Subscribers to the (somewhat erratic) fluidworking newsletter already know my story of “The Great Wardrobe Simplification”. If you don’t, stay with me here, I promise this is not a post about fashion!

Actually, this is an article about simplicity.

It all started with Courtney Carver‘s blog on simplicity, coupled with a need to feed my inner control freak.  I stumbled on her Project 333 idea, and seized the day as it were.  I cut out and got rid of 2/3 of my wardrobe.  And it did take a whole day (have I ever mentioned I am a procrastinator?). 
I appreciate this is not exciting or interesting to many people, but I am telling you to illustrate a point here. The thing that I was most surprised by afterwards was how….joyous it was. I felt lighter.
I haven’t felt this unexpectedly inspired since I found bullet journalling and adapted it for myself.
Several month’s on from the wardrobe cull now, and writing this, I still feel amazing. I have no regrets and don’t miss anything I ditched.  The freedom of a more limited choice is wonderful.  

The Strange Contraction of Choice

Now, I thought I loved having choices.   Growing up I was always told to ‘keep your options open’.  In the agile world we say we want to leave key decisions until the ‘last responsible moment’. This is specifically to maximize the options and choices available, and for as long as possible.

But here is something that is less well known:  making choices requires cognitive load.  Our brains are super-efficient in terms of energy consumed versus output. Making a choice, however, uses the most expensive type of thinking our brains can do.  And it gets tired really easily.

Making decisions is hard for us.

Now, when we only have to make a few decisions, infrequently during the day, we can handle it without any problem.  But the more times we have to make a choice, the more depleted we become.

Think of it as having a bucket full of decision-making. When you wake up in the morning the bucket is full, but as you use your decision-making during the day, the bucket slowly empties.  The lower your bucket resources get, the harder making decisions becomes.  Imagine what happens when its empty…

When you run out of your decision-making resources your decisions become more questionable.  It becomes much harder to weigh up pros and cons, and I know I find it difficult to answer questions like “what do you think?” or “which do you like?”.  Even “just pick one!” is a struggle for me.

It’s not just me!

This problem is the reason you don’t want to be sentenced by a judge in the afternoon after they have been making decisions all morning! (More readable version here).

It is also the reason that some famous people are also famous for wearing a very limited range of clothing.  They are constraining some of the choices they have to make in their daily lives.  It got me thinking.  What if I constrained my choice-making for less important areas of your life (like clothes and food)?  Would this leave more in my decision-making bucket to spend on the really important stuff?

If you want to know more about how we make decisions, try this TED talk by Dan Ariely)

This reasoning makes a lot of sense to me, which is the reason I decided to simplify my wardrobe.  (Particularly motivated as I was by the fact I hadn’t seen the floor or back of my small walk-in wardrobe for…er….many months!)

Having had so much success with the wardrobe clear out and last year’s bullet journal experiment (which I am also still deeply in love with!), I have been seeking out more areas that could benefit from simplification when making decisions.

Interestingly bullet journalling & the wardrobe clear out share the same root cause of their separate joy:  simplification.

Simplicity ought to be applied to all the things we do.

Think about agile working practices, wouldn’t story writing be better if we focused on keeping things simple?  Coaching teams is best when you focus on one thing (your most painful problem) at a time rather than lots of things at once.

In fact, that should remind you of the essence of successful kanban, flow is best achieved when you keep things simple, working on a very few things at a time.

Petty though my personal simplification victories may seem to many, (yeah, I know: real 1st world problems here!), each simplification came with a host of minor, peripheral benefits that compounded the gains for which I had aimed.

This is true in agile working too.  If you simplify your stories, you naturally tend to end up with stories that are easier to test, and also that tend to be smaller.  If you simplify your coaching, and focus on the 1 single problem that you see causing the most pain right now, you’ll find a host of benefits that you never expected to see.  The ultimate simplification of agile working practices is when you have built a solid set of habits.  This means you no longer need to think about the ‘best’ way to do something – its already a habit.  And we all know how a habit can make it possible to do complicated things like driving to work with out remembering how you got there!

The big question for me now is: what to simplify next?

In the spirit of simplicity, and the joy of less, I have even kept this post (slightly) shorter than usual.

Less is more I am told 😉