The Choice-Minimal Lifestyle: 6 Formulas for More Output and Less Overwhelm
Decision-making isn’t to be avoided—that’s not the problem. It’s deliberation—the time we vacillate over and consider each decision—that’s the attention consumer.
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In The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwarz argues that:
The more options you consider, the more buyer’s regret you’ll have
The more options you encounter, the less fulfilling your ultimate outcome will be
This raises a difficult question: Is it better to have the best outcome but be less satisfied, or have an acceptable outcome and be satisfied?
Income is renewable, but some other resources—like attention—are not.
The choice-minimal lifestyle becomes an attractive tool when we consider two truths:
Considering options costs attention that then can’t be spent on action or present-state awareness
Attention is necessary for not only productivity but appreciation
Too many choices = less or no productivity
What to do?
There are 6 basic rules or formulas that can be used:
#1 Set rules for yourself so you can automate as much decision-making as possible
#2 Don’t provoke deliberation before you can take action.
One simple example: don’t scan the inbox on Friday evening or over the weekend if you might encounter work problems that can’t be addressed until Monday.
3. Don’t postpone decisions or open “loops” (to use GTD parlance) just to avoid uncomfortable conversations
If an acquaintance asks you if you want to come to their house for dinner next week, and you know you won’t, don’t say “I’m not sure. I’ll let you know next week.”
Instead, use something soft but conclusive like “Next week? I’m pretty sure I have another commitment on Thursday but thank you for the invite. Just so I don’t leave you hanging, let’s assume I can’t make it, but can I let you know if that changes?”
#4 Learn to make non-fatal or reversible decisions as quickly as possible
Time limits: “I won’t consider options for more than 20 minutes”
Option limits: “I’ll consider no more than 3 options”
Or finance thresholds: “If it costs less than $100 (or the potential damage is less than $100), I’ll let a virtual assistant make the judgment call or consider no more than 3 options.”
Fast decisions preserve usable attention for what matters.
#5 Don’t strive for variation—and thus increase option consideration—when it’s not needed. Routine enables innovation where it’s most valuable
In working with athletes, for example, it’s clear that those who maintain the lowest bodyfat percentage eat the same foods over and over with little variation.
#6 Regret is past-tense decision making. Eliminate complaining to minimize regret
Condition yourself to notice complaints and stop making them.
Embrace the choice-minimal lifestyle. It’s a subtle and underexploited philosophical tool that produces dramatic increases in both output and satisfaction, all with less overwhelm.
Make testing a few of the principles the first of many fast and reversible decisions.