Want a Happier, More Productive Life? Start Making Fewer Decisions

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Christine Ianni
Christine Ianni




Think about all the personal and professional choices you make in a day: Eggs or yogurt? Blue shirt or black shirt? Do I spend time on this task now or later? Do I ask for help or dive in? After making hundreds of decisions, it's no wonder we are exhausted by the end of the day.

So what if I told you there was a way to reduce the amount of decisions you were making? What if I told you that doing so just might make you happier?

In his latest book, The Happiness Equation, best-selling author Neil Pasricha set out to explain why the secret to having everything is to want nothing and do anything. How did he come about this equation? After attempting to count every decision he made in a single day (spoiler alert: it wound up being 285), he started thinking about where he was truly wasting time. A quick breakdown revealed that of those 285 decisions, 75 were gym related, 32 were food related, and 62 were email related ... and these three topics covered only half of his mind's daily work.

After this analysis, Pasricha began to question what leaders were doing differently and how he could make these changes to his own life. To learn more about his pursuit of happiness, we sat down with him on this week’s episode of The Growth Show to talk about his findings. (See full episode below).

Why Successful People Eliminate Decisions

A friend once sent me an article on why the most successful people wear the same thing everyday. While I'm certain this was a stab at the fact that I wear a lot of black, the article indicated a valuable point: By reducing the amount of trivial decisions they make each day, they're helping to ensure their successive decisions will be good ones.

In fact, research suggests that the more decisions an individual makes in a short period of time, the more each decision decreases in quality. Therefore, a finite amount of space for mental exertion exists before quality takes a hit. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as decision fatigue.

President Obama touched on this concept in an interview with Vanity Fair:

You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can't be going through the day distracted by trivia."

Am I suggesting you go out and buy 20 gray and blue suits? Not exactly. The key takeaway here is that leaders actually make very few decisions. That's how they stay productive. And if you can reduce the number of choices you force yourself to make -- e.g., what to wear -- you'll be more prepared to adequately address more significant decisions as they arise.

How do you know which decisions to make and which to discard? That's up next ...

A Simple Framework for Making Fewer Decisions

This framework -- referred to by Pasricha as the “Just Do It Scribble” -- focuses on changing the way you prioritize daily choices using four words: automate, effectuate, regulate, and debate. By using this approach to set priorities, we can both increase the amount of time we have to spend on important decisions and reduce the time spent on trivial tasks. So how does it work?


1) Automate

“If it’s low in time and low in importance, your goal is to automate,” explains Pasricha.

Don't have time to pick up the essentials at the grocery store? Try Subscribe & Save -- a delivery service powered by Amazon. Having trouble keeping up with your to-do list? Set up IFTTT recipe that saves your iOS reminders to an Evernote checklist. Keep forgetting to write that rent check? Set up an electronic bill pay from your bank account to send static payments.

By automating certain tasks you will be able to focus on the more important decisions at hand.

2) Effectuate

When it comes to tasks that are, "low in time but high in importance,” the decision is simple: Just do it. Whether it's eating dinner with your kids, picking up your sister from physical therapy, or exchanging pleasantries with colleagues, these tasks are typically worth the time investment.

3) Regulate

Set aside the same time slots for mundane tasks by making a schedule. This might mean checking your calendar on your commute, responding to email for the first 30 minutes of your workday, cleaning your apartment on the same day each week, or putting your lunch together for the following day before bed. When it comes to tasks that are "high in time and low in importance," the goal is to find a schedule that works for you, get it in one place, and stick to it.

4) Debate

When dealing with tasks that are "high in importance and high in time" -- buying a car, moving to a new city, finding a partner, selecting a job -- do your due diligence and research. You can do this by making lists of pros/cons, speaking with trusted friends or family members, or simply sleeping on it. These are the decisions that are worth the space in your brain, so take your time with them and have an internal debate.

The takeaway? If you want to reduce the amount of daily decisions you’re making, improve the quality of each one, and start feeling a little happier, take a few moments to re-work how you are prioritizing your time. Often times, happiness is a result of smart choices.

Want more advice on how to structure your daily life? Check out our conversation with Pasricha on The Growth Show on iTunes.

(P.S. Don't hesitate to leave a review! We are always looking to hear from listeners like you.)

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