Decluttering the small, unimportant decisions can help control that overwhelmed feeling.
“I need to work on work/life balance,” said a coaching client, stretched thin between a big job and family commitments. “I am so overwhelmed.”
“How many decisions do you make every day?” I asked her.
She looked at me blankly, unable to begin to quantify an answer.
“What if we strategize about how to declutter the unimportant decisions you make every day, and see if that helps with the feeling of being overwhelmed,” I suggested.
We started with a story.
I was recently walking downtown with a friend, I told her.
“The crosswalk light started blinking at the intersection ahead of us. My friend started running for the light, and then had to wait for me on the other side of the street.”
I never run for lights. Too many unnecessary, high-risk decisions that make my brain tired. I try to save those decisions for the stuff that matters.
This is a widely accepted concept called decision fatigue, which claims that the more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain. The “use of executive function — a talent we all rely on throughout the day — draws upon a single resource of limited capacity in the brain,” according to Scientific American.
My friends laugh at me when they look in my closet.
I try to keep to less than 100 pieces of clothing – inspired years ago by “The 100 Thing Challenge” book. I have a handful of outfits for work hanging from a couple of hangers in my closet. For me, having lots of clothes means lots of unnecessary decisions before the day even really starts. (Interesting how the most famous examples of wardrobe simplicity are men’s clothes: Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. More of us should really consider wearing our own work uniform.)
I want to save my executive function ability for how I coach my clients; how I parent my teenagers and partner with my husband; and how I take good care of my middle-aged self.
I try not to watch TV – too many decisions and too hard to decide to turn it off. I try to turn my bedside light off at the same time every night (usually, unless I have a good book, in which case all bets are off and work/life balance goes out the window).
These are all small examples of ways to reduce the number of unimportant decisions cluttering up your brain.
They add up, I tell my client.
“An important aspect to work/life balance is to have the capacity to make decisions that are good for you, to have the mental wherewithal for those decisions, to feel like you have control over those decisions,” I told my client. “Clearing out the decision clutter makes room for the big decisions at work and at home.
“These small, unnecessary decisions add up to thousands of decisions a day,” I said. “Clearing out the clutter will help you from being overwhelmed by all of it.”
“Where do we start?” she asked.