Friday, April 22, 2016

Avoiding decision fatigue and preserving creative energy

Here's something you may not know about me: Every weekend, as I do laundry, I "pre-load" my closet: I hang my shirts with the suits I'm going to wear that week, in order by day.

I do this because I learned that making these decisions in advance helps me to avoid decision fatigue. I'm involved in a lot of decisions every day, and the last decision I want to spend any time on is "what am I going to wear to work?" So I make that decision in advance. Every morning, I just grab the next shirt and suit on the rack, and put it on.

I'm not the only person to simplify my wardrobe for this reason. President Barack Obama says he wears pretty much the same two suits, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously wore only a black mock turtleneck and jeans, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg does the same with his grey hoodie and jeans.

It helps that all of my suits are variations of "charcoal grey" so pretty much everything I have goes with everything else. My concessions to avoid monotony include wearing a different tie and cufflinks to work. But do I really want to make that creative decision in the morning—even a small creative decision? I want to preserve my creative energy for the things that matter.

So that's why over the weekend, I spend a little time as I hang each clean shirt to put in the right set of cufflinks and hang an appropriately matching tie on the hanger. Do I have a board meeting this week? I'll queue up a white shirt and red tie for that day. Do I have a governance meeting coming up? I'll make sure to put a blue tie and appropriate shirt into the rotation.

For each day, I also match a set of cufflinks suitable for the meetings I'll have. If I have meetings with the board or the County Manager, I'll choose something with a classic and professional look. No meetings? I'll add some whimsical cufflinks, like the ones that light up or the ones with little penguins.

By "pre-loading" my closet for the week, and by making these "little decisions" in advance, I find I can direct my energy to the important decisions. As I "gear up" for my workday each morning, I maintain my work focus on the things I need to get done. I don't have to "change gears" to make a decision about this or that tie, these or those cufflinks. I just reach for the next shirt and suit in the closet, put them on, and go to work.

I realize this may be something of an extreme. You don't have to go this far. You might simply pair up shirts and pants for the week, or define a personal "uniform" so you can grab anything of that type from your closet. If you're like me, you may find you preserve your creative energy for making the larger decisions later in the day. Avoid making the little decisions that, though small, do wear away at decision fatigue.
photo: Matthew Yohe/Wikimedia (cc-by)

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