With my final exams underway in the next few weeks and my MBA wrapping up for good, I’m in the mood to dig into big projects with gusto. One the main problems I found juggling a full-time job and graduate school was the sheer exhaustion that comes with managing it all. By the time I’d get to my night classes at 6:30pm, my brain already felt totally burnt out from a day in the office, and I found motivating myself to study and concentrate a near impossible task. I slugged through it, but it wasn’t easy (or fun).
In order to combat my exhaustion with more than exorbitant amounts of coffee, I did all the things that are supposed to make you more productive: regular early bedtimes, at least an hour-long workout 3x per week, limited alcohol intake, etc.
Lately, I’m getting into lifestyle hackery by extreme or unusual methods, like those of Tim Ferris. As you know, I’m always a huge advocate of finding shortcuts, in order to get the absolute maximum results from the minimum amount of effort. Likewise, ever since I learned about the Pareto Principle, I’ve made a concerted effort over the years to apply it to absolutely everything, from my financial strategy to how I study for exams. I recently decided I needed to find some hacks for my wardrobe.
For the past few months, it has been an exercise in frustration to try to decide what to wear each morning. I had a full closet but barely anything worked for most days. In my previous job, I was required to dress more formally for the office, the the point that most days I even wore high heels. Now that I work in the start-up space, the environment is much more casual and I can wear jeans to work Monday through Friday. I concluded the reason I had nothing to wear in the mornings was that my closet was too formal for my current job. I promptly removed three-quarters of it and set those items aside for donation, then I did a second purge and removed anything that was looking worn-out, or I didn’t like how it fit or felt. I was left with only a fraction of my clothes, but they were also my most favorite, most flattering, most comfortable pieces. However, I would still need to a few more, or I wouldn’t even have enough clothes to get through 2 weeks.
I thought about shopping, and what a huge pain in the ass it was going to be to go browse around and online for “essential wardrobe pieces”. As someone who’s still dragging her feet to start her wedding registry, you can tell I don’t even like shopping when someone else is footing the bill. My favorite two outfits to wear to work were both comprised of jeans and a t-shirt. “I wish I could just wear a t-shirt and jeans every day” was the only thought running through my head. Then I realized I can do exactly that.
I went online and ordered five identical t-shirts, in slightly different hues (white and pale pastels). They arrived, and they were great. Five days later I was so pleased, I decided I need to immediately order more next payday. I concluded that I didn’t really want to bother with fashion most weekdays, and I will probably sport the same jeans & t-shirt style every workday for so long as it suits me. It’s simple, it can be dressed up with a blazer and jewelry, and it’s easy.
My friends and fiancé think the idea of me choosing to wear the same shirt each day, only occasionally opting for slightly different hues, is pretty bizarre. And I don’t blame them. “Isn’t variety the spice of life?”, they ask, “Why would you even want to do this?”. My first argument is this isn’t actually that new for me: almost every single dress I own is black or blue knee-length, with capped shoulders. With few exceptions, I dress the same almost every day, and have been doing so for years. Even the jeans I already own that I’m planning to pair my new identical t-shirt wardrobe with are four identical pairs of all the same denim. But I don’t need to use colloquial evidence for my defense, because I also have psychology and celebrity on my side.
Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg. Barack Obama. They all chose to wear the same thing day in, day out, even though they could afford to be as fashionable or unfashionable as they wanted. So why did these successful, busy, rich men choose only one outfit? To avoid decision fatigue.
Decision Fatigue refers to the mental exhaustion you feel from having to make too many choices.
According to psychology, you likely experience — and are affected by — it every day. From waking up and choosing what to have for breakfast, to making big decisions at work, every choice throughout your day, big or small, wears you down a bit. It’s so significant that even presenting people with the same problem at different times of the day will yield different answers. It also doesn’t matter what the choices are. Even trivial decisions like, “would you like to use the red or blue pen?” gradually sap your willpower. In other words, you have a limited mental capacity for making choices, and when it’s exceeded, you’re likely to start making wrong ones.
Marketers and salesmen use decision fatigue to their advantage all the time. If you’ve ever wandered around a store, picking things up and putting them down again, only to finally “give in” and purchase, you’ve experienced decision fatigue… and the damage it does to your wallet. How many spontaneous purchases have you made just because you were worn down by successive choices? This is why it’s unwise to go shopping when you don’t have money to spend: chances are if you spend enough time in the store, they’re going to get you to buy something.
You probably experience decision fatigue when it comes to your finances all the time. Which bank or credit card to choose. Whether to pay off debt or invest. Should you buy or sell a stock. How to cut your budget. Where to take your career. We talk about discipline and self-control when it comes to money, because they’re essential parts of the equation, but instead of just telling people they need to have these characteristics, it’s probably more worthwhile to teach them how to maximize them.
Unsurprisingly, this is why things like creating a budget and setting up automatic payments are so effective: they reduce decision fatigue when it comes to your money. When payday comes around, you don’t have to make choices of where your money is going to go, because you’ve already done so.
If you want to manage your money better, reduce the number of decisions you need to make about it.
Since taking an options class for my MBA last term, I’ve gotten into day trading. After a bumpy first month or two, I finally got the hang of making money in the game and am gradually building this “fun” into a steady income stream. Making the choice to trade frequently is a completely different strategy than what I’ve employed in the past. I suddenly needed to make many investment choices about many different stocks in a short period of time. I immediately felt overwhelmed by the amount of information I had to analyze… so I set about ways to reduce it. Some of the decision-reduction strategies I take-on is to only trade certain stocks and keep the bulk of my investments in an index portfolio, only to trade during certain hours of the day, only to use certain sources of information about these stocks and the market. At first glance, these actions might seem superstitious or silly, but they simplify my trading and keep me from making mistakes or feeling uncertain about my decisions.
Whether or not you believe choosing what to wear in the morning is a significant enough use of your mental resources that you want to limit the choice is up to you.
But when it comes to managing your money, the less decisions you make, the more wealthy you will become.
For me, wearing the same shirt every day not only speeds up getting ready in the morning, it saves my first decision for the stock market and not my closet!