Yes or Yes: How to Make Fewer Decisions

A married couple was celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. At the party everybody wanted to know how they managed to stay married so long in this day and age.

The husband responded, “When we were first married we came to an agreement – I would make all the major decisions and my wife would make all the minor decisions. And now, after 60 years of marriage, I can truthfully say that we have never needed to make a MAJOR decision.

Actually, he’s on to something.

Everyday, we’re faced with hundreds of decisions. Major or minor, each one requires brainpower as we process information, weigh the alternatives and make a choice. Eventually, this leads to what researchers call decision fatigue and the harder each decision becomes. (If you think about the last time you bought a camera, a car or even a new toothpaste, you know what I’m talking about.)

At that point, our judgment falters and our brain starts to take shortcuts, like doing something reckless or doing nothing at all. (Which helps explain why ordinarily sensible people make that impulse buy at the checkout counter and married politicians send inappropriate photos on Twitter.)

Thing is, if we’re in reactive mode simply making decisions as they pop up, we’re using up precious brainpower on trivial decisions, like what to eat for lunch or which movie to download. Then, when it comes time to make decisions that actually have a lasting impact on our work and relationships, we’re pooped.

Make fewer decisions

Leo Widrich, the co-founder of start-up Buffer and one of the speakers I interviewed in the Mental Toughness Summit, has adopted a very deliberate strategy for decision-making: make less of them.

“If someone suggests a place to get dinner, I say yes. If someone asks to do something on the weekend, I say yes. I don’t own any clothes apart from white t-shirts (and one black Buffer t-shirt), so I don’t have to decide what to wear. I listen to the same music I’ve always listened to, if someone suggests some new music, I say yes and listen to it.”

Of course, there are times where the default is “no” but Leo’s approach streamlines the number of decisions he has to think about to those he believes will make a difference to his long-term success and happiness. In this case, less is more.

Get rid of redundant thinking

Another way to make fewer decisions is by automating your schedule.

Make a list of the activities you want or need to do on a regular, repeated basis – team meetings, client prospecting, monthly report-writing, yoga class, poker night. Then designate a specific day or time for them in your calendar. This dramatically simplifies the redundant process of figuring out when you’re going to do them – and also makes it more likely that you’ll do them (cold-calling, I’m talking to you).

Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse, demonstrates this disciplined approach by structuring his week according to business area: Monday, he focuses on Product issues, Tuesday on Video & Teaching, and so on.

Rather than making your life rigid and fixed, automating means you spend less mental energy on making the same boring decisions over and over, which frees up creativity and allows you to be spontaneous where it counts.

Now it’s your turn: how can you apply these strategies to YOUR life?


  1. Kathy Kirk June 10, 2012 at 11:29 am

    By saying yes to everything we might be saying ‘no’ to something that is really on our path of experience here. We have an Inner Guidance System that is always calling us forth. To hear that guidance, we have to be able to FEEL in the moment which thing feels Good. Why would you want to cut your Inner Guidance out of any decision?

    1. Renita June 11, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      Totally agree, Kathy! Making fewer mundane or rote decisions helps free up energy to quiet down the chatter and tune into our inner guidance for help with the more meaningful choices that we shouldn’t automate.

  2. Julie June 10, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Another thoughtful post! Thanks Renita.

  3. Maria June 11, 2012 at 5:44 am

    It is true that the mundane everyday tasks that do require decisions :i.e. what to make for my family’s dinner, where to buy the groceries , take up a lot of energy that can be freed up by automating a schedule!
    That is good food for thought to reduce stress! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Renita June 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      Absolutely, Maria. It’s amazing how designating a time/day/plan even just for grocery shopping will give you a real sense of freedom and more enjoyment in the process. Let me know what you come up with!

  4. Frank Lio June 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Excellent points. That’s why I found systems such as GTD (Getting Things Done from David Allen ) and defined personal mission statements to be so helpful. GTD helps me automatically break things into smaller defined actionable steps. A defined personal mission statement and values provide quick guidance on many things and eliminates trying to rationalize and overthink things unnecessarily, e.g. if I see someone drop money on the floor, I know that I should tell him/her. Quick decision.

    1. Renita June 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm

      Thanks, Frank! Love the dropped money example — how often do we waste time vacillating or feeling self-conscious and then the opportunity to take action is gone.

  5. Sohaib June 15, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    I enjoyed this post, and can so easily relate to it. Throughout a day, I find myself just thinking about what I will be doing the rest of the day, the week, month, (or even just something coming up); essentially, I am ‘making decisions’ throughout the day about what to do next, if I have to do it, how to do it, etc. This has led me to have thoughts all over the place, and I find it hard to focus. I cannot honestly say that I have the final solution, but it helps to know that I have somewhere to start. Thanks Renita!

    1. Renita June 20, 2012 at 4:40 am

      That’s the nature of the world we live in, isn’t it, Sohaib. Indeed, because our lives have become so non-linear, deciding what to do next IS an important part of our work/life. The goal is to find that balance so you feel in control (making conscious decisions) rather than overwhelmed or scattered.

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