain uses the habit loop to allow you do routine tasks like brushing your teeth, making a cup of tea, driving to work without having to consciously think about it. It doesn’t mean you aren’t making decisions. Only that they occur on a near subconscious level.

A decision tree
Life is a series of infinite decisions

Besides the automatic decisions, you also have to make a lot more complex decisions across the day. In the morning, you probably decided what you wanted to wear today. Depending on how fashion conscious you are, that could take anything from a few minutes to an hour or more. When you have a fever, do you call in sick and go see a doctor or go to your neighbourhood chemist to get antimalarials? Should you close the deal early or bargain harder with your client? Perhaps they really can afford to pay you more.

Regardless whether a decision is automatic or conscious, simple or complex, having to make a choice requires brainpower. If you have to make too many choices everyday, you are likely to suffer fatigue. When you have a crazy morning where you had to leave the house half-dressed, responded to an emergency, navigated heavy traffic, almost got arrested and narrowly escaped an accident before starting work, you are likely to feel tired even before noon. Having to make too many decisions is having an effect on you. You will have less energy for any of the more complex decisions you still have to make that day.

A decision tree with two options
Where you can help it, make less decisions

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook is famous for wearing the same outfit to work everyday. His reason: He has to make so many choices everyday, he doesn’t want to waste brainpower picking out an outfit every morning so he keeps multiple copies of the same outfit for each day. That might be a little too extreme for most people. I simply wear what’s on top of the wardrobe every morning.

The point it is, in order to be most productive, you want to save your brainpower for the really important decisions not the trivial. That can be achieved by making simple changes to your lifestyle everyday such as:

  1. Picking out what outfit to wear the night before.
  2. Packing everything you need to take to work the previous evening.
  3. Planning your meals for the week over the weekend.

Think about all the little decisions you make every day, especially those you make in the morning before you start working. Is there a way to make them less complex and more automatic? Can they be made much earlier so you only have to follow through with your decisions? The less decisions you have to make everyday, the more energy and focus you will have for the more complex decisions that affect your goals. I know which I’d rather focus on.

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