Productivity: decreasing decision overload

I am fascinated with the habits that the ultra-successful have in common because they’re obviously doing something right. So when I heard that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg always wears the same t-shirt, and Warren Buffet eats the same breakfast every morning, I thought, What a brilliant method for saving time every day.


That’s exactly what these iconic industry leaders are doing. By automating something they do every single morning, they’re saving a little bit of time and energy on what doesn’t matter to them. Which got me thinking, how does this approach apply to the every-man. Can this strategy help me?


If you think about it, we make tens of thousands of micro decisions every day. What to eat, what to wear, which route to take to work, where to park, what radio station to listen to, are all decisions that we make automatically without much thought. They may seem minuscule in comparison to the big decisions, like where to vacation next year or whether to invest in stocks or real-estate, but neuroscientists have found that regardless of importance, all decisions we make use up valuable mental resources. Just like the muscles in our body, the brain can only do so much heavy lifting in a given day.


So how does decision making effect our productivity? According to The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin, “Neuroscientists have discovered that unproductivity and loss of drive can result from decision overload” (pg. 5).


As if brain fatigue from basic decisions wasn’t enough. “In 2011, Americans took in 5 times as much information every day as they did in 1986 – the equivalent of 175 newspapers” (Levitin, p. 7).  Considering that a lot of that information is throw-away bits from TV, advertisements, videos and articles, it’s a wonder that any of us have the mental energy to accomplish anything of real substance.


When I think about the kind of decisions that I spend much of my day making, I wonder how many times I’m wasting valuable energy that I could be using towards far more important decisions. Treating my mind as a limited and precious reserve of energy is an interesting challenge. It makes me think about all the actions and behaviors that I do in my routine that are “no brainers.” Everytime you do something that’s a no-brainer that is accomplishing something, is necessary, or is healthy for you, it means you’re being productive without causing mental fatigue.


So here’s your 10 minute exercise for streamlining your routine, simplifying your decisions, and improving your productivity. Reflect on all the major decisions you make within a day or week that significantly influence your life. These decisions, such as where to send your child to school, which candidate to hire for the company, or whether to buy a used or new car, deserve your mental energy and focus.


Now think about all the decisions you make that aren’t significant to your success, happiness, or productivity. Consider what questions you ask yourself throughout the day that can be eliminated by adjusting some habits. The goal here is to take some of these mini debates and dialogues and transform them into “no brainers.” How can I reduce the amount of decisions I make within a day so that I’m saving all my mental energy for the things that really matter? Here are some ideas.


  1. Flip a coin – when there are two options that sound good for dinner, let a simple coin toss make the decision for you.
  2. Delegate – if you’re always planning the birthday parties, ask if someone else would like to take over party duty this time around.
  3. Lump actions together – rather than asking yourself if you’ve drank enough water today, lump drinking water with mealtime so it’s a no-brainer.
  4. Repeat yourself – if you really like a certain meal for breakfast, make it every morning so you don’t have to rethink the wheel.


Image via The Glitter Guide


I help high-performers organize their lives. Follow for my 3-step method + the Simply Spaced life.

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