There was a time, not too long ago, when I was traveling for business every week. That meant packing for three or four days on the road at a time, and it used to take me forever to decide which suits and shirts and ties I was going to wear. Once I got through all of that, I still had to choose the appropriate socks to match each of my outfits.
This may seem trivial, but I had about 30 different varieties of black or navy dress socks in my drawer, each with different designs, patterns, stripes, shapes, thread colors, etc. It began to take a toll on me. I stared deep into the drawer and questioned my decisions in life. Something had to change.
One day, as I stood puzzling over my tangled sock drawer, I had an epiphany. I said “screw it” and made the life-altering decision to switch to nothing but solid black! Bold, huh? I certainly thought so at the time. So I went to Macy’s and bought 20 pairs of the exact same kind of black socks. Guess how many of my clients noticed?
None. Not one scoff or sneer of sartorial disapproval. Quietly, and in a small but not insignificant way, my life had changed forever.
Obvious though it may seem in hindsight, I was shocked. I had spent years agonizing over my choice of hosiery. When I finally removed that bit of decision making from my life, it made planning for business trips a million times easier simply by giving me one less thing to have to think about and one less “important” decision that I had to make. Sure, this sounds insignificant. Maybe it even is. But over time, making this one small switch has saved me an immeasurable amount of time, energy, and (most importantly!) brain power.
By now, you’ve probably figured out that this post isn’t really about socks at all. It’s about finding ways to simplify things, and reduce by even one the dizzying number of decisions we need to make on a daily basis.
Think about it like this: How many decisions did you have to make before you even left the house this morning?
- What time to wake up?
- What to wear?
- What to have for breakfast?
- What time to leave for work?
- What route to take?
- What’s on your to-do list for today?
Now imagine how much easier your morning would have been had you eliminated one single decision from that list.
In one of my all-time favorite books, Presentation Zen, the brilliant author Garr Reynolds talks at length about turning complexity into simplicity, simply by re-examining the overwhelming number of things on our plate and looking for the numerous opportunities we all have to eliminate the non-essential. To help us see the possibilities, he references these three classic quotations:
- “Our lives are frittered away by detail; simplify, simplify.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
- “Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.” ~ Albert Einstein
- “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
Reynolds emphasizes that it’s not about “dumbing things down,” but about seeking out ways to make and keep things simple. The more things in our lives that can be “commoditized” to the point where we don’t even need to think about them anymore, and the more complexity that we can turn into simplicity, the more it frees up our time – and our minds – to focus on the things that truly matter.
Next time you find yourself stonewalled by what should be a simple decision, remember: they’re just socks.