Fewer Decisions Creates More Focus

What’s for lunch?

Should we go swimming this morning or play at home?

Red or green? Or blue or purple?

Decisions, big and small, can steal focus from your tasks and work.

I’ve noticed that the more routine we have, even in our loose schedule, the more we get done. When I know that I always have to leave the house at 9:30am to get to our Friday class, I get a few more tasks done in the morning. The laundry is put away, the drying racks folded down and put out of sight for the weekend and the breakfast dishes dealt with before we leave.

Penelope Trunk talked about the power of making fewer decisions in this post 4 Secrets of focused people. This quote she used from President Obama illustrates how having fewer decisions helps him focus.

“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” – President Obama in this Vanity Fair article


Okay, I’m not president of the United States of America but the logic makes sense for my life too.

Having fewer decisions each day helps me get bigger things done. Meal planning gives me more focus for a dreaded task like making calls to our Canadian bank (I hate making phone calls!). Having a smaller wardrobe makes dressing for the day easy and gives me more focus and energy for things like helping my son create a bridge for his train table or getting a quick 1000 words out on my book in the early morning.

If you have a lot of opportunity for decisions in your life, try and eliminate some.

I caught a few of Design Mom’s back to school series on fall wardrobes for her kids. I’ll say her kids are far more fashionable than my son (err.. probably me too) but I loved seeing that they have fairly small wardrobes.

As a mother to six children I would guess that Gabriel benefits in many ways from the kids having smaller wardrobes. Fewer little people asking for help in the morning and it probably reduces the amount of laundry on the floor in bedrooms. Easier to get everyone clothed and out the door in the morning. More time for Gabriel’s writing and business.

Really like the idea of having photos of outfits for kids and adults. Helps you know what’s being used in your wardrobe and is a quick reference for getting dressed in the morning.

Eliminating small decisions gives you focus for the big ones.

I still haven’t bought anything for this new baby.

In all honesty I have gone by a shop window or two, or seen something online, and thought about buying something cute and oh so small. But I haven’t pulled the trigger. I have lots of time for those little things.

What I don’t have a lot of time for is making decisions about the birth, getting our son prepared and preparing myself. I went to my first prenatal yoga class on the weekend and loved it. It was nice to do something for just me and the new baby.

This second pregnancy has flown by and I often forget I’m pregnant, forget that we’ll have a new baby here in a few months and forget that I’ll be, hopefully, laboring again and nursing again. Those are some big tasks.

Instead of thinking about onesies and if we need a double stroller I’m focusing on the bigger pieces like birth, my health and preparing our family.

Have you eliminated some small or routine decisions in your life for more focus?

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  • This is very “One Dress Project” isn’t it?
    At the weekend I made two dresses. Simple shift style, sleeveless. One blue knee length, one longer in linen I bought in Istanbul, wholemeal bread flour coloured.
    I thought about doing the One Dress thing before, but now I am wondering about a one pattern project. I could make this dress cropped to hip length as a top, or full length (almost). It could be made in wool or linen or cotton. It could be made a little larger to accommodate a T shirt underneath.
    In fact, I like it so much, I am considering buying yardage on holiday, and hand-sewing one as my holiday craft project.

    • Is this the pattern I saw via Twitter? Liked it. Looked simple but versatile.
      Still intrigued by One Dress but not sure when I would fit it in in the next year. Maybe if I found something adjustable and nursing friendly. My sister is really into merino wool garments (Ice Breaker brand). Says they last forever, dry quick and don’t smell even after a lot of repeated wear.

  • I thought I was the only person who hates talking on the phone.

    What I did a couple of weeks ago was subscribe to a meal-planning service. My husband is now working a second job, so all the planning was falling to me, and I was feeling a little tired of my menus. I found one that doesn’t cost much and has good recipes. I didn’t realize how much I dreaded the task until I didn’t have to do it anymore! I don’t like paying for things I can do for free, but it’s been worth it because now I have more time to spend outside enjoying our fall weather.

    • I stack up all my calls and do them one after the other once a week. Not social calls or anything urgent of course but the bank/doctors/dentist/optometrist/tailor etc. I really enjoy social calls on Skype with family and friends but those other calls, arghh, I will procrastinate on them forever.

      Outsourcing meal planning: love it. We outsource a few things that we could do ourselves to save us time and headaches. Well worth it.

    • “I don’t like paying for things I can do for free,”
      Me neither, but just because we “can” do something doesn’t mean it’s the best use of our time. Good call.

  • This was great and timely … I had just read that Vanity Fair article and read about Obama’s minimalist wardrobe. :)

    I have a six-week-old and just started back at work part-time. (Luckily, I work from home …) I tell you – we have been blessed by friends giving us hand-me-downs and things for our little bean, but I’ve been suffering from some decision fatigue. And it has EVERYTHING to do with clothes! My project lately in between thank you notes and snuggles is trimming down his wardrobe.

    I am thankful for your blog. :) It’s a good compass.

  • Great post! I’m having a hard time getting rid of clothes that don’t fit. I keep telling myself that if I get a sewing machine I can tailor them instead of buying new. What to do? I have too many clothes and nothing to wear!
    on another note, I have a Joovy Sit-N-Stand double stroller, and I rarely use it. On a day-to-day basis, I wear my baby for quick errands. The extra weight turns an ordinary walk into a workout, and it has helpes me shed the babyweight. For longer walks I use the single stroller, and let my older son walk. If he gets tired, I’ll let him sit on the stroller and I wear the baby. So in the end, I only use the double for super long trips where we’ll be walking all day. Good thing it was a gift! But if you do decide to get a double, I don’t recomend a side-by-side, they’re way harder to maneuver in tight places, like stores and crowded places.

  • I completely agree. I even find that making decisions about fun things can be overwhelming sometimes – like what movie to watch. This probably sounds totally crazy, but my life got sooo much easier once I decided to just let CatMan be in charge of the Netflix cue. It works out really well because he loves to spend hours reading movie reviews etc, and I mostly just like to be surprised. And whenever it’s just me and I want to lay on the couch and watch a movie, I’ve actually taken to playing “Netflix roulette.” Seriously, I just close my eyes, click around with the remote for a while (we have a Roku player so we can watch streaming on the regular TV) and I don’t open them until the movie has started. I enjoy it sooooo much more than all of the hemming and hawing over what I want to watch, and only once or twice have I ended up with something really terrible.

    • haha, I can relate to this. You wouldn’t think it would take that much time. I think I try to imagine each movie in my head and see how I feel about it, so it takes forever. Even then I can’t make up my mind sometimes.

  • Really great post- I am in the process of simplifying my life and I totally agree less decisions is the way to go!
    I work full time and unfortunately my work doesn’t provide a uniform. Some of my colleagues act like its a fashion show and I admit in the past I have been guilty of trying to keep up with them. But I’ve realised it’s pointless- someone will always be more fashionable, have the latest bag etc. I now stick to my own ‘uniform’- I have 2 suits and 7 tops and alternate these. The stress it takes out of mornings is amazing- no more trying to match things- it all matches! Allows me time for a quick tidy- up before work- so I come home to a tidy house too! Thanks again for your inspirational posts!!

  • I am totally on board with trying the reduce the number of decisions my kids and I I have to make on a daily basis. It really does make life easier! Some small things I’ve done is simplify our wardrobes/laundry. Now I only do dark loads. If my daughter wants a pastel pink shirt, I’m not buying it! If someone gives her one, it goes in with the darks. I swapped out our white towels for gray so they can be washed with our regular clothes if needed. My son’s socks are all the same color/brand. Also, I assign days for things. Monday is vacuum day, Tues is granola bar for school snack day, etc…

  • So true. Routine and habit go hand in hand. I have a routine for things I do regularly — laundry, mail, cooking, personal hygiene, cleaning, etc. — and those routines turn into habits. The more I can do on auto pilot, the more brain space I have to think about other things. I find having a consistent place for everything accomplishes a similar goal.

  • I loved reading about other peoples’ minimalist wardrobes.
    We moved from NYC to a farm, and I pretty much stopped buying clothes. I started to worry a little that we needed to just have more clothes to be normal. And then people who read my blog started asking why my kids have the same clothes in every picture. And then I realized that it didn’t matter. Everyone else was already onto me: we each have about one week’s worth of clothes. And they all look the same because they are clothes for a working farm. Now I just laugh every time I scroll through my blog and see the same shirt ten times.


    • Thanks for commenting, Penelope. I am a huge fan of your writing.
      I’m in maternity clothes at the moment but have two pairs of jeans and then 8 or 10 tops. That’s it. I am sure some of my more fashionable friends are tired of seeing that same long sleeved striped side ruched maternity top from H&M on me but I don’t care. Makes getting ready in the morning easy and leaves me with more time for the things I actually enjoy.

      • Whenever I read Jane Eyre I am a little envious of her wardrobe. She has a dress for daytime (black) a dress for evenings (black silk) and a dress for weddings and very special occasions (dove coloured silk). Obviously there would be other undergarments, but I’ve always liked the idea of a small number of quality clothes. No need to decide what to wear, just get of bed and put it on!

  • This is such an encouraging post for me because minimalism and not spending $$ really has been the name of our game with our children thus far. However, I live overseas and for this second baby have been more tempted to spend at garage sales and thrift stores. Today when I saw my bill for $38 at the thrift store for a small-ish stack of little boy’s clothes, I was discouraged, because now I realize I’ve bought a lot more than I need for this little guy and am probably just having fun in a way I don’t think is conscientious.

    Anyway, I’m going to keep reading your blog for more inspiration and good decision-making! I added you to my blog roll. :-)

  • It’s time for me to, once again, pare down my wardrobe moving into the fall. I can’t cope with more than three outfits, so that’s what I’ll aim for.
    I have to say I’m thrilled that one decision has been made for me. The Waldorf school that my sons are in doesn’t allow unhealthy food. So we send the same three healthy things in rotation. I cook more, but my kids are getting way better nutrition than the “healthy” packaged food I used to send. I wish I was strong enough to set the standard first, but I’m thrilled to have the school make that decision for us now.

  • I’ve been mulling this over since I heard Obama’s quote. At first I shrugged it off as we’ve moved to several simplifications at home already. I have enough work clothes for one week so I mix and match but it is finite and so much simpler. I have a daughter in school uniforms (the second will be next year) at a charter school. Hugely simpler. I’ve created 4 weekly menus with shopping lists pre-written for us to choose from. Love it! What I didn’t consider was how this could apply to my job. This year I hit a wall at work feeling burnt out yet leaving is not an option at this point. So “what gives?” has been my question of choice for the last month. It finally dawned on me that I could surely refine/simplify my methods to lessen the need for multitasking, which is exhausting me at the moment. Huge welcomed revelation!

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