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The Paralyzing Waste of Indecision

By Kevin Meyer

One of my favorite blogs, Raptitude by David Cain, recently had a post on decisionmaking and minimalism.  As an aspiring minimalist this appealed to me, but the commentary on choice and decisions was especially apropo.

I've been lucky in that I've always had an ability to make good decisions quickly, whether based on real analysis or winging it from the gut.  It's been invaluable in my career and even personal life.  But most people I know are less fortunate, and I've noticed how indecision impacts many aspects of their lives.  The problem is compounded with age, and in her last years I watched my mother in-law become literally debilitated and frozen by even the most basic decisions.  Because she couldn't make decisions, the number of undecided issues made her life appear to be unnecessarily - and impossibly - complex.

The impact of decisions begins with breakfast.

After years of being confronted with a decision shortly after waking, I
decided to be done with deciding what was for breakfast. My usual is now
the only thing on the menu, and since I stopped deciding what’s for
breakfast, mornings have had a significantly different feel. They are
clearer and more spacious.

I can relate - my breakfast is the same cup of greek yogurt and Grape Nuts each morning.  I eat it while reading The Wall Street Journal on my iPad, just after my morning meditation and stretching, and just before reviewing my journal.  Every day.  Routine is satisfying, and calming.

An abundance of choices and the decisions that accompany are both a benefit and curse of the modern world.

As affluent Westerners we’re fortunate to have so many choices, but
according to psychologist Barry Schwartz, having too many possibilities —
which we do in almost every area: breakfast, clothing, careers,
lifestyles and creative pursuits to name some major ones — makes it
consistently harder to be happy with the options we choose. In his TED talk he identifies the ways too many choices erode personal welfare instead of serving it.

By focusing on reducing options - minimizing choices - life becomes simpler... and calmer.

Although I didn’t always know why, I know that the more I simplify my
life, in terms of its moment-to-moment options, the happier I am.
Owning fewer things
made me immediately calmer and more grateful. Having an inflexible
regular day for starting my weekly article drastically reduced my
anxiety around writing. Cutting my monetary spending (almost) down to the essentials
gave me an immediate sense of control and abundance I never had before.
I also suddenly have more money than ever — the side-effects of
voluntary simplification tend to be wonderful and freeing, at least when
you’ve been living the Western consumer status quo your whole life.

The reason behind these breakthroughs, I see now, is the same. Each
one reduced the number of decision points in my life. Every time I
reduce the number of decisions I have to make just to move my life
along, everything gets less difficult and I feel better about my
direction. It becomes easier to be grateful and to get myself to do what
is most important to me.

The implications go far beyond your daily meals.  The best websites intuitively guide you among very few choices.  Well-planned standard work reduces the variation of subjectivity while providing a foundation for kaizen.

Where can you reduce options in your life and in your organization, thereby reducing the waste and unnecessary complexity of indecision, and the variability of multiple decisions?

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4 Responses to "The Paralyzing Waste of Indecision"

  • David Hallsted
    10 June 2013 - 6:33 am

    That is why I enjoy my leader’s standard work (LSW). Its the plan for the work week. I only do what my manager signs off on. I have stopped fighting fires. Waste is easier to see with LSW, which leads to PDCAs to root out the waste. LSW was the easiest thing to do and maintain. The hard part is seeing everyone around me continue to fight fires creating an unproductive work environment.
    So, are you a minimalist or it is having a plan for the day?
    My plan came about from constant experiments on what works best for me. Yes I wear the same socks, underwear, shirt, shorts, and shoes because they are what I find most comfortable. I eat the same granola/yogurt for breakfast because I have done numerous experiments on what fuel keeps me going through the day.
    So are you a minimalist because you want to make fewer decisions?
    Or is it because you are constantly seeking perfection from your experiments, thus achieving excellence?

  • Joe
    13 June 2013 - 3:36 am

    I loved that post. I think the eye-opening revelation I had after reading it was it changed my perspective on what it truly overwhelming so many of us. Often, we look at how much we are “doing” and “working” as the source of overwhelm. In reality, most of us are simply overwhelming ourselves with decisions. Most them are trivial.

  • Neal
    18 June 2013 - 7:19 am

    Good post. How many of us spend our entire salary every week/month even though it’s 10%, say, more than what we got before that last raise?
    ‘Stuff’ in our private and business lives is stifling (BTW your private life and your business life are the same thing, you are one person).
    I TRY to live by this: Do the most productive thing at any given moment. [So why am I commenting on this post? :-) bye!]

  • Quincunx
    22 June 2013 - 10:27 pm

    I reduce my options via prejudice. Every time I try to communicate it’s the very definition of “unnecessary complexity”. Pre-sorting people into People Who Need Me to Clarify My Ideas, People Who Will Probably Get What I Meant with the Raw Communication, and People Who Already Know Whatever I Was Gonna Blather About is the only way to immediately cut down on indecision. Long-term, cutting down the chaos of my communications will lower the number of people I pre-judge as not worth the trouble to talk to, but I don’t know if I will ever be able to not use prejudice.