By Mark Lewandowski with contribution from Jordan Evans
Is it possible that the number of decisions you are forced to make every day minimizes your creativity and puts your best efforts at risk? Have you ever thought “Life exhausts the hell out of me?” Do you feel inexplicably drained? It is quite possible that you are experiencing what is called “decision fatigue.”
... decision what?
Decision fatigue is the result of making 35,000 decisions each day. Yes, that is correct - 35,000 decisions - every day. Is it any wonder that we find ourselves exhausted mentally, physically, and even emotionally? Making so many decisions each day can drain our energy and zap our creativity.
Ever wonder why Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day? It was not because he didn’t have any style or enough money to buy more clothes. Mark Zuckerberg does the same thing for one very good reason: it is one less decision they must make every day. These geniuses may very well be on to something. They believe that choosing what to wear in the morning is not a significant decision. It’s a distraction from those thoughts, ideas, and insights that lead to real productivity and innovation.
"KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid!"
- Kelly Johnson
Imagine how much room for creative thought you could enjoy when you eliminate decisions that are not important such as, what to wear, what to eat, and what road to take? Lots of small decisions can add up to a rather large expenditure of our mental focus - focus that could otherwise be spent on problem solving and creativity.
Where do I start?
I am not saying to throw out all your clothes except for a pair of jeans and a t-shirt (although it could very well be worth a try). Start with something simple. Minimize your wardrobe to only items you like wearing and make you feel good. Next, continue to simplify the most creative part of your day: the morning. Instead of eating something different for breakfast every day and worrying about variety, try eating the same few healthy things with slight modifications. Allow your mind to focus on thoughts of innovation, change and dynamic processes at work and not how to prepare an elaborate breakfast. Take the most enjoyable route to work, not just the fastest. Your commute focus should be on peaceful thoughts, not the stress of beating others to the front row parking spot or to the last seat on the train.
Our mind is the most powerful tool we have. We can solve more problems and think more creatively when our brain is not distracted with meaningless thoughts and tasks. I’m not saying that what you eat for breakfast is meaningless, rather it is a decision that can distract you from other, perhaps more important brain activity if you let it consume too much of your time and effort. Your morning should be focused on achievement and creativity, leaving your evenings for enjoyable, superfluous activities like preparing engaging meals, playfully arguing over the best music, and selecting the perfect wine (Salud!).
Decision Fatigue in Practice
Our brains are programmed to make good decisions. However, when we are overloaded with too many choices we risk making poor decisions. Consider the restaurant that offers a 7-page menu when two would have been sufficient. The patron is distracted, confused and exhausted from choices. Many very successful restaurants showcase fewer items that are exceptional and perfectly prepared (E.g. In-and-Out Burger). The choice is much simpler and the patron is left relieved and excited for a simple choice or a strong recommendation.
Much of the research on creativity and thought optimization focuses upon the person that is tolerant of ambiguity and an environment that is dynamic. I am not proposing that we leave out all variation and choice, in fact, variation is fundamental to creativity. I am simply proposing that we eliminate unnecessary distractions that tend to minimize our best mental output.
Last week, my assistant asked me to weigh in on the menu for the upcoming holiday party. Now that is a distraction that is completely unnecessary! I simply said, “no, you choose". I can’t weigh in on every decision and ruin a day dedicated to innovation, process improvement, and organizational growth. I have never met a micro-manager that is would be considered “creative.”
Yes, it’s true, I wear almost the same thing every day. I love it because I am not using the best part of my day to consider pants. I don’t vary much on my breakfast, except which salsa I put on my egg whites. I walk the dogs and do my cardio in an environment that is consistent and methodical because it allows me to slip into deep, penetrating thought that can change my day for the better. My mornings are dedicated to creative thought and its application in my day. Next time someone criticizes you for being too predictable, just remember you are in good company, keeping the right things in focus and enjoying the rewards of success.