Minimum Complexity = Maximum Results

I read a piece today in a fashion magazine published by the Guardian. I was having a relaxing 15 minutes on Good Friday with Julie. We were in the new local coffee shop on the same street as the Freestak x Like the Wind offices (check it out if you ever happen to be in Bowes Park / Bounds Green – it’s called Hot Milk).

The piece was about having a signature look. One of the writers said that Steve Jobs had a signature look: black polo-neck, Levis 501 jeans, New Balance trainers. But I take issue with the author’s assertion that Steve’s choice of clothes was about fashion. I have read a few times that he chose to wear the same clothes day-in-day-out to reduce complexity (as well as liking what he wore – that is important). I have read that President Obama did the same thing – he wore the same grey or blue suit every day to reduce decision fatigue. I got this from a Fast Company piece that covered a few of the ways Obama reduced complexity.

Thinking about this small detail in the lives of some of the most driven and successful people in the world got me thinking. How complex is my life? How can I reduce that complexity. And what impact will it have?

Definite Decision Fatigue

I am now sure that I suffer from decision fatigue. I start work at 7am or 8am most days and often by 5pm or 6pm and I feel pretty drained. I usually try to fight that feeling with a coffee, but it rarely gives me back the ‘pop’ that I have first thing in the morning.

And I have been monitoring the amount of decisions and questions I have to manage during the day. When I have a day with lots of distractions, questions and demands I definitely get to dinner time with less energy than if I have been left alone to get on with a few important tasks or I have been out pitching all day.

Over the last few weeks I have been making a note at the end of each day about how much (on a scale of 1-10) I have been dragged into making decisions. Anything above a 7 and I usually want to collapse into bed by 9pm.

I guess that is natural.

Reducing the Complexity

So what is my plan? Well I am still experimenting so I don’t have a definitive answer yet. But here are a few of the things I am actively doing to try to reduce my decision fatigue, at least when I can:

  • Planning my exercise in advance: I know that a day when I don’t manage to exercise is a day when I will be wracked with guilt and boiling with frustration. So every day I make a decision about when I am going to exercise the next day. As far as possible, I stick to that plan. Most of the time that means deciding to get up at 5am and just getting a run or ride done. I also book in with friends to go for a run or ride and that takes away the negotiation that can happen – it’s agreed so I just go.
  • Wearing (mainly) the same things most of the time: I am not going to pretend that I can do a Steve Jobs or a Barak Obama. But I have bought four of the same Uniqlo shirts in grey and blue plus I have a couple of other shirts that I know fit and look good (in my opinion, of course!) I make sure there are always a couple washed and ironed (a good job for Sunday evening) and I wear them with the same selvedge jeans or chinos plus one of three pairs of trainers pretty much every day (plus one of three sweatshirts I have if I know it will be cold). I have made sure that this capsule wardrobe would be perfectly acceptable if I suddenly had a meeting or a client turned up at the office.
  • Blocking out time – this is one that I am struggling with. I have put time in the shared work diary when I would like to be left alone. The problem is that if I am in the office, no one takes any notice of that and just asks me whatever they want. It would probably be easier if I had an office, but we are all open-plan at Freestak, which is great most of the time, but this is one limitation of that set-up.
  • Expecting colleagues to work it out for themselves – as Freestak and Like the Wind both grow up, both Julie and I are looking for people who can take responsibility and work it out for themselves. Empowering people to take risks and use their initiative not only means the business can really grow and thrive, but it also allows each of us to focus on the few things that really matter and that we can have a big impact on. Gary Vaynerchuk apparently talks about his business like a federation – i.e. there are independent states that govern most of what they do and then a collective entity that each state contributes to and relies on for certain things.
  • Planning food in advance – this is much like the clothing thing: if I know on Monday what I am going to eat each day for the working week, then there are 15 fewer decisions / negotiations to navigate. It is hard to do this, of course. But I have noticed that on the days when we have left-overs for lunch and dinner is planned (usually because something needs to be eaten before it spoils) my decision fatigue score is a lot lower.

I am sure there are many other ways that I can help myself to be more productive by reducing the complexity day-to-day. I have a lot of requests from people asking me for little favours (quite often from clients) and being the kind of person I am, I really struggle to say “No”. But perhaps I need to a little more.

If you have come to the same conclusions as me and / or you have any suggestions for how I can improve my results by reducing complexity, I would love to hear from you. Especially if you have seen results. Of course, I realise that you might decide to reduce your own complexity by not replying to this post. I would totally respect that decision …

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