Fewer Decisions = More Energy

Every teacher I know wishes they had more energy at the end of the day. They want to give their best to their family, just like they gave their best to their students. They want to exercise, work on a hobby, play with their kids, talk with their spouse, and some of them even wish they had more energy for checking papers and planning lessons.

In my last post, Why Teachers Are So Tired, I wrote about the four reasons teachers are so drained at day’s end.

This week and next, I’ll look at what teachers can do to reduce decisions, use less willpower, avoid emotional peaks and valleys, and handle worry so that they go home with more energy. In this article, I’ll tackle the first of those: making fewer decisions.

How to Make Fewer Decisions

It sounds simple enough: just make fewer decisions. And for some people in some jobs, it might even be possible to simply, through force of will, decide fewer things at work. But as teachers, we are inundated with situations that require us to decide. Planning is nothing but a series of decisions. We decide every time we check papers, when we rearrange seating charts, when a student asks to use the bathroom, how to handle a behavior problem, and on and on. We don’t have the luxury of simply not deciding. Our principals, colleagues, students, and parents are all waiting for us to choose. So how do we decide less?

Actually, we’re already doing it. Now, we need to do more of it.

Make it Automatic

Mark Zuckerberg wears the same gray T-shirt to work every day. When asked why he said:

I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.

Zuck’s ‘Drobe:








President Obama explained his wardrobe this way:

You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. 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.

Steve Jobs, Henry Rollins, Christopher Nolan, and even Albert Einstein later in life all subscribed to the same belief. They knew that the more decisions you make, the more tired you will be and the less energy you will have to make more important decisions later in the day.

Choosing your outfit is one decision you can easily remove from your day.* Once you start thinking about it, you will find there are many other decisions you can automate, and some you already do.

Most of you follow the same route to work and back every day. You don’t decide, you just do it. Same for nearly all of your morning routine. In fact, if you’re like me, you’re bothered when your morning routine gets thrown off for some reason.

You probably automate much of your banking. Thanks to technology, I make many fewer financial decisions than my dad did. I don’t have to decide when to deposit my paycheck, when and how much money to move into my daughter’s college fund, when to pay the bills, or how much to put into savings every month. All of that is set up ahead of time and now just happens.

It’s the key to making fewer decisions: automate as many of them as possible.

Go through your entire day. How many decisions do you already automate? What else could you automate? How about your workout routine? If you get to the gym and decide which equipment to use and what order to use it in, you’re using energy. If you just do the same thing every time or follow a predetermined schedule, you’re saving energy. Analyze every part of your day and eliminate as many decisions as possible. Don’t decide what to have for dinner every day. If you plan your meals for the whole week, then eating dinner goes on autopilot.

Decide Less At Work

At school, we’re well practiced in this. We call them routines, but the reason we teach them, model them, and have students practice them for the first two weeks (or two months) is so that they’ll become a habit and no one will have to waste energy thinking about them. How many other parts of your school day can you automate? Your entire morning routine? Your end-of-the-day routine? How students line up to leave the classroom? You probably already do these, and thank goodness. Can you imagine having to decide, every day, how you want students to line up?

Since many teacher decisions happen as a result of student behavior, a solid classroom management plan is a must. It can prevent problems that will require decisions from you. If consequences are clear and consistently enforced, there is no decision to make. You simply follow your pre-established plan. For more information on classroom management, I highly recommend Michael Linsin’s blog, Smart Classroom Management. He knows way more about it than I ever will.

Do a decision audit. List out everything you do in a typical day. How many of your decisions are already part of an automatic routine, and how many more could be with some simple, proactive changes?


*If your principal has a problem with your wearing the same thing every day, just tell them that if it’s good enough for Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, then maybe they should worry about more important matters.

What other decisions could you automate? Share your ideas in the comments so we all benefit! Thanks.

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8 Reasons Successful People Are Choosing to Wear the Same Thing Every Day

Why Mark Zuckerberg Wears the Same Clothes to Work Every Day

The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha





11 Replies to “Fewer Decisions = More Energy”

  1. I’ve always made fun of my husband for just grabbing the next shirt in the ‘work section’ of his closet. He has them organized and used in a revolving order after they are worn and washed…. but now, it kinda makes more sense. Don’t tell him I think he was right 😉

  2. I couldn’t answer any of my husband’s questions when I got home from teaching third graders all day, so I worked on eliminating as many questions from them as possible. I cut the corner off of any paper they need to turn in, so they always know what to turn in and what to keep in their folders. I also put a lost and found bin in the room so they would stop handing me objects from the floor. Every little bit helps!

  3. Another thing I found helpful is:
    I am the mother of child with a psychological disability and I had to learn this technique and it’s a real stress buster. It came in handy at the funeral when my father-in-law died because at that time I was in grief and I was experiencing the same mind fog they were – due to stressed brain.

    Here’s how it goes: Simplify: when speaking to an emotionally disturbed person about sensitive issues remember emotion is likely to be very strong and neither one of you can do any High-Level Thinking. Make each sentence short, simple and direct with no room for misinterpretation.

    When they verbally attack, stay calm and repeat your point. You first give them feedback on how they perceive (their reality not yours) and how they feel about that situation and then you validate their feelings but you don’t tell them you don’t agree with their concept of it. You state their feelings first, that helps them calm down; then you State the Truth – the Facts and correct the erroneous perception. 1. Tell their feeling and their concept of what they think is happening – Ex: I suppose you think that I am going out that door to leave forever because you… because you feel that…” Then State the Your Facts: example: “The fridge is empty, we need to eat, I’m going out to the grocery store, I’ll be back in an hour.” Then leave.

    If there is a lot of rebuttal, you ask them to solve the problem:
    You turn the problem over to them and ask: “I am not able to say “yes” and you want me to, How can we solve this problem?” “You think about it, so you tell me where we need to go from here.” Usually after they look over the fridge and use their brainpower to solve the problem – they send you to the grocery store and give you a list of items and cooperate and might even run the errand for you & save you time and work. Source: from the book: Walking on Eggshells by Randi Kreger.

  4. I eat the same thing for breakfast every school day and pack the same thing for lunch each day. I also have 5 outfits I wear each week.

  5. Planning outfits just as you plan meals… I could not wear the same thing everyday. Same for our children’s clothes. Also we do lunches with the dinner’s leftovers from the night before. Planning the family routine is helpful too.

    1. I like that idea of planning outfits ahead of time. Truth is, I can’t wear the same thing every day either, but I hate picking my outfit in the morning. And this time of year, I hate all my clothes.

  6. Students do well with predictable routines, and so can you. That doesn’t mean your class has to be dull or monotonous, however. Think about ways your classes can find a rhythm over the course of a week by cycling through familiar routines. Maybe every Friday is quiz/formative assessment day. Maybe you have a handful of solid lesson templates–one for days when you introduce new skills and concepts, one for guided practice, one for collaborative problem-solving, etc. Once you make the initial decision about which lesson type fits the learning goals, you don’t have to “decide” everything about the lesson from scratch. It also decreases the student stress and confusion of having every activity be something brand new and unlike anything they’ve ever done before. We often think that students require novelty to be engaged, but think about how many times you’ve labored long hours to do something super-creative only to have it devolve into chaos and frustration all around. Students are more likely to be engaged when they can experience success from start to finish–a familiar framework makes mastering new content and skills more approachable. Students don’t have to manage both the message and the medium at the same time.

  7. Teaching high school, I rid myself of 30-40 decisions a day by having students sign out if they needed to leave the room and then sign back in. This way I don’t have to field bathroom/locker/other requests and the sign-out provides me with students’ whereabouts in case of evacuation/lockdown. Chronic abusers of the system are dealt with individually.

  8. I’m a school nurse who teaches health too. I wear a uniform, eat the same thing on work mornings. I also use Excel to create a template of my calendar & print out my schedule and my daily appointments to I can just check them off during each day.

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