I was stressed out… over dog cartoons.
It was 9:47pm at Barnes and Noble on a recent Saturday night, and I had 13 minutes to find a suitable exchange for “The New Yorker Dog Cartoons,” $22 of expensive paper. Bestsellers? Staff recommends? New arrivals or classics? I’d already been there 30 minutes.
Beginning to feel overwhelmed with a ridiculous errand I’d expected to take five minutes, I stumbled across the psychology section. One tome jumped out at me as all too appropriate—The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen or read Barry Schwarz’s 2004 classic, but it seemed like a good time to revisit the principles, among them 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 an difficult question: Is it better to have the best outcome but be less satisfied, or have an acceptable outcome and be satisfied?
For example, would you rather deliberate for months and get the 1 of 20 houses that’s the best investment but second-guess yourself until you sell it 5 years later; or would you rather get a house that is 80% of the investment potential of the former (still to be sold at a profit) but never second-guess it?
One call wasn’t tough: he recommends making non-returnable purchases. I decided to keep the stupid pooch cartoons. Why? Because it’s not just about being satisfied, it’s about being practical.
Income is renewable, but some other resources—like attention—are not. I’ve talked before about attention as a currency and how it determines the value of time.
The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen explores this using case studies, but here’s one example to illustrate: is your weekend really “free” if you find a crisis in the inbox Saturday morning that you can’t address until Monday morning?
Even if the inbox scan lasts 30 seconds, the preoccupation and forward projection for the subsequent 48 hours effectively deletes that experience from your life. You had time but you didn’t have attention, so the time had no practical value.
The choice-minimal lifestyle becomes an attractive tool when we consider two truths:
1) Considering options costs attention that then can’t be spent on action or present-state awareness.
2) Attention is necessary for not only productivity but appreciation.
Too many choices = less or no productivity
Too many choices = less or no appreciation
Too many choices = sense of overwhelm
Some people find that religion enables a practical choice-minimal lifestyle, as tenets often limit the number of possible actions. During his year of attempting to follow the rules of the Bible literally, the then-agnostic AJ Jacobs of Esquire cited the rules and restrictions of the Bible as amazing in this respect. Not having to consider a wide spectrum of options or actions—as he was following immutable if-then rules—allowed him to focus undiluted attention on the areas that weren’t constrained. The result? Increased output.
Even though I attended an Episcopal high school, I’m not religious in the common sense (and I don’t use the term “spiritual”), so this approach isn’t mine.
What to do? There are 6 basic rules or formulas that can be used, regardless of denomination.
1. Set rules for yourself so you can automate as much decision-making as possible (see the rules I use to outsource my e-mail to Canada as an example of this)
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?” Decision made. Move on.
4. Learn to make non-fatal or reversible decisions as quickly as possible.
Set 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 (Example: 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).
I wrote most of this post after landing at the monster that is ATL airport in Atlanta. I could have considered half a dozen types of ground transportation in 15 minutes and saved 30-40%, but I grabbed a taxi instead. To use illustrative numbers: I didn’t want to sacrifice 10 attention units of my remaining 50 of 100 total potential units, since those 10 units couldn’t then be spent on this article. I had about 8 hours before bedtime due to time zone differences—plenty of time—but scarce usable attention after an all-nighter of fun and the cross-country flight. 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. I’ve eaten the same “slow carb” breakfast and lunch for nearly two years, putting variation only into meals that I focus on for enjoyment: dinner and all meals on Saturdays. This same routine-variation distinction can be found in exercise vs. recreation. For fat-loss and muscle gain (even as much as 34 lbs. in four weeks), I’ve followed the same time-minimal exercise protocol with occasional experiments since 1996. For recreation, however, where the focus is enjoyment and not efficacy, I tend to try something new each weekend, whether climbing at Mission Cliffs in SF or mountain biking from tasting to tasting in Napa.
Don’t confuse what should be results-driven with routine (e.g. exercise) with something enjoyment-driven that benefits from variation (e.g. recreation).
6. Regret is past-tense decision making. Eliminate complaining to minimize regret.
Condition yourself to notice complaints and stop making them with a simple program like the 21-day no-complaint experiment. Just a bracelet and awareness can prevent wasted past-tense deliberation that improves nothing and depletes your attention and emotional reserves.
Decision-making isn’t to be avoided—that’s not the problem. Look at a good CEO or top corporate performer and you’ll see a high volume of decisions.
It’s deliberation—the time we vacillate over and consider each decision—that’s the attention consumer. Total deliberation time, not the number of decisions, it was determines your attention bank account balance (or debt).
Let’s assume you pay 10% over time by following the above rules but cut your average “decision cycle” time by an average of 40% (10 minutes reduced to 6 minutes, for example). No only will you have much more time and attention to spend on revenue-generating activities, but you’ll get greater enjoyment from what you have and experience. Consider that 10% of additional cost as an investment and part of your “ideal lifestyle tax,” but not as a loss.
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.
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101 Replies to “The Choice-Minimal Lifestyle: 6 Formulas for More Output and Less Overwhelm”
When I was in school in south carolina I took a day trip with my then boyfriend to Atlanta. As we neared the city the car started making some funny noises. We parked and get on with exploring the city, but I noticed as the day wore on my boyfriend was getting more and more pensive (and he wasn’t that sort of person) he confided that he was very worried about the car and that we couldn’t get home etc. I pointed out there was no point worrying about it as there was nothing we could do, it either broke or it didn’t no point spoiling you day out because of a possiblity.
On driving home the car failed just outside the city, and he got a lift in the back of a pig truck to a motel.
What do you think I remember?
I remember a really fun day in Altant, something happened on the way home which was out of our control and it left me with a cool story.
I have been brought up to think that way. My Dad tought me, ‘don’t give people choices — it will only paralyze them, simple is best’.
I have a fantastic decision making device that I’ve used for the last two years. It’s guided me through many tight situations such as hitching rides on yachts across the atlantic and arriving in unknown parts of Brasil at sunset.
It’s simple – I flip a coin.
If the coin lands on an option and I’m stoked – great. I’ll go for it. If it lands on an option and I’m not happy, then I know this wasn’t the option I wanted. And I go the other way.
It’s a way of ‘try before you buy’ Decision making. It forces you to go the whole way, and see how it feels.
And anyway, I’ve found it usually lands on the option I want. Funny that.
I have used that system myself but I found I just kept flipping the coin till I got the option I wanted. Your way saves time.
flipping a coin,it sounds like a better way to decide..If you are not happy about the option that you’ve taken then go the other way..seems to be a good way to get rid of too many options
I wonder how this applies to relationships.
Common sense would dictate that the more you date, the better your chances of finding a suitable partner. However, I wonder if at some point, looking for that “perfect” partner is counterproductive. You’re always going to find faults with the person you have and there is bound to be someone “better.”
You could also make the extension that our high divorce rate might be partly attributed to the ethos of looking for more. There’s a reason married men shouldn’t spend too much time in a single’s bar, they’re bound to start looking. The grass is always greener on the other side, until you lose what you’ve already got.
My girlfriend and I can spend an hour at Blockbuster making a decision that neither one is very happy with which shocked me the first couple of times. We never have that issue with movies at the theater. Last time it happened it finally dawned on me that there were too many choices.
We don’t go to Blockbuster together anymore. One of us might grab a movie and say, “Hey, do you want to watch this?” It usually works out or we do something else.
Side note – What did you think of the Mir/Lesnar fight. I see on Twitter you were pulling for Mir. Do you think he had a chance if Lesnar didn’t get caught. mmamania has a picture of his face after the fight, he was in a fight.
I’ve often wondered about the “more choice = fewer real options” concept. Many year ago when I worked retail, we’d often present a plethora of options to customers (picture frames, in this case) and the sense of overwhelm was palpable. More often than not, they’d leave empty handed because they couldn’t decide.
But I’m curious as to what Schwarz would think about how this paradigm works regarding relationships.
I have a very attractive ladyfriend who’s consistently being approached by successful men. She’s one of those fortunate people that has pretty much got it all: beauty, brains, excellent health, she’s well-adjusted, has plenty of resources and all the rest. In short, she has pretty much her choice of men.
And she always – ALWAYS – ends up with a lummox, some bone-headed goofball who treats her like dirt. Then she comes crying to me as her best friend, wondering where all the good men are.
Is it because she has so many options that she always makes bad choices? And I’ve seen this pattern before, it’s not limited to my attractive friend and her choices.
I know you’re not a relationship guru, Tim (well, maybe you are, but that’s not the point of your site, book or this blog), but I’d be curious as to your take on how this overwhelm of options relates to relationships.
I always think of this as the potato chip aisle syndrome while at the super market. I don’t want to take the time to decide if I want chips with ridges or not, or if I prefer kettle boiled or hand shaped by artisans. I’d be happier just having to decide if I want chips or not.
I think this is part of the success behind Costco. They have fewer product choices, so you don’t have to decide among so many brands. “Chips, yes or no?” is so much more pleasant than deliberating for half an hour about a consumable product.
Great article. I really like your stuff. Quick question… I have a gaming business that ships games out consistently, which I outsourced. However, I want to outsource customer service and was wondering how much you spend for customer service for your business? My fulfillment company quoted me at $3 per complaint, but that seems a little high. Your knowledge is always appreciated 🙂
$3 per complaint isn’t bad. For a decent call center, you’d be looking at $0.85 and up, at least in the US. I haven’t experimented with non-US centers as of yet. Canada was attractive, but the US dollar isn’t making that as cost-effective as it once was.
Here’s the thing to remember: you can always do something cheaper yourself, but if you spend time on admin task, you can’t grow revenues. Sell more product, and make sure the product is good, and the $3 per complaint is a drop in the bucket. Spend all your time on complaints and you will 1) never scale the business, and 2) never have time to enjoy your income.
Test it for a period with the contractors and then, if the math makes sense, consider having someone full-time, whether onsite or virtual.
Tim, another stellar post. I started implementing GTD last year and it has meant a lot to my business, but I’m sooo guilty of that checking email on friday night and thinking about it all weekend. I know you’re not religious, but happy Ash Wednesday anyway. 🙂
Great advice for decision making. Will give it a go.
I really believe that people who are reading your posts here and “get it” are all the same type of person. I have given copies of your book to people who I thought would get it, but they didn’t see your ideas with the same regard I did. I have spoken with co-workers about your book and the concepts therein, and they want to argue that you are a sham!
I really appreciate your book and your continued posts, keep putting up great content like this one, and leave them in the dust!
I just gave a post on my blog how I analyze all ‘problems’ on a spectrum from ‘no brainer’ to ‘what is the meaning of life’. I suggest that on the far ‘no-brainer’ end of the spectrum, minimal variation provides maximum efficiency. However, on the other end of the spectrum, (e.g. How can I grow my business) – maximal variations/creativity will need to be deliberately/intelligently applied to arrive at the most efficient solution. Once the solution is found and teh variation (i.e. recipe) is identified … time to drive down variation to the point of automation to derive maximal gain.
I liked those 6 formulas, If you can keep expanding on the content in your book, that would be great. Sometimes its easier to understand with some further blogs to enhance it. Putting time limits on things really seems like a obvious but highly underlooked tool.
Great post on decision making.
I’m currently trying out ‘go with your gut’ school of decision making. While I’m tending to make more expensive choices day-to-day, I’m hoping my gut is seeing some other intangible lon-term benefits.
PS LitLiberation and Room to Read
I know Tim’s project was 4 months ago and it was only supposed to be one month, but I’m still fund raising for a library in Cambodia.
It would be great if any of the readers of this comment could check out my page. I was in Cambodia at Christmas and meeting and talking to the children was by far the best experience of the trip.
If you can, please click on my name take a moment to check out the charity page I created with my friends.
I wanted to say:
1) Thank you for writing a wonderful post on concepts I was sorely in need of being reminded of at this particular moment in time.
2) Kudos to you for writing such a brilliant book! I am halfway through and LOVING it!
3) I wanted to give a “shout out” to a kindred spirit! Plain and simple. I am a physical therapist/investor/trader/helicopter pilot/former LAPD police officer/martial arts lover-practitioner/adrenaline junkie/athlete/adventure-seeker/lover of all things fast/bookworm/lover of art, travel, history, people, writing and the learning, creative process… and so on and so forth… So yeah – just wanted to say Hey!
Feel free to say hey back! I’d welcome it! 🙂
You continue to inspire me, mang.
BTW, I was re-reading 4HWW and loved the way you describe Randy Komisar “razor-sharp think(er)” is inspiring to me. Thanks!
The force is strong in this one…
Did you ever take Peter Singer’s moral philosophy class at Princeton? He introduced me to the idea of more choice lowering utility in the context of euthanasia.
Some people have argued that you should have a choice to end your own life, because people will make the choice that’s best for them. At the very worst, they just decide to keep living and nobody is worse off.
However, as soon as you give a sick person that choice, their life can spiral into an existentialist nightmare. Now they have to consciously decide to continue living each moment of their lives, which can be tough considering they know they’re a burden on their loved ones.
It is definitely a mistake to confuse agency with happiness.
I didn’t have the chance to take Singer’s class, but I wish I could have. Most agreed on all points. Euthanasia as an example, of course, presents some very prickly moral dilemmas, as you could extend the logic to abortion, etc. and end up with no choices. It’s definitely finding the middle ground that is the challenge.
Thanks for the contribution,
You hit the nail right on the head with this one. I’ve been experimenting with a certain scenario that I know EVERYONE has at one point had to deal with: Trying to decide what restaurant/type of food to eat out at. GOD!! Especially when you have a group of friends that are very comfortable around each other, the decision making process is excruciating! You know what I do now? I just name blurt out a name of a decent place that I know everyone can eat at and stand up. I start lacing my shoes (i’m asian so we don’t wear shoes in the house), grab my jacket, clap my hands and say, “okay everyone ready?” 9 out of 10 times the majority will follow my lead and start heading towards to the door, no questions asked. This often saves me and the group 15-30 minutes of wasteful deliberation – CRAP. In the end of the day, we all had a decent meal and I get compliments like, “good lookin’ out Dave!” Everyone wins. Let’s move on.
I recently bumped into this lecture Barry Schwartz gave at TED (TED is a conference that is literally about spreading good ideas): http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/93
I’ve been studying decision making and it’s relation to happiness lately. I’ve become a big fan of the book Goal-Free Living by Stephen Shapiro. In his book he details research that for decisions both large (who to marry) and small (dinner), the actual choice made has a *shockingly* small part in contributing to overall life happiness.
In short, do or do not, it doesn’t matter.
I have no trouble making decisions on where to eat or what to watch – because I realize in the big picture it doesn’t matter.
However, the company I work for will be closing down soon. I have realized that my constant low-grade anxiety is not about losing this job – Rather, it is a forced kick up the ass I need.
Now, I can’t think straight. It seems like the perfect time to ‘do something’ I really want to do. However, I can’t decide what that is! Do I want to move abroad? Do I want to move here in the US? Do I want to start my own business? Do I want to travel further up corporate America? I have just enough confidence to be crippled by the amount of choices… but lack a hard-core passion in anything – besides roller skating. 🙂
What is your advice is that situation? Should I meditate or just pick something – practically anything – and go for it?
I usually end up implementing this: when you have to get things done from someone and when you know there are many ways to get it done,dont offer them choices.Just name one and ask them to do it.Saves me tons and tons of time every day.
The general public these days have too many choices and so that takes up most of their time. They can’t decide what they want in an efficient manner. I make most of my choices in a manner that may seem ruthless to people. But I know what I want and then I get it. I don’t waste time reviewing every option that is before me. For example,I go to the grocery store, scan the sale paper, and get the things that I think is a good deal. That way I am out of the store in about 10 to 15 minutes. The normal shopping time for people is probably and hour or more because they can’t decide what to buy. So I save about 45 to 50 minutes each time I shop.
This made me think about publicizing my blog and trying to increase exposure and traffic. There are so many different ways to do this, you practically freak out because you think to yourself… “What if I choose this method and then the method I could have chosen would have been much more effective.”
So many options and so much to think about… I found out just do something and get moving. As I get moving I begin to add methods and soon I suspect that I will do them all… or the ones that produce the results… 80/20 right?
My father once drove to the golf course only to find that his engine had died and the car wouldn’t start.
He went ahead and played 18 holes before calling for help. After all, what’s the point in ruining a good golf outing?
Loved this post. Aerin Lauder said the ultimate luxury is simplicity, and I tend to agree.
I learned quite awhile ago (probably in my Boy Scout days) that it’s *almost* always best to make a suboptimal decision right now than the *best* decision 15 minutes from now. (Note that this only works for reversible decisions. So don’t drive drunk now rather than wait 15 minutes for a cab.) This strategy works especially well when directing people in tasks. People will always ask for you to make decisions for them. It generally doesn’t matter if the decision you make is the best one or not. It’ll keep people moving, and if they know the broad goal of the project, they’ll likely figure out what’s suboptimal and fix it yourself. Meanwhile, because you didn’t spend 15 minutes on a minor problem, you can turn your attention to other things.
Excellent post! I wonder if this phenomenon has something to do with why I like shopping online. Sure, online there are even more choices than at the mall, but when I shop online I go directly to what I want. I don’t stand in the petites department of Nordstrom wondering where to begin, and I don’t end up leaving with something I don’t really want.
Dave makes a great point that needs emphasis.
People are paralyzed by making a choice. If someone comes along and simple says “lets do this”, everyone will follow.
Most people are desperate for leadership. By simply making a decision and stating it with confidence, you will be a leader. It is truly that easy.
Where I work we make decisions by consensus. It is ingrained in the culture. Truthfully it drives me nuts and does not work. By saying “this is what I am going to do” then starting, I am usually leading the way.
I started a workout program at New Year’s. The program is called CrossFit (http://www.crossfit.com/). One of the things that makes it really work for me is that they post the workout on the web daily. I don’t think, just check in the morning and go do what the web says (try to do, I am a beginner). No choice = will power.
Great post Tim, keep up the good work. I hope your new Audi arrives soon.
If I were you – Tim , I would take these wonderful blogs – so packed full of information that is timely, powerful, useful – as much as your book … and create a SECOND book with the material right here inside your blogs. Maybe an ebook … do something with it!
You may not realize it, but there are bestsellers out there with less pertinent information than what you have contained right here …
Abundance mentality … you’ve worked hard and earned it.
I have been blessed by your book and even more by your blogs ( really ). And you are a big reason I have liberated my classic ‘work ethic’ paradigms.
Make some more moola … hell, the book is 3/4ths done already. The blog material you have so diligently researched and provided to us – your interested readers – can and should be used to further your income.
— and one question pertaining to your point #5 … when you said ” Don’t confuse what should be results-driven with routine (e.g. exercise) with something enjoyment-driven that benefits from variation (e.g. recreation).”
Can you elaborate a little more on this?
– Thanks for all your work and research.
Deliberation time is my bete noir. Especially if I am in unknown territory. It’s a part of the creative process. It’s part of the pleasure. But it is very true that limits lead to elegant solutions in many forms. Anyone remember that great scene in Apollo Thirteen where the troubleshooting engineers plop everything they have on a table and say something like this is what we’ve got to fix the problem, we have x hours/minutes, let’s get to it. Laser like focus then.
Really appreciate this post.
All best, Jan
Regarding item (3), if I don’t want to go, I simply decline. If I am interested but genuinely unsure if I can commit to an event, I just say so and add the following: “Therefore, if you need a commitment now, I will have to decline. If you don’t need a commitment, I will definitely try to make it.” I find this shows respect to the person asking, by acknowledging they may want or need a commitment and do not want to be left hanging. It also shows that you are willing to put their interest ahead of your own (as you are declining something which may be of genuine interest to yourself in order for them to have a firm answer).
BTW, I heard Barry Schwartz speaking on the “paradox of choice” at PopTech. He gave the same talk at TED.
Tim: I became much more productive by using your tip from The 4-Hour Workweek of just putting two items on a to-do list. I used to have a pretty complicated list, and I would often do bits and pieces of many projects every day. Now, I focus on two main projects per day with the intent of completing them. I find that I get much more done, surely because I spend much less time “shifting gears.”
Thanks for that tip!
You deliver some of the highest-value posts around. I’m bumping you up in the feed from “trial” to top level. (I know, I know–crack open the champagne.)
RE: simplifying, sometimes I find even the act of trying to simplify becomes overwhelming. At these times, I invoke a thought from a former…well, I guess you’d say “boyfriend,” although the relationship was hardly long enough to qualify.
Anyway, he was a student of stoicism and the Spartans, and developed his personal paradigm from that: Live a simple, beautiful life.
You can hold almost anything up to that one. It really works.
Interesting ideas, bro. I’d have to say, though, I’m not so sure that choice is the enemy.
What I’ve found true is ‘analysis paralysis’…and decreased productivity as a result…are not a cause of too many choices.
Rather, it’s the lack of a clear objective that is the culprit.
Divorce. Not finding the ‘right’ chips. Not finding the ‘right’ book. All go back to a hazy objective. When you really know what you want(and not what you ‘should’ want, or what ‘they’ want) the choices are already made.
Thanks for the killer book the blog is great. Take care.
This is a VERY important point, but I had to choose (ironic?) my battles with this post. The objectives are always #1.
another great article – the trade-off really is whether time spent on deliberation is going to deliver a return. In the case of your airport taxi, it clearly was not going to. Again, this goes down to defining how much valuable a decision is going to be. Evaluating options just because they exist is another classic example of being busy rather than being productive… I think the key is setting the rule to avoid any decision that will not save at least x $ in y units of time…
You mentioned here again the email outsourcing, and I have to repeat a question I already asked which is bugging me; how do you assess the level of compliance of your Canadian VA to the protocol you have set up? Do you pick samples at random and verify how the VA dealt with it? Or, do you simply factor a certain % of errors into the equation (A la “the art of letting bad things happen?”).
I hope you have time to answer this time.
Keep up the awesome postings !
Thanks! For the VA and email, I spot-check by looking in the inbox 1-2 times/day for the first week, and I also have her CC me on her first 20-30 responses to people. After that, it’s allowing a certain % like you said.
For industrial-strength decision making, I’m a fan of Kepner-Tregoe (KT) analysis – especially if significant investment is on the line. I learned about it while doing technology R&D at Hewlett Packard.
Simply put, it’s a way to make a decision based on reality and facts, not emotion. There are a lot of (overpriced) software packages, but the core of KT analysis can easily be done with a spreadsheet.
Though they have a flashy website now, this technique has been around a long time (1958).
Your thoughts here are genius. I always turn to your simple, yet brilliant analysis of time, as I struggle with the conceptual balance needed in both business and life. Today, I am negotiating the sale of 8 of my investment properties, in conjunction with 10 purchases for investors. Time is a commodity that in invaluable. Funds are flying in and out of my accounts faster than the planes at ORD. I struggle daily, not only with the decisions for the projects, but how much time (and ultimately money) to spend on these decisions. My business (foreclosure brokerage) has been in growth mode for 8 years now and it’s essential for a growing business to hire/fire/buy and sell with lighting speed. In the high stakes real estate arena, accuracy is actually overrated, while speed is grossly, underrated. The phenomenal deals are only available due to our strength, which is lightning fast decision making and action. Banks want solid answers yesterday. After submitting an offer, you can wait weeks to hear back from them, then they may want you to close in a day or two. Despite buying decisions that have turned out less than optimal, we have always survived because my decision to cut and run (or lease the property out) has offered financial recovery. I habitually get bogged down with the semantics and minutia, then I hit your blog and I’m reminded of what 4HWW did for me in Hawaii. Well done Tim. It’s inspirational to the small business owner who needs the potency of your thoughts to focus on what’s important…keeping the register ringing.
In choosing dinner at restaurants, I used to have a rule that I would always get the dish on the menu that mentioned alcohol in the sauce (whiskey, tequila, wine, what have you). Saved my attention for conversation with my companions.
I have a method of making quick decisions on almost all of my small to medium consumer goods purchases that is easy and saves time and money:
When in doubt I always go with the least expensive!
Just a little snippet I like from The Paradox of Choice:
A maximizer is like a perfectionist, someone who needs to be assured that their every purchase or decision was the best that could be made. The way a maximizer knows for certain is to consider all the alternatives they can imagine. This creates a psychologically daunting task, which can become even more daunting as the number of options increases. The alternative to maximizing is to be a satisficer. A satisficer has criteria and standards, but a satisficer is not worried about the possibility that there might be something better. Ultimately, Schwartz agrees with Simon’s conclusion, that satisficing is, in fact, the maximizing strategy.
Great post. I enjoy the tips on saving time and hassle. Thanks. Your book has inspired me to rethink the way I do many of the things in my day.
Truth be told, I’m pretty sure my fiance is getting completely fed up with me saying, “Tim Ferris says…” or “On Tim’s blog I read…”
I get the sense that he may be a little jealous! 🙂 Any other gals having this issue?
Much peace and love,
I love to read!
I used to go to bookstore to buy books.
Library is the place I go now.
Fighting against the traffic on way to the bookstore. Dealing with ignorant people at the bookstore. Thousands of books cause me to stay longer because I am pondering, should I get this or that? Then I get lost in time browsing. Finally, I leave the bookstore with the book I didn’t plan to buy and I overspent.
Library solved my problem, I decide which I want and I go straight ahead and pick up off the shelf. The library is in my neighborhood and it is a timesaver. The librarian can serve me as a personal assistant by me requesting to place the book on hold. It save me more time. No book in library and the library will ask other library to have it deliver. Awesome!
This fulfills the suggestion of automate, make your own rule, and take non-returnable purchase to consideration.
Here’s a tip: get an online account at your library and you can reserve/search books from home.
At my library, I can pay $2.50 and they get delivered directly. But since library is a few blocks a way, I just go pick ’em up.
I would love to learn of Tim’s method for achieving a complex goal, perhaps involving hundreds of steps and tasks that need to be accomplished over a certain period of time.
And is this done by hand, project management software (which one), excel spreadsheets, visual mind mapping (software or by hand etc.)
Eloquent way of explaining why less is more and cheap often times isn’t best.
It’s funny that you mentioned Will Bowen’s book as I just put on the purple bracelet a few days ago…already pulled most of the hair off my arms switching the thing!
I’ll be taking a cab rather than wait 15 mins searching/waiting for a bus and then a longer ride. thanks for helping me see the light, my partner will be a lot happpier.
Time or money? Most decisions can be distilled into those two things. The truly wealthy learn to judge which resource is the one to use.
All best, Jan
Isn’t it funny that of the two resources, time and money; though money is the one we seem to be most focused on; time is the one that we cannot make more of.
@blogrdoc-“time is the one thing that we cannot make more of”
which makes making memories so much sweeter than making money…although some here will probably say making memories of making money is also sweet.
I think that is the whole point of Tim’s “Dreamlining” as I understand it.
oops, Dreamlining intent is the making memories part, I mean… forgive me. It is late . Sweet dreams all. Sleep or no sleep? Sleep. Easy decision. JC
amazing how much time it takes to discuss the concept of utilizing my time. I am now working part-time to build my own business while teaching full-time. Sacrifice now for a future of abundance. Thanks for the great blog. Somr choices are more critical than others, definitely!
How I minimize choice: Wear the same clothes every day (multiple instances, of course). Pick the menu with the shortest queue (in buffet-style restaurants).
I do the same thing. See the post on my blog titled ‘Stuff I do’. I basically have 2 cords and 5 shirts that I alternate through for work.
You and I have the same Alan Kay quote on our blogs. I remember seeing him talk at an internal HP conference. Very interesting talk, as you could imagine.
Hey Tim, found this article via Digg and thought it would fit well with your article regarding your book purchase:
I always said less is more. I try to simplify my life with less things for example, I would like a camera but my phone already has that feature. So to ease my wants over my needs I simply take photos with my camera. Take a look at the results [on my site].
Great post. It reminded me of something Patton said: “When the difference between two courses of action is so small as to require thought, it doesn’t matter which one you choose.”
Have been digging through some of your old posts. Via a few fluke things in my life the past few months I have started living a minimalist lifestyle. I plan to leave for a trip to Australia in the summer with no plans once I get there and hopefully on to other countries. It was rough getting to where I am but worth the hardships.
Currently working passive/residual forms of income so I don’t have to attend to and manage my ventures on the road. More free time to play!
Great post. I enjoy the tips on saving time and hassle. Thanks.
I did a quick map and put it on flickr. Now being the Fonz after not reading the rules!
This is a great post.
I love the idea of creating rules for quick decision making.
My friend and I travel and adventure around cities and such quite often. When we have to make an either/or decision it is quite simple. Rock, Paper, Scissors. I am one option and he is the other.
If it is a simple decision that must be made quickly: sudden death, 1/1.
More complex decision: best 2/3.
It’s simple and it works.
It’s quite analogous to flipping a coin, but more entertaining and fun. You wouldn’t believe the number of times we’ve struck up conversations by doing this in line (at a restaurant or store).
I love this post! Just last week my boss asked me to help clean out her office. She always admires my paper-free and clutter-free workspace, and she wanted my help organizing and deciding what to keep and what to toss. In the middle of the project we both realized that part of the reason why my desk is ALWAYS clutter-free is that as soon as I get something, I read it and instantly make a decision to toss it or to keep it. If I need to keep it, then I file it away immediately, otherwise it goes straight in the trash. She, on the other hand, agonizes over every piece of mail that comes her way. In her effort to stay “in the know” and on top of everything, she often finds herself completely lost and relies on her piles of paper that she never has enough time to actually read all the way through.
Tim et al-
Regarding number five, isn’t it important to treat all things as ‘for enjoyment’? To what extent is it worth doing something by rote if you do not enjoy it- even if it may be the most effective strategy?
Or do you find that you come to enjoy your routine?
Becoming a minimalist was one of the best decisions in my life.
I started implementing GTD last year and it has meant a lot to my business…
We have a saying in Turkish that goes “En kötü karar karas?zl?ktan iyidir” meaning “the worst decision is better than indecision”.
Sums it all up nicely 🙂
Oh the letter before ‘i’ doesn’t work here. For better readibility: ” En kötü karar kararsizliktan iyidir “
I was chatting to a prospective client this week (a large global insurance company), they told me the company had just finished a 5 year tender process and was just about to sign the agreement with chosen supplier.
I laughed as I thought it was a joke. No joke, they really had.
This is great insightful stuff for me… as C. Brandon pointed out, one must have a clearly defined objective so that I know what I’m looking for (that’s something I can polish up), and then as you say don’t take yourself into overwhelm looking at every available option. I love research, and not so adept at productive action, and I find myself slipping into a lot of unproductive time… hopefully your pointers will be enough for me to adopt a new way. Thanks guys!
One of your best. I recall a story about Schwarzkopf in Desert Storm; by employing your first rule, he bounced a whole lot of potential decisions (and people) right out the door. Deciding, as it were, not to decide at all.
The setup: He got all parties (military commanders from coalition forces) to agree on the objective. The payoff: Any time someone came in with a beef about something (like, say, the way female U.S. soldiers dressed when not in combat gear), wanting him to fix it, he said: How does that relate to our objective?
Simply asking the question made them realize that, in many cases, it didn’t. They found their own way to the door, and presumably worked it out on their own or managed to live with it.
No reason we can’t ask ourselves the same thing.
You asked for feedback on your short essays on your podcast. Love them! They are tiny jewels of usable info. I did want to ask why they are omitted from your podcast list on the site? I just listened to #6 (6 formulas for more output and less overwhelm) while walking my dogs. Knowing I would not remember all six I came to the site to print out the 6 formulas. Not on the podcast list 🙁 Thankfully I had paused it before it was over so I could go back and look up the title (my app automatically erases listened to podcasts from the list). I did find it by looking up the title on the site but it would have been faster had it just been on the podcast list. Just sayin! Thanks!!
How about taking a deep breath, leaving the store, going home and writing your own tome about choice, including the choice to not buy anything, to instead perhaps use your heartbeats to send a message of love to someone.
When you streamline your decision making and options, you gain freedom and peace of mind. Thank you for this post – it ties in nicely with my 2017 NY Resolutions: Keep it simple and manage expectations.
Concise, brilliant, relatable formulas. I recall similarly insane moments in B&N, among many other places with that self-deception of a “quick errand” against an army of insignificant options. I love how Tim cuts through nonsense. Sent that podcast to my 5 siblings & made my kids listen too. Funny…just noticed it posted on my bday, 9 years ago. Whoa…I happily accept this late bday present.
In the odd event someone reads this now, even Tim, the king of efficiency & humble wisdom himself…if you’re feeling gracious to bestow additional wisdom upon a random stranger who lacks an offering of 5-7 figures before the decimal point at this point in time, which you’ve of course earned & deserve (love it, and totally get it), someone who happened upon this insightful, certainly life altering info, I’m curious about efficient ways to connect with and interview hard to reach people for a book. I’m ignorant of the protocol & expectations on their end, or if it even matters how it’s done, but insights are appreciated, if anyone has learned something they’d like to share? Tim, if your VAs send this to you, I will love them forever…and ever and ever. ;o) Jeanie
Awesome and useful article. I think I might make my husband look into it so we can apply and also teach our kids. I can completely relate to having to many options with no time limit to decide especially when it comes to trying to build a foundation to a business or how to spend my spare time. Thanks for great content!
Nice one. Inspired
IMPLEMENTING THE LESSONS YOU TEACH US?
So after listening to most of your episodes, I discover things I’d like to implement immediately. However, I end up just going with my week and only implementing whatever I remember because smthg around me reminds me of it.
A tool I’ve used is to find screen savers of quotes from people you interview and leave them on my phone for a week so I can actually implement some of what I’ve learned. Otherwise, all this wisdom is just fun to listen to.
It’d be great if you created visuals that recap the most important principles of every episode. That would help a lot both remembering and implementing what we learn from you.
A very helpful article all these years on. Thanks Tim.
I will try to utilize this kind of thinking. Implementing would be hard because i’m a person who weighs everything and had a hard time deciding.Even on buying a food i consider the taste,quality,quantity,price…but as I’ve read your blog I pondered that making more choices and considering everything will make you less productive..I will try use your formulas for a BETTER life that might lead to simple and happy life….
I’ve been listening to the podcast from the beginning. I’ve been reading Algorithms to Live By, by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. I think there’s an error Tim makes in this episode of the podcast – he tries to dodge, but not successfully – of conflating “minimizing choice” and “having a routine”. In the first part of AlgorithmsTLB, the authors discuss reward maximization in “The Multi-Armed Bandit”, which touches on the tradeoffs between “exploring” and “exploiting” a resource. Tim mentions having the same breakfast and lunch for two years as an example of a routine to minimize choice, but this is clearly an “exploiting” decision, and AlgorithmsTLB would suggest he should be more in a “exploring” mode. “Exploring” tends to be anti-routine and choice-heavy, but strictly speaking, shouldn’t need to be. The question is, how does one minimize choice and routine simultaneously?
Thank you, Tim, I did listen to it two times. I am putting some of those suggestions to practice. Great job getting fantastic guests. 🙂
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