A few years ago, Moneyball author Michael Lewis wrote an article in Vanity Fair after shadowing President Obama for a few days. This rare access allowed Lewis to study the President’s frenetic schedule. A typical day may include a breakfast meeting with a world leader, giving time to children in the Make-A-Wish program, and a late afternoon cabinet meeting. Every meeting was meaningful and would likely drain someone like you and me. How can a president make monumental decisions and still have the capacity to attend a state dinner that evening?
Obama credits, in part, the limited number of decisions he makes. It’s not the size of the decisions; it’s the quantity that creates fatigue. For efficiency and safety reasons, every President has an ironclad routine. Small things such as what he’d wear were worked out well in advance. As president, he didn’t have to spend any time thinking about the suit he was going to wear, and Presidents have the luxury of having a world-class chef create a variety of meals and thus limiting his food decisions.
Researchers estimate we make nearly 35,000 decisions in the course of the day. Of course, nearly all of them are subconscious and seemingly carry little weight and few consequences, but some will wipe you out. Seek and destroy those decisions for a better you.
As a small business owner, I enjoy the freedom but miss the structure of working in an established business. With no boss, every decision is up in the air, including how you will spend your time. Without a template, decision fatigue will rob you of energy and clarity, and for me, my creativity nose dives. This fatigue is real and is why your spouse looks stumped when you ask her where you want to go for dinner at the end of the day. Decision fatigue fills the drive-thru lane at McDonald’s.
Starting with my time working for Tony Robbins more than a decade ago, I’ve been studying successful people’s life habits. Using what I’ve learned and through trial and error, here are some of the best ways I try to make fewer decisions better.
Create Your Template
What are small things that monopolize your time – your clothes, what to eat in the morning, the time you wake and leave for work? Those are all decisions you make every day you could probably skip if you had a personal template.
At a previous job, my wife realized she could be wearing scrubs to work. She’s in healthcare, and it saves time every day. There is a decision butterfly effect freeing up time to sleep more, shop less, and have more time in the morning.
When the alarm goes off, do you get right out of bed, or do you snooze? How many times do you snooze? Will you skip your morning run? What’s for breakfast? What to make for the kids? You’re still in bed, and you’ve already collected an inbox full of decisions – pre-plan breakfast. Set the alarm a few minutes earlier and never snooze should be part of your routine.
There’s a reason why almost every successful person meditates in some way. It’s a way to prepare for the onslaught of decisions coming down the pike. If meditating is not your thing, take a long walk, listen to quiet music or lift heavy weights. This is not about giving you the answers; this is just about clearing out space on your decision hard drive.
If you want to give meditation a shot, I recommend checking out some guided meditations by Tara Brach. I enjoy the meditation time in the morning, but I always have 10-15 minutes before I pick up the kids from school, which I use for meditation.
Write it Down
Download a to-do app. I used to recommend Wunderlist, but it’s been replaced by Microsoft To-Do, which is fine. Have your spouse download it too. Create to-do lists for yourself and ones, like groceries, that you can share and maintain a single list. So when you run out of milk, you don’t need to have a conversation about it; it’s just on the list both of you can see.
I have lists for our house fixes, no matter how small, my film company, book ideas I’m working on, movies I want to watch, stuff I need to buy. Stop trying to remember every little thing. Your brain will thank you for not treating it like Dropbox anymore. Offloading information from your head will free up available brainpower.
If you can let others make the decision. If you can afford help, even on a rare occasion, it’ll free you. If you have a schedule like ours deciding to take an hour to mow the lawn or work on projects for my clients adds more stress than just unhappy clients and an overgrown lawn. If you can pay someone to mow the lawn, so you can spend an extra hour on work or with the kids, do it. This is why companies like Blue Apron exist. You want to cook but don’t know what to cook. You’ve delegated that decision as well as the shopping decisions to someone else.
No matter what your income level, you likely make dozens of financial decisions multiple times a day. Again, some are easy, but they pile up with all the other ones. If they can afford this question, a detailed budget should make it easier to know when to say yes or no and how to pay. You’re, in essence, delegating to your budget. We use You Need a Budget and have stuck with it because it’s the easiest and has worked. The budget has been our focus over the last couple of years, and it feels like we’re in a good place.
You should know what you’re having for dinner on Wednesday by Sunday. Same with breakfast on Friday. There are so many ways to plan, from checking out Fit Men Cook to meal prep choices in magazines and Reddit; ideas are aplenty as well as Instagram. Figuring out in advance will save you time, money, and stress; you can bank for something else.
When grocery shopping and planning, give the kids options, and let them decide. From tacos to pizza, there are healthy ways to prepare them. Letting the child into the decision-making process will improve the chances they’ll actually eat it. When fatigue sets in and figuring out what to eat is impossible, it may be time for a meal planner. We gave it a go and were excited to have someone tell us what to eat for a while.
Studies show that sleep abnormalities impair cognitive thinking. This tends to be my downfall. When our twins were newborns, it seemed like every decision was made by sleep-deprived teenagers. We tried to meal plan, budget, and delegate, but it wasn’t happening because we could barely get enough sleep to stand. We’re still paying for some of those decisions years later. Now, I give myself to nine o’clock to get things done because staying up significantly later will make me a horrible decision maker the next day. I fail at this more than I succeed, but I’ve never been one to sleep more than 6 hours a night anyway.
Your scattered brain needs a break. Hopefully, one of the above will resonate with you because you don’t need a desert spirit journey to clear your mind and be a better parent.