So You Want to Be Like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg? Start With Your Systems


So You Want to Be Like Steve Jobs, Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg? Start With Your Systems

What do these successful humans have in common? Ask Google and you’ll get over 600,000 results – many of them with pretty much the same answer. They all wear the same colour and style of clothes, every single day.

But why? Surely they can afford some different clothes?

Believe it or not, it’s all about Systems.

Psychologists tell us that there is a thing called “Decision Fatigue”. In short, your brain is like your muscles. If you use it a lot, it gets tired and becomes less effective. This is why Steve, Barack and Mark wear the same clothes every day.  It is one decision that they don’t have to make, leaving their brain free to make all the other, really important, decisions.

“I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community” – Mark Zukerberg

Have you ever had a day when you had to make a million decisions, and you felt like your brain was in meltdown?  Then somebody asked you if you’d like a coffee or a tea and the only answer you could think of is “…Whatever”.  That one extra decision is just too hard.

Decision Fatigue can get really scary.

This is Decision Fatigue in action. A much scarier example was published in 2010 research by the National Academy of Sciences. They examined decisions by judges about whether criminals were eligible for parole. The results were really very astonishing. The biggest influence on the Judges was not the severity of the crime committed etc., but the time of day.

The graph below shows how the number of favourable rulings changes over the day. In the morning, the Judge’s brain is all fresh and rested – and 65% of the criminals get a favourable ruling. As the Judge makes more and more rulings, the number of favourable decisions declines. It appears that the Judge is taking the safe option not making changes to parole arrangements. After lunch, the Judge’s brain gets active again, and the number of rulings in favour of the prisoners jumps back up – only to decline throughout the next court session.

For more information about this graph, click here to go to the original research paper.

One lesson to be drawn from this is to try and arrange your court hearing early in the day – if you happen to be in that position.

Reduce your decision making load.

The other, more relevant, lesson is that you need to decrease the number of small decisions you are making every single day. The way to do this successfully is by having robust business systems. By having your procedures documented, nobody has to “reinvent the wheel” every time something has to be done. All those small tasks can happen without expending valuable brain power.

Simple checklists are extremely valuable. You don’t have to expend energy on remembering mundane things, and your brain is freed up to make all those other important decisions in your day. This, of course, is why pilots and surgeons use checklists compulsively. They have higher level decisions to make.

“No matter how many times (the pilots) have landed, they go through the pre-landing checklists because it takes away a big hunk of the workload and saves them the stress of forgetting something critical.” – Flawless Execution, James D. Murphy

Most important of all are the “What to do if it all goes wrong” procedures.  You now know that even making mundane decisions in a calm environment taxes your brain, so you are far less likely to make a good decision when your adrenaline is pumping and you’re trying to think of a thousand things at once.

Here’s some other ways that having good business systems will help to free up both you and your team to do your most valuable work:

  • Put your bills on automatic payment. No more having to remember when they are due.
  • Plan activities the night before as part of your routine. Morning is best for productive activity.
  • Delegate decisions. This only works if your systems are robust and everyone is trained.
  • Have a specific place where things in the office live. Use the 30-second rule – if something can’t be found in 30 seconds, there’s a problem.
  • Use Pandora or Spotify to pick the office music.

These are just a few tips on how your business systems can work to help your brain and your business. In doing so, you will become just a little more like Steve, Barack and Mark.

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  • Anetta Pizag

    Excellent article Bronwyn. Such an important point! Most people feel that they don’t have enough hours in the day, while their real problem is that their brain gets exhausted too fast, as a result of working in an ad-hoc way and making many unimportant decisions. And so they slow down and work ineffectively. Your suggestions for reducing the number of decisions are very useful.

  • Bronwyn

    Thank you Anetta. I know that I get like that myself at times, and I have to just walk away and let my brain recover for a while.

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