Isn’t abundance reassuring?
It feels good to go to the grocery store and see the produce cooler stuffed with lettuce, kale, and even radishes (the D student of the vegetable family).
A closet full of clothes means plenty of options. No need to wear the same outfit more than twice a month.
There are 7,144 songs in my iTunes library. Half of them haven’t been played since 2008 (that’s literally true; I checked), but it feels good just to have them.
Having so much choice might feel good on the surface, but it’s slyly draining our productivity and needlessly complicating our lives. Here are three ways to solve that truly modern problem: having too many choices.
1. To Avoid Decision Fatigue, Ruthlessly Prune Your Life.
Good decisions are a limited daily resource. We’re able to make a finite number of them each day, and when we’ve used them up, we enter a zone of decision fatigue.
Once we reach decision fatigue, we can still make decisions. We’re just much less likely to make good ones. You may have noticed this at the end of a difficult workday or any day spent at Disneyland: you’re just done. You can’t think straight.
I visualize it this way: each morning, there’s an envelope on my nightstand. It’s labeled “Jonathan’s Good Decisions for [today’s date].” I can spend them all before lunch (and sometimes I do) or I can ration them, stretching them until bedtime.
So if our decision-making power is limited, why not prune away as many extraneous decisions as possible?
Why not approach our lives like a master arborist caring for a beautiful oak tree?
Take a fresh look at your regular activities and hobbies, especially those that require lots of attention and decision-making.
Are there any dead branches?
2. Put Routines to Work For You
It happens so subtly that we don’t even notice.
We sit down at our desks in the morning, look around at the work waiting for us, and sink into our chair. So much to do. Where to start?
There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel each day. The more often you’re going to be in a situation, the more you need a well-thought-out, tinkered-with, self-engineered routine.
Weekday mornings are a great example. You’re going to face around 11,000 weekday mornings during your working life. Why start from scratch each day?
When possible, eliminate decisions by doing the same thing the same way each time.
3. Make Your Schedule Before You Start
You can’t assign everything to a routine. For what’s left, schedule out your day.
I know you used to do this but have gotten out the habit. We all do. It doesn’t matter — just get back on the horse. Here’s the process:
- Look at your to-do list. If you don’t have one, quickly sketch one out.
- Next to each item, write down how long you think it will take. (You’ll get better at predicting this over time).
- Compare your list to the time you have available today.
- Assign each task to a block of time, giving yourself time for breaks.
Making your schedule before you start sidesteps a big pothole:
Your future self is irresponsible.
Don’t give her any more power than you must. “3:00 PM you” is probably going to feel like watching YouTube instead of working on that report. Don’t make it her call.
Having lots of choices feels good, but more options doesn’t mean more good outcomes. By actively managing the level of choice in your daily life, you can increase your productivity and reduce your stress.