How To Cut Stress Like President Obama and Steve Jobs

Posted by in Budgeting, Communication

One of the best things Andrea and I have done for our relationship (and that I’ve also been doing more and more of personally) is learning how to make decisions before they need to be made.

It’s something we’ve picked up looking at highly effective, world-class performers like President Obama and Steve Jobs. Republican vs Democrat and Apple vs Android debates aside, these guys reached the top of their game and credited their ability to make decisions ahead of time with getting and keeping them there. 

Here’s one, just one, example of how we’ve benefitted by applying the same thinking to our lives. Hopefully you’ll see how this idea can improve your lives, relationships, and finances in other ways too.

Andrea and I realized we were having the same conversation over and over again. “What do you want for dinner?”

We’d both get home from a long day at work, stomachs growling, look at the other person, and ask what they wanted for dinner. Hoping they’d offer up a great idea and take lead cooking.

More often than not, though, we’d end up ordering pizza or whipping up some easy-mac.

I’m not here to hate on pizza or easy mac, they’re great. But when they start to feel like default options, they’re less food and more a sign of an inefficient, dysfunctional home life.

Instead, what if we had the food conversation once? Before we’re hungry. Before we’re tired and not in the mood to cook.

What if instead of making the same decision over and over and over again, we batched all those decisions, worked it out once, and got on with life?

Batching and Pre-Making Decisions

So we tried it.

First, we talked about what we thought dinners should look like. They had to be…

Easy. Neither of us are pro-chefs. Dinner had to be something either of us could cook, stress free, without burning the house down.

Healthy. Gotta be better for us than pizza and easy-mac.

Tasty. Just because cooking can be a chore doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy ourselves. Also, if we’re not having fun, we’re not going to stick with it and we’ll be back to pizza and easy mac in no time at all.

We had this conversation once. Dinner for us, at a minimum, would be some meat or fish and a healthy veggie.

Now, once per week, we take 5 minutes to decide which combo of meat, fish, and veggies to have for dinner each night and record it on a shared Google Calendar.

We leave the weekends open for eating out or anything else we might be craving. And of course, we reserve the right to change our mind if the mood strikes.

No more hangry “Well what do you want for dinner” back and forth. Every. Single. Day. Instead, we’ve got healthy, default options we’re both good with.

And it gets even better.

Domino Decisions

Care to guess what our written dinner plan doubles as? A grocery list!

One 5 minute conversation gives us our dinner plans before the week AND our shopping list.

When we first got married one of us went to the grocery store almost every freaking day. We always seemed to need/want that one special thing we forgot about. Now, thank God, we make one trip. Just one!

But that’s not all! (cue the infomercial music)

Armed with a shopping list and a plan, we’re in and out of the grocery store in no time. We know what we want, get it, and go. We’re also less likely to get distracted by tasty looking cakes and candy.

The benefit there is we’re eating less tasty looking cake and candy. We’ve also cut down on own pizza and easy mac consumption. Our doctors thank us.

Finally, since we really only buy what we’ve committed to cooking, we’re not wasting nearly as much food as we used to. Meaning, we’re not wasting nearly as much money as we used to.

Our one 5 minute dinner-planning conversation drives it all. It is the lead domino, knocking it down takes care of all these other decisions for us.

Other Benefits and Uses of Default Decisions

Maybe you’re dating/married to a chef.

Maybe you live on a farm and grow all your own food.

Maybe you’ve bought a year’s worth of SoyLent and don’t eat anymore.

So maybe this dinner planning example doesn’t resonate with you.

But I’m willing to bet there are other areas of your life and relationships that’d benefit by batching and pre-making decisions.

Did you know President Obama purposely only wears black, charcoal, and navy blue suits? Do you know why?

Same reason Steve Jobs had a closet full of the same black turtleneck sweater.

High performers like them batch and pre-make decisions all the time. It’s one less thing to worry about each day so they can focus on other important stuff without burning out. 

Your turn.

What are some “routine” decisions you make everyday?

What do you eat? What to wear? What to binge on Netflix next? What else?

If you really take the time to think about it, I bet you’re making more decisions than you realize. And all those little decisions come at a cost.

Decision fatigue is a real thing. The more decisions we have to make in a given amount of time, the worse our decisions will be. Case in point, Andrea and I and our easy mac after a long day at work making decisions.

Batching and Pre-Making Money Decisions

We can batch and pre-make decisions with our money, too. Most folks call this a budget.

For some the word “budget” might conjure up images or hand cuffs, discipline, and a lack of fun. But it’s really just you (and your partner) deciding ahead of time what to do with the money you expect to earn.

Similarly, what would you and your partner do if you unexpectedly had more/less money? How would you spend unexpected money from a bonus, inheritance, or a winning lottery ticket? What would you do if you or your partner unexpectedly lost your job?

You can make these decisions ahead of time and be better for it. Just as Andrea and I broke our dependence on pizza and easy mac, it’ll take some thought (and a conversation with your partner) to figure out what’s important to you. The once you’ve got that settled, your repeated money decisions and details of your budget will be a lot easier to work out.

If you need some help, check out this article to help you figure out what’s important to you and how it relates to your money.
And if you are nervous about having this conversation with your partner, I put a whole program together for you to help you talk about money without fighting.

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