Productivity: are you a Mark Zuckerberg, a Steve Jobs . . . or an ET?

All of us are called upon to make decisions every day. Hundreds of decisions; decisions we are probably not even aware we are making.

Consider this: You wake up in the morning; you decide what to eat for breakfast; what to wear; what your children will wear; the best route to school or to work; where to park; where to buy a coffee or if to buy one at all; if you need to go to the ATM and how much money you should withdraw; and, if you work in an agile environment, where to sit for the day. This is all before your working day has really begun, and does not even take into account the emails, texts and social media prods buzzing at you from your mobile phone.

The effort required to make these choices is cumulative. Pondering them can lead to what psychologists call “decision fatigue”.

The result is it makes you less productive at work.

Just like footballers can’t run as hard in the final quarter as they did in the first, you cannot apply the same rigour and energy to your decision making throughout the day. In short, decision overload makes you do less work, less well.

There are ways to combat decision fatigue. Much is made of the penchant of tech gurus, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, to wear the same outfit every day. For Zuckerberg and the late Jobs, this Spartan approach to style is driven by the desire to have one less thing to worry about in their already hectic lives. Even Albert Einstein is said to have worn just one cut of a simple grey suit.

The idea is, by eschewing decision making on trivial matters the minds of these great (if unfashionable) men are ‘de-cluttered’ and free to concentrate on issues of greater import.

Perhaps this is why Hollywood so often depicts individuals from future societies in utilitarian, uniform-like garb – think of the natty suits of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or those flattering, figure-hugging onesies of Lost in Space.

Even more advanced societies, such as the alien ones of E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, have done away with the need to wear any clothes at all!

But while our own society is perhaps not ready for that level of mental freedom, there is good science to suggest de-cluttering your mind can make you more efficient and productive at work, and healthier and happier in life. Hence the approach to fashion taken by Zuckerberg, Jobs and US President Barack Obama an approach based upon routine and simplicity. Resulting in one less decision to make in a day already pulsating with choice.

If that sounds a little too simplistic to be of any real use, think about a morning when you wake up, are not sure what to wear, have to throw together an outfit, probably iron a shirt or pants or a skirt, and still get to all the other parts of your morning routine.

Now, think about waking up with your outfit already planned, hanging up neatly and ready to put on.
Which morning will you arrive at work in a more positive frame of mind?
The approach can easily be extrapolated to cover other mundane choices wearing down our willpower. What to eat for lunch is my killer. Why don’t I plan what I am eating beforehand? Or bring my lunch more often and save myself the midday consternation science tells me is making me less efficient and creative?

I guess it is because the choices we make are so well camouflaged by daily activity we are often not aware we are making them. Acknowledging which choices we could simplify or eradicate is a good first step to dealing with decision fatigue.

But don’t expect me to start dressing like E.T.

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One thought on “Productivity: are you a Mark Zuckerberg, a Steve Jobs . . . or an ET?

  1. Absolutely! This brings to mind Schwartz’s work on ‘The Tyranny of Choice’ – not enough options can be dull but too many is overwhelming, especially when an important decision needs to be made. I find this a really interesting topic so here’s a link to further reading:

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