The Top Tips Blog

Improve Your Life By Reducing Your Choices

choice efficiency prioritisation
variety of coffee choices

Like many people across the country* you might well have more time on your hands than ever before and, coincidentally, a larger choice of TV programmes to watch.

If you're like me then some of that time is being spent curled up on the sofa watching dramas.

  • I'm loving Better Call Saul
  • I'm pretending Disney's The Mandalorian is better than it is, although Baby Yoda is pretty cool
  • And with no definite end date for the lockdown I've plunged into Spooks. Never seen it before!

More Choices?

This week we started watching The Nest. The main takeaway has been getting my head round Martin Compston's Scottish accent. I had no idea that he actually is Scottish and his London accent in Line Of Duty is the fake one. Mind blown!

Another takeaway was in reaction to a line in episode two. Don't worry, it's not a plot spoiler.

Compston's character is a successful businessman, a local Glasgow boy made good. At the launch of a new housing project he addresses the audience asking:

"What does anyone want?"

His answer seems logical:

"More than what their parents had. More choices. More opportunities."

More choice and more opportunities might appear to be natural things to aspire to but often they have a counterintuitive effect. This lockdown has brought it to the fore.

Lockdown Limitations

This Easter weekend is all blue skies and temperatures in the early 20s. Normally, a sunny weekend brings with it a number of questions for our household.

We're free this weekend with no commitments. How shall we spend this sunny Saturday? At home or out? For a walk or bike ride?

Most of these questions are quickly answered and with minimum fuss. You don't even realise you're asking them. But you are. They continue . . .

Where shall we go? Seaside? Countryside? In the woods or up on a hill? How far shall we drive to get there? Make a packed lunch or grab a bite out?

Which then leads on to smaller questions and choices about how much time, money and effort we're willing to spend on our sunny Saturday.

This weekend is very different however. The clear instruction is to stay at home. So all of those choices are unavailable. None of those questions will be asked.

That severely limits my choices. But in turn it narrows my focus. Which in turn means my energy is pointed in fewer directions. My attention is less diluted and I can get more done. This can be a really good thing.

Even if this particular weekend the enforced lack of choice is not a freeing experience for you, it's still worth considering where in your life, having too much choice can be a limiting factor.

The Tyranny Of Choice

There's a great Simpsons episode where Marge goes shopping at the Monstromart, an enormous supermarket with a "great selection and rock-bottom prices".

Monstromart's motto is: Where Shopping Is A Baffling Ordeal.

It's not just in Springfield where overchoice can be wearing. Every high street cafe in the UK presents a challenge.

Once upon a time you could ask for a coffee and be served a coffee. Now that's not an option - you have to choose your type of coffee.

There are lot of choices and you need to know what you want. Asking for a generic coffee doesn't cut it any more.

The coffee chart at the top of this page is only the beginning of your caffeine choices and that's before we get to the available milks. Full fat, semi-skimmed and skimmed. Almond, oat, rice, soy. Choice is good right?

It's easy to dismiss overchoice as nothing important but the accumulation of making lots of choices has a debilitating effect.

Too many choices can be restrictive. Too many options can distract and prevent you from focusing effectively. Too many choices can slow you down and limit your progress.

Decision Fatigue

It takes the same amount of energy to make a big decision as it does to make a small one. That's why some people take this very seriously and attempt to remove as many small decisions as possible.

They are trying to avoid any negative effects of Decision Fatigue. This is the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making.

It might have happened to you when you visited the supermarket after a long day at work making too many decisions. You end up with a reduced decision making ability.

That might explain why you've got stuff like powdered wasabi and yeast flakes at the back of your store cupboard. Stuff you'll never use but obviously thought was a good idea at the time.

Or why you just gave in at the checkout and bought that bar of chocolate even though you're on a diet. Poor decision making rarely happens in the morning.

Where Can You Reduce Choice?

My favourite example of people reducing small decisions in their lives is Steve Jobs and his wardrobe.

Sticking to a uniform of black top, blue jeans and New Balance sneakers meant that from 1998 onwards he never had to think about what he was going to wear. Not one clothing decision to make.

Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg take the same predictable clothing options, precisely to reduce the number of decisions they need to make each day.

With the measures in place to reduce the impact of coronavirus we've all had our choices reduced recently in a number of areas. One useful way of accepting this and dealing with it is to ask yourself "How can this benefit me?"

If you find that there is a positive to be gained from reduced choices then the next question is "Where else would I benefit from reduced choices?"

Less really can be more.


*This post was written during the UK's first lockdown

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join Iain's mailing list to receive the latest Top Tips every Friday. As a subscriber you'll always be the first to read it, BEFORE it makes it to the blog. Plus you'll get the latest news and offers.

Iain hates SPAM. He will never sell your information, for any reason.