on decision fatigue and cognitive budgets (part 2): on routines and ‘personal systems’

if you haven’t read part 1 of this post, give it a read. it’s short, i promise. 

given limited cognitive budget, we are each then daily presented with a maximization problem. how should we make the most of a limited resource (your brain’s capacity to make good decisions)?

now, for a while i was fascinated by high profile thinkers and leaders. i thought that if i could follow their patterns, i could do things on par with them. what i’ve learned from reading about and listening to some of these folks is this: do as much as  you can to take small decisions out of your day and create as much time as possible for doing ‘heavy-thinking.’ heavy-thinking tasks to me are ones that require me to juggle a lot of complexity, let it all roll around in my head for a while, process it, and then create something with it. for me, that thing is almost always a design of some sort. whether it’s a project design, a piece of visual design, or design of a process, i still need long blocks of uninterrupted time (i.e. no context switching) to process information thoroughly and spit it back out in a way that has added value.

so for me (and these ‘greats’ as well) the common thread is minimizing small decisions to create space for big decisions (like how to implement a 12-month data gathering program for my organization).

and, surprise surprise, the easiest way to do that is having routines. everything you can do to take small decisions off your plate (especially in the morning) and put them into a routine helps. this is why people make such a big deal out of picking your clothes the night before. the comparative cognitive cost of choosing what to wear is much less at the end of a day than at the beginning of one.

there are some common themes, especially within particular fields. that said, having studied many fields and many eras of top-notch thinkers and doers, here’s my conclusion. it doesn’t particularly matter what your routine is; it matters that you have one that works for you.