- Steve Jobs used to wear the same outfit every day in order to reduce decision fatigue.
- I put the strategy to the test to see if it improved my performance at work. It didn’t initially.
- Psychologists say that while habits help improve our decision-making, other factors matter too.
Lots of highly successful people share a similar habit: they wear the same outfit every day.
The late Apple founder Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck, blue jeans, and trainers are the most recognizable example, but Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg are also commonly known for their repetitive wardrobes.
The reasoning is simple. It reduces the number of decisions that they have to make on a daily basis, in order to save energy for the important ones.
“Decision fatigue” — as it’s commonly referred to — is real, Barry Schwartz, a psychologist and visiting professor at UC Berkeley Haas told Insider. In his 2004 book, “The Paradox of Choice,” he explored how having too much choice can leave us paralyzed and impact our ability to make decisions.
Our brains have a limited store of energy with which to make decisions. Every one of the thousands we make a day reduces this store.
“We underappreciate how much effort goes into making conscious, deliberate decisions,” said Schwartz. “Relegating them to habit or some kind of routine means that you don’t have to devote any bandwidth to them.”
I feel like I could do with a bit more routine in my life. Some days I struggle to get started, or I’ll find my capacity to concentrate wane from day to day.
Perhaps Jobs’s technique could help. So I tried it out for a week.
It was easy to add to my routine and sped up my morning
I didn’t dress like Jobs — instead, I wore multiple blue T-shirts, black jeans, and a beige jumper throughout the week. I finished off the outfit with Nike sneakers.
I started the week confidently and laid my outfit out ready for each morning.
It was an easy addition to add to my schedule. I already have a fairly established morning routine, involving a 15-minute walk, showering then making breakfast, before starting work at 8 a.m. Having my outfit ready was one less decision I had to make.
It did make it easier to get started but by the end of the week, it would be hard to say that it made me more productive. I certainly didn’t feel like I’d made better decisions.
In truth, I don’t think it worked, and after speaking to psychologists that’s not really a surprise.
There are various things that can impact our decisions, according to Brooke Struck, research director at the Decision Lab, a Canadian company that investigates decision-making.
Eating properly and ensuring we’re getting enough sleep all impacts our decision-making abilities, Struck said.
“Task switching is one of the most cognitively taxing things you can do,” he added.
Looking back on my week, a train delay one morning meant I arrived in the office feeling behind. On another night, I struggled to sleep, which left me feeling drained and made it harder to concentrate. My beige jumper also didn’t stop the seemingly constant distraction of slack notifications or emails every day.
Offloading decisions by wearing the same grey T-shirt or eating only toast every morning is effective, but if you’re not sleeping well, eating badly, or constantly switching between multiple tasks, your decision-making will still be affected.
“If you think that wearing a black turtleneck every day for a week is sufficient magnitude to notice a perceptible change, your expectations are probably out of line,” Struck said.
The duration of time you do it for also matters.
Uncertainty has an impact on our ability to make daily decisions, said Schwartz. In that sense, the pandemic has potentially made daily decision-making harder because it has disrupted people’s established habits and routines.
“In an uncertain world, you’re going to make bad decisions,” Schwartz said. “The trick is to give you some of the best chances to make good decisions.”
In conclusion, I’m not going to stick to a one-dimensional wardrobe. I like the daily change and opportunity to try something different. Reinvesting the time I’ll save from not having to lay out my outfit in sleeping longer, is probably a better idea.