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How to not consume more time than enough choosing or making a decision (Tim Ferriss’s “Choice-Minimal Lifestyle”)

A world of options

We live in a world full of options. More than ever. They are everywhere and sometimes we don’t even look for them [read these confessions from a former Google Wizard]. Think about all the newsfeeds on FB or TWITTER, or the newsletters in your email, or the ads, products, and services around.

One of our most important daily activities is choosing. Hence, it is important to do it efficiently to not lose precious time and attention. And this my friends is harder than it seems.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that having so many options is great. It even helps us to be more resourceful [read this article by my good friend and colleague Abraham González-Báez about resourcefulness].

The problem is the time we spend  choosing  A over B, C, D and E.  In other words, the deliberating time.

Vincent Carlos mentions that every decision we make uses up mental energy. Therefore, as Tim Ferriss says, the deliberating time tends to overconsume our time & attention. He mentions that considering options costs attention, and attention is necessary for productivity and appreciation, having too many options can cause:

  • Less or no productivity
  • Less or no appreciation
  • Sense of overwhelming

Imagine the repercussions of this in our life. Easier, imagine it at our job. So, the real question is

How can we make deliberating time more efficient?

The Choice-Minimal Lifestyle

In the Ep. 2 of the podcast hosted by Tim Ferriss [super recommended], the guy gives an interesting set of 6 rules to reduce deliberating triggers as much as possible. He calls this the “Choice-Minimal Lifestyle”. I have practiced them at home and at the office and I think it worths to tell you: they work and this is my experience.

1. Set rules for yourself so you can automate as much decision-making as possible

I tend to check the email once and again [I like to have a clean inbox]. However, I’ve realized it takes a lot of my time and attention [what about you? What is your “checking the email” habit?]

Ferriss says “set rule and automate it”.

I have tried to put times to check my email: at the beginning of my journey, midday and just an hour before the end of my workday. It is basically, the principle of programming your day to avoid wasting time deciding when to do something (read this to craft a killer schedule].

2. Don’t provoke deliberation before you can take action.

Ferriss put one simple example: don’t scan the inbox on Friday evening or over the weekend if you might encounter work problems that can’t be addressed until Monday. Taking again my “email issue”, the problem is not only that I waste time checking my inbox over and over again, but also what it provokes. Once I check the email, I can’t avoid answering some of the emails I got.

What I do to avoid unnecessary deliberation is by keeping things in its place. How? I use the calendar. I am a calendar freak. I try to calendarize all my activities in order to put attention and time on them at the right moment and volume. Meetings, leisure, family events. Believe me, you’ll gain peace and structure.

3. Don’t postpone decisions or open “loops” just to avoid uncomfortable conversations.

Decision-making is unavoidable. Not choosing something is the worst time & attention consuming “inaction”. It is the same as procrastinating. At the end, you need to make a decision sooner or later. So, you are just extending deliberation time. Make a decision, pick a time, set a deadline or a date and move on. Once you make a decision, there is no deliberation to do.

4. Learn to make non-fatal or reversible decisions as quickly as possible.

Not every decision has to be a dead or live choice. Understanding this, helps us to know that we can make a decision and change our mind or reverse it if it is not the right one instead of deliberating during hours, days, and months to make THE RIGHT CHOICE. Ferris says that a way to do this efficiently is by setting time, options, and finance limits.

I set time limits for every project or task I have. When I am writing an article I put certain limits to choose a topic and to write it down. I choose three topics in the first place, and then I pick one. I spend an hour on this. Then I dedicate two hours calendarized in two days (one hr per day) to write it down. In that way, I know what and when to do it.

5. Don’t strive for variation—and thus increase option consideration—when it’s not needed. Routine enables innovation where it’s most valuable.

Vincent Carlos mentions that some successful people such as Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg do not spend time choosing their outfit every day.

In that way, they do not burn out energy and attention on something like clothing. Instead, they focus their time on important things and activities.

That should be the aim of a routine: to reduce deliberation.

Lately,  have set my running time at 6:00 o’clock in the morning. If I don’t do it at that time, I do not do it at any other moment.

6. Regret is past-tense decision making. Eliminate complaining to minimize regret.

This is the art of letting go and move on. I have a friend that tends to talk with himself. Many times he is just saying things that he wishes to have said hours or days before to someone else. He is spending time and attention thinking how to say better something that has been said already. Sometimes I spend energy thinking about a decision I have made. I think about potential better decision to have done or which one could be better than the one I actually made. BIG MISTAKE!

Make a decision and move one. What is done is done (doing it well is a matter of another article).

So, what do you think of these rules? I have found some of the very useful. I encourage you to try them and share your experiences.

Please, share this article or send it to a friend or colleague you think will find useful. There is always someone. 


FIRMADiego is an experienced learning advisor, a certified trainer and a design thinking consultant.

He is available for advisory where the focus is on driving transcendental learning and lasting change. Moreover, he is always eager to chat.