We have a programmable thermostat in our home. Twice per year, we change the programming on that thermostat – we have a set of “winter” temperatures and a set of “summer” temperatures that we put into the thermostat. The house’s temperature varies depending on our typical daily schedules which minimizes our energy usage. The temperature of our home is never a decision we have to make.
Our house is very consistent in our toilet paper usage, so we just subscribed to our preferred type of toilet paper using Amazon Subscribe & Save. The price we pay is pretty comparable to the price of similar paper locally. Buying toilet paper is never a decision we have to make.
We have most of our bills set to be automatically paid within a few days of their due date. We don’t have to think about these bills at all. We don’t have to consider when to pay them, ask ourselves where the stamps are, or remember a system for paying them. Paying most of our bills is never a decision we have to make.
Sarah and I both value systems that automate small decisions in our life. In fact, we often look for these types of systems, particularly when they don’t cost us anything.
Why? What’s the value?
It’s simple. Automating small decisions combats decision fatigue.
As I’ve explained before, our lives are full of decisions and our minds can only successfully handle so many of them in a given time period. Once we reach that cap, we become more and more subject to “decision fatigue.” The decision making parts of our mind are tired and thus are more susceptible to making errors when making little decisions.
It’s the same reason you wouldn’t want an exhausted surgeon operating on you. It’s not that the surgeon consistently makes poor decisions. It’s simply that the surgeon is more likely to make a bad decision because they’re worn from making so many decisions.
Similarly, it’s a bad idea to go grocery shopping when you’re mentally tired. You’re much more likely to put items in your cart that you shouldn’t necessarily buy. In fact, it’s usually a terrible idea to put any important decision in the hands of someone who is mentally fatigued.
If we can find ways to take some of those decisions out of our hands, we reduce the number of active decisions we have to make in a given day. Thus, our decision fatigue is reduced and we’re less likely to make poor decisions due to such fatigue.
Our solution is to automate little decisions. We do this by spending time up front thinking of ways to eliminate some of our little regular decisions. Even eliminating tiny decisions really helps.
One method is to establish a tight routine for doing certain things. If you fully load the dishwasher each night after dinner and run it, then unload it before bed, you avoid having to decide if it’s time to run the dishwasher. It’s never a decision you have to make.
Another method is to organize your possessions. If you have a specific place where an item always goes, you don’t have to decide where to put it and you certainly don’t have to think about where to locate it at a later time. You never have to make any decisions about where to put things. (If you don’t have enough space for the things you have, then you have other things to worry about.)
Remember, the goal is to always leave yourself feeling mentally refreshed enough to make good decisions at the important moments. By automating less important and smaller decisions, you leave yourself more decision energy for making better decisions later.
It’s not an immediate transformation, though. Typically, you don’t see radical shifts in your life upon automating several things like this. It’s much more subtle, but it’s very real. Things just seem to work better and you find yourself slowly accumulating the positive results of making many decisions a little bit better than before.
If nothing else, automating a few small decisions doesn’t cost anything and it can simplify your life a little bit, so why not look for these opportunities in your own life? Trust me – they’re well worth discovering and implementing.