You might hear people talk about ego-depletion, willpower depletion, or decision fatigue. I’ll leave it to the psychologists to find exact definitions for these things, but what I care about is that there seems to be some truth to the idea that my cognitive reserves can be drained. If I’m stressed, tired, dehydrated, not properly nourished, or have simply exercised a lot of decision making and willpower, I find that it is harder to continue to make (good) decisions or use willpower. This page will be a collection of ways to conserve cognitive resources throughout the day so that I can spend them where they are needed.
The basic idea here is to reduce interruptions and eliminate decisions or move decisions to a time when you are not rushed.
For example, your morning might consist of deciding what to wear, what to eat, what to bring, when to get out of bed, whether to work out, make breakfast or buy it, pack a lunch, when to get to work (am I running late?). You might also be deciding whether to read the news or social media, whether to respond to things online, and whether to chat with a friend. You might come across something that makes you angry and so you’ll spend cognitive reserves and whether and how to respond or just internally burning with moral outrage.
Can you simplify your morning into deciding to get up and then starting your morning routine which is a set of mindless tasks that you’ll already planned out and practice?
- Lay out your day’s outfit the night before
- Only present yourself with clothes that fit and outfits that match
- Develop a morning routine and do as much prep as you can the night before
- Cook oatmeal in a crockpot overnight
- Prep your coffee maker (I know, I know, it’s fresher to grind the beans right before you use them)
- Don’t do any morning reading until you’ve left your house (unless it’s a planned reading for morning inspiration)
- Don’t check email or get into any conversations until you’ve completed all your morning responsibilities.
- Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock (it will increase temptation to fiddle with other things on your phone first thing in the morning)
- Turn off as many notifications, pop-ups, and badges as possible on your phone and computer. Do you really need to know immediately when someone emails you or mentions you on Twitter? If you have time to respond to Twitter, you’re probably going to be checking it anyway.
- Remove as many apps from your phone as possible. If you use your phone for productivity, do you really need to check twitter on it? Can it wait until you’re back at your computer?
- If you’re making a relatively inconsequential decision like where to go for lunch or what time to meet someone, consider your preferences, suggest two or three options, and then remove yourself from the decision-making process. Don’t bog yourself down with trying to mind-read. If the other parties don’t have a strong preference, just pick the first option you gave them and rest easy. No one has grounds to get upset at you for making a decision that did not take their unvoiced preferences into account.
- Let someone else make purchasing decisions for you
- Decide on the features and price range that will work for you before considering your options
- Don’t waste time considering pros or cons that don’t apply to your needs
- Use good review sites like The Wirecutter and The Sweet Home to quickly narrow down your options. If their best pick fits your feature and price requirements, just buy that.
- Bring along a decisive friend and voice your indecisiveness to them. They can help keep your mind on track. Buy them coffee for helping you.
- Have less stuff. There will be less to clean, organize, pack, move, protect, worry about, and give you that general “cluttered” feeling.
- Is it costing you more to store it than it would to replace it? Get rid of it.
- Give stuff you’re not using to a friend who would loan it back to you if you ever needed it again.
- Not sure if you need it? Could you replace it quickly and inexpensively if you needed to? Get rid of it.
- Have something that works for you? Just buy the same thing when you need to replace it. Don’t turn every purchase into a research project.