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For Obama, Jobs, and Zuckerberg, Boring Is Productive 398

Posted by timothy
from the your-prism-for-the-autism-spectrum dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Robert C. Pozen writes in the Harvard Business Review that while researching a behind-the-scenes article of President Obama's daily life, Michael Lewis asked President Obama about his practice of routinizing the routine. 'I eat essentially the same thing for breakfast each morning: a bowl of cold cereal and a banana. For lunch, I eat a chicken salad sandwich with a diet soda. Each morning, I dress in one of a small number of suits, each of which goes with particular shirts and ties.' Why does President Obama subject himself to such boring routines? Because making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of your mental energy, a limited resource. If you want to be able to have more mental resources throughout the day, you should identify the aspects of your life that you consider mundane — and then "routinize" those aspects as much as possible. Obama's practice is echoed by Steve Jobs who decided to wear the same outfit every day, so that he didn't have to think about it and the recent disclosure that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is proud that he wears the same outfit every day adding that he owns 'maybe about 20' of the gray, scoop neck shirts he's become famous for. 'The point is that you should decide what you don't care about and that you should learn how to run those parts of your life on autopilot,' writes Pozen. 'Instead of wasting your mental energy on things that you consider unimportant, save it for those decisions, activities, and people that matter most to you.'"
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For Obama, Jobs, and Zuckerberg, Boring Is Productive

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  • it worries me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iamagloworm (816661) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @08:32AM (#41548237)
    it worries me how much mental energy they were putting into something as simple as getting dressed or what to have for breakfast. sounds like an anxiety disorder to me.
  • Just like Sheldon (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @08:39AM (#41548315)

    There was an episode on The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon started using dice rolls to make mundane decisions, thereby freeing up his mind to work on more complex problems.

    I never really thought about it, but I gravitate towards that kind of behavior. I too tend to eat the same things for breakfast and lunch, and have a limited set of wardrobe choices.

    IIRC there was a recent study that indicated that multitasking was not such a good idea. It tends to make one mediocre at all tasks rather than making one good at any single task. This seems to tie in to the thesis of this article.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2012 @08:43AM (#41548373)

    I assume that you, too, are constantly followed by journalists and photographers, appear in television essentially daily, constantly meet important people from other cultures, etc...?

    What, none of that applies to you? Perhaps that might affect the fact that appearance might be more important factor for him than it is for you?

  • Re:it worries me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StoneyMahoney (1488261) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @08:45AM (#41548401)

    The amount of time some people can spend on trivial stuff like that is mindblowing people people like us. The reason we can't see the importance here is probably because we've already optimized these simple processes without even thinking about it. The weather is the most important variable factor in my clothing routine. I avoid eating the same thing two days in a row, but it follows a simple sandwich/salad + fruit/snack formula.

    On the other hand, I did some field maintenance in a modelling agency (not as glamourous as you might think - an office of 15 women all with sync'd up periods, BAAAD place to be one week of the month) and it took me about as long to purchase, eat and digest my lunch as it did for a small group of these people to decide what they all wanted. It wasn't like they were trying to decide to go somewhere as a group, they all went off individually to get food from different places. I eavesdropped on their conversation while progress bars were doing their thing, they seemed to consider lunch to be some kind of personal expression that had to be absolutely perfect or face ridicule from everyone in the street for the rest of their lives. I could feel my inner feminine side trying to scream "It's just lunch! Get over it!" at them. I can't imagine what the damage to their productivity was. Maybe if they spent more time concentrating on work and less time mulling over the minutae of office life they wouldn't have had to work late every night.

  • Re:it worries me (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday October 04, 2012 @08:51AM (#41548469) Journal

    Besides...isn't that what your woman is for? before any ladies start throwing shit at me the average guy knows we have no taste especially when it comes to clothes and since most women want their men not to look...well like bachelor slobs, are happy to do that task. The same thing at least to me when it comes to food, my GF likes to cook and likes variety, and she knows i can burn water and my idea of breakfast is pizza from the night before so she decides what we are gonna have and i'm happy to go along with it.

    So if you have a partner why not actually...well...have a partnership on such things? She gets to be in charge of things she does better than me, food and clothes and what the place looks like as far as decoration, i get to be in charge of things she doesn't care about like tech, and we agree to disagree when it comes to things like music. Works great for us and I don't have to worry about wasting time with things i don't care about and she doesn't have to go "You aren't seriously going out looking like THAT are you?" so its a win/win in my book.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:11AM (#41548685)

    Every non-metrosexual already knows this. Here's how we dress when we go to work:

    1) First socks and underwear we see in the drawer
    2) Top pair of pants on the pile (or on the rack, but I wear jeans these days)
    3) Warm? First non-threadbare shirt on the rack. Otherwise, first shirt with non-ratty collar, followed by first sweater in the pile.

    Takes about a minute. Heck, the time it took me to write this is probably the longest sustained period I've ever thought about what to wear in the morning.

  • Absolutely (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:12AM (#41548703)

    All you nay-sayers in the comments should read about the phenomenon of decision fatigue [].

    I do the same thing as Obama and Steve Jobs -- I keep the "routine" parts of my life as routine and predictable as possible, so I don't have to waste any energy on them. I've been doing this instinctively for at least ten years, but I only found out about decision fatigue [] a few months ago. It makes perfect sense; I have to make decisions all day long to do my day job as a programmer, and the quality of those decisions definitely starts to decline after 4 or 6 hours of work effort. And any effort spent on pointless decisions (what color shirt to wear to work, what restaurant to go to at lunch) just saps your energy that you need for making actual decisions that matter. Somehow my subconscious discovered that it had to protect this limited resource and started pushing me to stop caring about all the little shit.

  • by The Pirou (1551493) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:30AM (#41548899)
    I started reading this post and thought INTJ myself. Googling says Zuckerberg is an INTJ, Steve Jobs an ENTJ, with a whole lot of non-Mastermind opinion on what the President may be.

    Personally I buy 2-5 of everything so I don't need to worry about changing my 'look.' It's obvious that I care about my 'look' since I took the time to determine what it was, but beyond initial determination I don't care. Having multiple copies of clothes enables the 'same' shirt or pants with regularity without resorting to wearing dirty clothes. Were I to wear a pair of shorts 2 days in a row at home, who the hell notices? It's not any different than choosing profile images or appearance of an Avatar; Aside from shaving and general cleanliness, I don't ever need to think about my look while being readily identifiable and presentable at all times.

    It's not the clothes that I'm concerned about. There are far larger matters at stake every day of our lives as one day we will die, and the best that we can hope for is that we leave a better world for friends, family and other people to live in.
  • by BakaHoushi (786009) <Goss,Sean&gmail,com> on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:31AM (#41548917) Homepage

    The "teleprompter thing" is mostly just people trying to justify their dislike for the man. When we dislike someone, we tend to latch on to any little thing to validate our dislike, regardless of how valid a complaint it is.

    Please note, this is neither a defense nor an attack on Obama. This has happened with pretty much every political figure in history (that you could legally speak ill of in public).

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:34AM (#41548981)
    Obama is very definitely a progressive. If you look at the history of progressive ideology, you will discover that its main goal is for bureaucrats to take over making all decisions for everyone (except for the elites who are above the law). Progressives believe that everything will work better if "experts" make the important decisions (like what cars are built by the car companies, what crops are grown by farmers, what type of food is in the grocery store).
  • by erp_consultant (2614861) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:53AM (#41549145)

    What these guys have shown is an ability to rise above what I call decision paralysis. Everywhere we go we are inundated with choices. Next time you go to the grocery store or pharmacy take a moment and marvel at all the choices we have. Dozens of shampoo formulas, pain relievers, snacks, name it. For many people that's a good thing but for others it just stops them cold. I remember being in a Walmart a few months ago. I go to the aisle and pick up a bottle of aspirin. There is a lady there trying to decide which one to get. I go to get something else, on the other side of the store, and discover that I had forgot to get something in the pharmacy section so I go back. That same lady is still there trying to decide what to get. Decision paralysis. It must have been a good 10 or 15 minutes and yet there she was still trying to figure out what to get.

    What Obama and others have figured out is that often the worst decision is no decision at all. You just pick something and go with it. If it doesn't work out, deal with it and adjust.

  • by spikenerd (642677) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:57AM (#41549183)
    My wife makes all the decisions I couldn't care less about. That makes her happy. I follow her around while thinking about science, technology, philosophy, and all the things that make me happy. She doesn't like making big decisions. That's my area of expertise. She fills my life with diversity and excitement, and best of all, she gives me time to do what matters to me. Jobs, Obama, and Zuckerberg may have a lot of money, but I seem to have something they all desperately lack.

    I was once accused of failing to "wear the pants" in my marriage. I just smiled. Pants are overrated. They should only be worn when you care. I like the arrangement exactly the way it is.
  • Re:it worries me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jader3rd (2222716) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @10:59AM (#41549873)

    seemed to consider lunch to be some kind of personal expression that had to be absolutely perfect or face ridicule from everyone in the street for the rest of their lives.

    Early on in my marriage my wife expressed frustration over how I wasn't giving much input into what I thought we should have for dinner, and how I was generally happy with whatever was decided upon. It was something that created a minor divide between us. One day, about two years into being married, my wife mentioned that she was hungry, and so I looked in the fridge and offered to get her two or three things. She declined all of them, saying how she didn't feel like eating any of them. I asked what she did feel like eating and she responded that she was trying to figure that out. After a couple more comments I drilled into something that I've confirmed with multiple other female associates of mine: women don't get hungry for food; women need to get to the point where they 'feel' like they need to eat a specific kind of food. It's possible that as time goes on the set of acceptable foods grow, but the desire to eat is rarely driven by their stomach, it's pretty much driven by their emotional 'feelings' (whatever those are). My wife found it very odd that when I'm hungry, it's because there's a pain in my stomach and any and all foods can satisfy this pain (just need to reduce the stomach acid). As long as my tongue is okay with it, all foods can make the hunger go away.

    So for your co-workers, what they're doing while they're standing in the queue deciding on what they should eat, is having an introspective therapy session. They're trying to find out what their current hormones tell them they 'feel' like eating, and are hoping that something on the menu matches their 'feelings'. That's why it takes so long.

  • by Mandrel (765308) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:42PM (#41552939)

    1) First socks and underwear we see in the drawer
    2) Top pair of pants on the pile (or on the rack, but I wear jeans these days)
    3) Warm? First non-threadbare shirt on the rack. Otherwise, first shirt with non-ratty collar, followed by first sweater in the pile.

    Shouldn't one ensure even wear by implementing a queue rather than a stack, or by taking the time to execute LRU algorithms?

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