For Daily Ease, Make One-Time Choices

All of us have to make big, important, life-altering decisions at some point.  Which college major should I choose?  Should I marry this person I'm with, or choose to move on, or be single for a while?  Which job offer should I accept?  Should I have a child?  Should I move closer to my aging parents?

These are decisions worth pondering.  I suggest imagining that you've made a certain decision and playing out the results of that in your mind, going as far into the future as you can.  How do you feel?  Satisfaction, or regret?  That might give you some insight you're lacking.

happy couple

Commitment is the key.

As a teenager, I bought into the romantic idea that "the one" exists – somewhere on earth is your perfect soul mate.  The best relationship advice I ever got was from a long-married college professor who said something like, "Too many of you are looking for the one person who's your perfect match.  The truth is there are a lot of people who might be right for you.  The point is, who do you commit to?  Once you make a commitment, that person becomes the one for you.  Otherwise, when your relationship isn't perfect (and it won't be), you'll always tell yourself 'the one' is still out there."

This concept applies to any big decision.

Once you choose one option over another, and commit to it, you have now decided what kind of person you are.  You are the person who builds a life with the partner you've chosen.  You are a parent, or you aren't.  You are a teacher, or you're a computer programmer, or you're a lawyer.  Or you're someone who develops three careers at different times in your life.

You create your path by choosing.

If you're facing a big decision right now, this article has some well-thought-out pitfalls and strategies to think about.

Decision fatigue is real.

Okay, all of that was important, but meanwhile we make thousands of decisions every day.  Should I wear this or that, or this other thing... or should I buy something new?  Should I eat this or that?  Should I answer my phone or let it go to voice mail?  Should I do this task first, or that one?  Should I take the short cut or the scenic route?  Should I cook or go out, or order in, or just eat a bowl of Cheerios?  Should I read this book, or check social media, or go to bed early?

On and on it goes, day after day.  Decision fatigue is a real thing.

Someone has done the math.  A study conducted by Barclays Plan & Invest in the UK found that we spend about 2.5 hours every day making these small but necessary decisions.  This huge effort steals time and attention we could be spending on more important things, like relationships, big projects, and big decisions.

Dr. Bastien Blain, who co-authored the study, explains:

Making difficult decisions requires a lot of brain power.
Studies have shown that having many decisions to make
and lots of options to choose from can produce internal conflict,
anxiety, and reduce people's satisfaction with their choice.
Being mentally fatigued in this way makes us more impulsive
and prone to choosing small, immediate rewards
over larger, delayed ones.

So decision fatigue makes us more inclined to just eat that cookie or spend more time on social media because it's easier than going to the trouble of making a better choice.

Rather than settling for the path of least resistance or defaulting to poor habits, give yourself a break and beat decision fatigue.

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Decide once.

supermarket choices
For those decisions that come up every day, decide once so you don't have to muddle through the decision-making process unnecessarily.  For example, Dr. Blain and his colleague Joseph Marks found that people spent inordinate amounts of time deciding what to wear in the morning, what to eat for dinner, and which work task to tackle first.

Marketers and retailers have created endless options that keep us stuck trying to choose breakfast cereals, pasta sauces, or laundry detergent.  That might be why many people think of grocery shopping as a huge chore, since it's so decision-heavy.

But if we decide once, we can reduce the burden.  We can be more content with our choices and turn our attention to things that matter more.

Instead of exhaustively seeking the best (and apparently only right option), we can stop obsessing and accept a decision that is good enough.  Instead of endlessly comparing ourselves to what others are doing, or second-guessing our choices and worrying we could have "done better," we can move on after a decision is made, and feel peace about the outcome.  Not every choice needs to be treated as if it's a life-or-death pronouncement.

8 ways I choose once and move on with my life

1.  Wardrobe

My wardrobe is small and contains items I'm content to wear on a regular basis.  All of my tops can go with any of my bottoms.  Twice a year, I evaluate what's in my closet and decide what I want to keep and what needs replacing.

2.  Laundry

I do a load of wash on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday rather than trying to tackle everything at once.  Generally, more delicate items such as shirts, blouses, and trousers get washed on Monday, jeans go in on Wednesday, and I finish the week with sheets and towels.

3.  Cleaning products, personal care items, makeup

I've found what gets the job done and now I stick with those products.  I use fewer skin care products than I used to, and my skin is better.  I also use what I call the SEA – the Smallest Effective Amount.  It saves money and reduces the number of plastic containers I buy and recycle.

4.  Recipe binder

I have a number of go-to recipes that we like and which provide leftovers for another meal.  I stick to making these meals most nights so I don't have to create an entirely new menu (or grocery list) every week.

5.  Breakfasts and lunches

We almost always eat plain Cheerios or Kashi Go Original cereal on weekdays, and eggs (and possibly French toast) on weekends.  I got into a bad habit of getting Starbucks a lot of mornings, which I'm cutting back on.  For lunch, Jon gets a salad or a bowl of soup at school; I usually eat whole grain bread with cheese or natural peanut butter plus a piece of fruit.  Limiting food choices helps control our diet and saves time, energy, and money.

6.  Paint on our walls

We decided once what we liked and have used it in two homes for the past 15 years – Alabaster by Sherwin Williams.  It's a wonderful warm white, the perfect neutral that allows me to change around artwork, toss pillows, and other small colorful items whenever I want.

7.  Phone, email, texts

I check email and texts in the morning, around lunchtime, and in the evening after dinner.  I'm not interrupted by constant notifications, but I still get back to people within a few hours.

I only answer my phone if it's a family member, a medical provider, or one of a handful of other people.  Otherwise, I let the call go to voice mail.  If someone leaves a message, I'll check and respond when I do email and texts.  No one has ever complained that I wasn't responsive enough.

8.  Shopping

By limiting the retailers I visit (instead of researching every single possibility), I save time, gas, frustration, and prevent excessive shopping.

  • I usually do any shopping I need (as well as hair appointments and the like) on Wednesday or Thursday, if possible.
  • I use one grocery store I like that has good prices, and I favor one "general merchandise retailer."  My husband is faithful to one hardware store, and I buy hobby supplies at two places (depending on what I'm buying).
  • If I need to shop online, I have three websites where I look for clothes, a couple of websites where I look for shoes (and I tend to buy the same two or three brands), and three or four websites where I might check for anything else.  I don't spend large amounts of time shopping online.

More ideas to leave you with energy for more important things

choose your direction
There are even more ways I could decide once, such as:

  • I could choose a bedtime, or a waking-up time.
  • I could decide to wear a daily uniform.
  • I could watch TV, videos, or streaming only on certain evenings.
  • I could choose one social media platform and ignore the others.
  • If I had a large house, I could decide to do certain cleaning chores on certain days so I didn't have to spend hours at one time, but still got every job done.

If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by choice, too busy, or too frazzled and scattered, try this strategy to reduce your stress and increase your effectiveness.  Which choices do you make every day that you could decide on once and for all?  It doesn't mean you never vary, but it makes novelty more fun – an opportunity to experiment and follow serendipity.

I think you'll find that making one-time choices makes daily life easier, and leaves energy and attention for things that have more significance.

Related article:  How We Gain Stability and Freedom with a Routine

Interested in learning easy habits to keep your home relaxing and tidy?

Subscribe to receive my free printable

"Simple Clutter-Free Habits to Do In Just a Minute"


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