The art of paring down decisions

Who else remembers Doug Funny's very pared-down closet?

The WiFi was abysmal during my latest cross-country flight, so it's good that in the airport I picked up the October issue of Vanity Fair. This issue was, by the way, really heavily focused on Silicon Valley, with lots of pieces on startup founders, tech executives, and a full profile of Y Combinator, which was interesting (and I have to say pretty validating, even though I like to rib the old media types at VF from time to time.) 

A particularly interesting article was Michael Lewis' in-depth profile of President Obama. Lewis asked one question several times during the six month period that he interviewed the President, and I think it's one that could work well for other high-profile interview subjects: 

"Assume that in 30 minutes you will stop being president. I will take your place. Prepare me. Teach me how to be president."

The first couple times this question came up, Lewis says Obama's answers were a bit "dull and expected." But during one sit-down discussion aboard Air Force One, the President opened up with specific advice that I think could be useful for many of us regardless of political affiliation. I'm not sure that blue and gray suits are my thing, but maybe it's something I should look into:

This time he covered a lot more ground and was willing to talk about the mundane details of presidential existence. "You have to exercise," he said, for instance. "Or at some point you'll just break down." 

You also need to remove from your life the day-to day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. "You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits," he said. "I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make." He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one's ability to make further decisions. It's why shopping is so exhausting. 

"You need to focus your decision-making energy. you need to routinize yourself. You can't be going through the day distracted by trivia."

Comments
By ryan at 12:35 a.m. Sept. 8, 2012
hell yes! i think the recent psych/neuroscience research on decision fatigue and mental energy budget is fascinating, e.g. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html?pagewanted=all .

i definitely feel it myself, too: http://snarfed.org/2012-08-25_not_whether_you_agree_but_how_much_you_care
By colleen at 12:32 a.m. Sept. 9, 2012
Thanks for those links Ryan -- checking them out. It's great to read some actionable advice on things like this! Maybe it's not just that things in general are "overwhelming" -- it's that there is just too much going on, and we can make conscious decisions to tune certain things out.
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