Steve Jobs started wearing his trademark outfit because he fell in love with uniforms when visiting Japan in the early 1980s. He felt that uniforms provided a sense of unity and community, but the rest of the Apple staff didn’t accept the idea. Instead of scrapping it, he adopted it for himself.
Steve Jobs’s trademark outfit has been “copied” by other executives. Elizabeth Holmes looked almost like a female version of Steve Jobs while Mark Zuckerberg settled for jeans and a t-shirt. I have also seen the minimalist movement take up a similar idea. Wearing the same pants and shirt every day is a hack for people who don’t want to worry about shopping or choosing an outfit in the morning.
Figuring out what to wear or what to eat may seem like minor decisions. They may even seem inconsequential, but every decision we make drains our energy. Worst of all, it’s easy to use this knowledge to put off making important decisions, such as providing feedback to your team or carving out time with your romantic partner.
Humans tend to procrastinate. The feeling is stronger whenever we are forced to confront things we don’t really want to do. The activities are different for everybody. For some, cleaning the garage is torture while other people enjoy it. For you, it might be working out, or perhaps there are certain activities at work that you don’t enjoy doing. Being able to complete these activities is the fundamental secret behind all self-help.
The behavior is present even as children. The 1972 Stanford marshmallow experiment is well known within the psychology world. Children were offered a marshmallow know, but if they waited for a period of time, they would get more than one marshmallow. The experiment was meant to test how much gratification children could put off and how this might correlate with success later in life.
Like other psychology experiments, replicating these results isn’t easy. Further experiments showed that it wasn’t merely about willpower, but economic background also played a role. Nonetheless, the second strategy for making decisions is meant to help tackle the decisions we often put off.
We can’t just ignore these decisions. Instead, we need to convert them into routines that we execute like machines. We already know when we will work on new marketing campaigns or what we will eat for lunch every day. Maybe it’s the same thing, or maybe it’s a schedule of options that we cycle through. The point is that we made the decision once instead of hundreds of times.
Let’s look at a business example. Peter Drucker famously talked about innovation and abandonment. To innovate, businesses needed to abandon the things that no longer served them, such as unprofitable products, outdated customer segments, and beliefs. Going through this process is sometimes put off in companies to handle the day-to-day challenges. However, if this future work isn’t done, the future may not arrive.
We could use the Turtleneck Principle to establish routines and schedules for going through innovation and abandonment. Monthly meetings could be set aside purely to talk about opportunities and what things should be abandoned. Quarterly reviews could include similar questions to prompt managers to start thinking about these topics. Instead of hoping to find the time, you make the decision once and then execute it.
I hear your objection all the way to my office in Vancouver! You don’t want to convert your workday into an emotionless slog through tasks. You don’t want to eat the same thing every day. You don’t want to wear the same outfit every day. I have good news for you. You don’t have to do this.
My goal isn’t to suck the joy out of your work or convert you into someone who always wears black regardless of the situation. If you like the idea of brainstorming new ideas or enjoy designing work outfits, go ahead. However, you have decisions in your life that you could automate or automate because you keep procrastinating on them.
The Turtleneck Principle (from my second book) should tackle those decisions. Be honest with yourself. You can also ask for external help from your partners, colleagues, and bosses. Ask them what activities you tend to skip or procrastinate on. These activities can be prime targets for automation and scheduling.