How to Make Meaningful Decisions Each Day

Are you sure you should take decision-making advice from me? Maybe this picture will help you decide.

A human life consists of (many) decisions. Today, you will make roughly 35,000 decisions (about 227 of which will be food-related).1

Decisions determine our path now and later, covering a range of consequences from relatively meaningless to life-altering. Decisions are the difference between a tragedy and a success story. They are really the only thing we can control in our lives. We can’t control others. We can’t control mother nature. We can only decide how we will act upon the world and respond to it.

For Every Decision Removed, Another Decision Gains Focal Power

Steve Jobs wasn’t a saint, but he revolutionized the way we interact with technology with Apple products. Mark Zuckerberg revolutionized how we communicate with each other with Facebook. Aside from successfully changing the world to a degree that most humans never will, they’ve got something else in common—they dress(ed) funky.

Zuckerberg became famous as one of the worst dressed billionaires for his casual hoodie. Jobs was famous for the jeans and black turtleneck outfit he wore at every Apple event.

Some people laugh or scoff at their choice of outfit, but they’re missing the point. The interesting thing isn’t what they’re wearing, it’s that they stopped choosing their outfits! If you wear the same thing all the time, it means you’re no longer deciding what to wear. Do you think Steve jobs, before his 8th WWDC conference, thought, “I wore a black turtleneck the last 7 times. Hmm… What should I wear this time?”

Of course not. He already made that decision years ago.

Steve Jobs had other strange habits, such as eating only carrots or apples for weeks. That would sure make life simpler, huh? Just strap a 25 lb. bag of carrots to your back and go. Dinner time for you would look no different than an archer drawing arrows (and hopefully, you’d draw carrots from your “quiver” and eat them epically in slow motion). No more food decisions! Alas, while convenient, this is extremely unhealthy and a horrible idea so please don’t do it. Well, maybe try the slow-mo carrot eating once.

This sort of eccentric behavior isn’t uncommon with extraordinary people. In fact, I believe it is a key reason for their success. You’ll notice that many of these eccentric creatives practice their eccentricities habitually, and that’s no mistake. While a normal person puts a lot of thought into what they’ll wear to a business meeting or what they’ll eat for dinner, Steve Jobs just said, “Turtleneck. Carrots. Done. Now, how can I change the world?”

Studies show that making decisions decreases our willpower (energy), so it makes sense that making fewer non-essential decisions would free up some resources for those life-changing and world-changing decisions. Yeah, it’s a bit weird to wear a turtleneck or hoodie that much, but it completely removes the daily pressure and analysis associated with, “What should I wear?”

And when you look at how many of us handle decisions, it makes you wonder about who’s really crazy here…

  • Nancy agonizes over what to wear, and then goes to a job she hates without questioning it.
  • Carl thinks for 10-30 minutes each night about what he wants for dinner, but for the last 20 years, he hasn’t thought once about his retirement, and how he’s even going to pay for food when that time comes.
  • Jimbo decides whether to look at Facebook for a few more minutes or browse Reddit, while for the last 5 years, he’s given little thought to what’s causing his crippling feelings of loneliness and what he’s going to do about it.
  • Erica debates online for 3 hours about whether Paleo or Vegan is better, and yet, she hasn’t decided where she’s going to live. She only knows it’s not where she is now.

It’s easy to get lost in a sea of meaningless decisions. That’s why we need to automate them.

Why You Should Automate Life’s Less Meaningful Decisions AMAP (As Much As Possible)

After the minutia of daily living, we’re often too exhausted to figure out our plans for world domination. Luckily, there are ways to lower our burden for those urgent-but-not-thaaaat-important choices.

Eating (Healthy and Fast)

I’m not at a point in my life where I need or want a personal chef, but I believe it to be the single greatest and smartest luxury expense. The food we eat affects our health greatly, which has a cascading effect on every facet of our lives. But to eat very healthy food consistently, it costs a lot of time, decision-making energy, and effort. If you hired a personal chef to cook you a variety of healthy meals with minimal creative input on your part, you’d solve all of these non-money costs instantly, just by using money. Of course, that’s why it’s a luxury. It’s not cheap to have a personal chef and most people can’t afford it. But if you have the money for it, it’s money well spent. Anyone who chooses a Lambo over a personal chef is a dumbo.

My solution right now? I live half a block from Whole Foods. I can take a 2-minute walk, make a massive organic salad in a to-go container, buy it, and be back home within 15 minutes. It’s easy, it’s as healthy as home-prepared meals, and it’s not that expensive. They have a lot more healthy ready-to-eat food, too, and because it’s so easy to walk there and back, I can go multiple times a day without thinking about it. This has taken much of the strain of “What should I eat?” away. In the past, I’d frequently face the decision of sacrificing my time and energy to cook a healthy meal or sacrificing my health to get something fast. Now I rarely think about that, because healthy, delicious food is always within reach. Well, they close at 10 PM, which is horrible. They should never close! I am biased and selfish for saying that. The end.

There are inexpensive solutions, too, such as meal prepping for the entire week. It takes a bit more time, but it’s not much more time than cooking a single meal, and you only have to do it once (maybe twice) per week. It’s very inexpensive, healthy, and a big time/decision saver. The video below says the cost is about $3.50 per this tasty- and healthy-looking meal of chicken, rice, and broccoli.

While the food we eat is very important, it’s not important to think creatively about every lunch and dinner you eat. If you can find a way to automate your food choices in a healthy way, you will be able to focus on more important decisions, like what the heck you want to do with your life.

Systems Remove Decisions

If you don’t have some kind of system that keeps your life moving along like a semi-machine, you’re missing out.

Do you know why systems benefit us?

Systems remove decisions!

The purpose of any system is to establish default actions in common circumstances. For example, in my “Mini Flex Life Management System,” I wake up every morning, choose two tasks from my “core” list to complete for the day (and I always have two mini habits as well). This removes the following decisions…

  • How many important tasks will I do today? Always two. Next!
  • When will I decide on what tasks to do? Very shortly after waking up. Next!
  • What about my habit development? I practice two mini habits. Next!
  • What if I want a day off? Take it! I allow myself to take any number of days off with the Mini Flex System. No more guilt-ridden thoughts of, “Oh, but I should work today.” My freedom empowers me to do work! I have no incentive to abuse it, so I don’t.

Those are simple questions, but they can be extremely difficult and exhausting to decide on anew every day. Because I follow this system, I don’t have to make those decisions anymore. It’s resulted in me living better without any extra effort. In addition to completely removing those questions altogether, another huge question is made easier

What tasks should I focus on today? The Mini Flex System organizes my tasks by Now, Core, Soon, and Someday/Maybe, giving me an instant overview of my life. It’s a lot easier to look at your life laid out on a board and decide what to do next than to try to store it in your brain, sort through it mentally, and weigh all the variables. Here’s a video describing how the Mini Flex System works if you’re interested. If you don’t like it, there are many many more options for managing your life. Pick one and tweak it to your needs.

Clothing (Optional?)

Cat on right: “Good heavens, Derek! What is that human wearing? What’s that fabric? It’s certainly not catmere.” (Yep, I just did that. It’s the worst pun you’ve ever seen.)

Now, here’s the funny part. I’m a bit like Steve Jobs and Zuckerberg in the way I dress, only, ahem, they dress nicer. I rarely buy new clothes and my default outfit for my trip to Whole Foods (in the summer) is a pair of basketball shorts and a sleeveless basketball shirt with sandals. It looks like I’m always leaving or going to the gym or beach. I had a dress code in high school, so this is one of my favorite job perks.

When I’m going out, I’ll put on jeans and a t-shirt. In other words, I put little effort into being impressive fashion-wise. I do plan to dress a little nicer eventually, but for the moment, it’s been really nice dressing for comfort.

I can’t remember where I read it, but I do remember reading something about a study on popular kids vs. nerds in school. It turns out, they found, that popular kids spent much more time and energy on things like physical appearance that would increase their popularity. The nerds, they found, spent very little time on those things and more time on, well, nerd stuff. It’s pretty obvious on one level, but on another level, it’s like, “Huh. I wonder if the difference between Steve Urkel and Stefan Urquelle is differently-placed effort. That makes sense since they’re the same actor. Bad example, me.” Regardless of bad examples, it challenges the notion that “we are who we are,” and suggests that choice plays a huge role in who we become.

The lesson is not that you need to sacrifice your “fabulous” fashion sense for something else. The lesson is that even if you want to look snazzy every day, there are likely ways to increase your efficiency in doing so. I mean, Steve Jobs could have worn the same dazzling suit every day or systematically rotated through a bevy of  different dazzling suits. He just chose the turtleneck.

I didn’t give up on healthy eating. I found a faster, more efficient way to eat healthy food. It’s saved me a lot of time and energy that I’ve been able to use on other things, like researching and writing for Mini Habits for Weight Loss every day for 1.5 years, which, I just found out, is going to join its brother Mini Habits in the Japanese language (see Mini Habits in Japanese here)!

Even though I’m a goofy writer, you should take this seriously. Any improvement you can make in this area will compound for the rest of your life. A single instance of not having to choose your outfit or plan a healthy meal could seem insignificant, but over the course of weeks, months, years, decades, it’s a life-changing difference.

Take a moment right now to think about any straightforward-but-draining decisions you can automate to leave more creative energy for life’s bigger decisions.

PS. Some key areas to look at are: Eating, dressing, email, all kinds of work tasks, life management systems, communication with key people. There’s almost always a way to remove steps and increase efficiency. Take a look at Ramit Sethi’s recent article on productivity for some good ideas. It helped to inspire this post.

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