Defaults are an amazing limitation one can easily apply to their personal life. A default (like the name implies) is your go-to choice for anything from the airline you always fly with (unless you’re a travel hacker) to the brand of t-shirts you always wear. 

Usually, the process is the following: problem -> consideration -> decision -> solution. 

If we take a little time upfront to determine what our default should be in any given situation (the consideration and decision phases), we can easily eliminate half of the equation. 

Here’s a shortlist of my current defaults:

To further streamline my life, I’ve created a List within my Amazon Prime account named “Defaults” so that anyone could jump into the list without thought and replace or reorder something that I routinely use. Even better, I can use a tool like CamelCamelCamel to easily alert me of massive price drops to stock up or take advantage if wanted. 

Although not holistic, the above list should give you an easy idea of where defaults could fit into your own life. I urge you to not stop at just physical products but to expand your defaults into other aspects of your life; the same lunch during the workweek (this alone is a game-changer), only wearing Omega brand watches, only getting a Grande White Chocolate Mocha from Starbucks (don’t judge me) or only holding work meetings on Mondays. 

Regardless of the aspect of your life, you can easily find defaults that better serve you than having to continually make the same decision every single day. Now, let’s talk about Decision Fatigue for a quick moment. 

The Problem With Decision Fatigue 

Decision fatigue is a plague that leads to unproductive time throughout each day. What should we eat for lunch? Where should we go to replace our favorite t-shirt? What airline should we book our flight on for an upcoming trip? These endless decisions create an overwhelming mountain of mental fatigue that further takes away from what’s actually important. 

Not only are these decisions fatiguing but they’re also repetitive – leading to daily overwhelming and task decay. In a blog post from Rescue Time, they found “the average user switches between tasks more than 300 times per day (and this was only during working hours!)”

That’s a single day. Imagine what negative compounding is happening after just a few weeks of this. 

Defaults Lead to Automation/Streamlining 

I first started learning about defaults thanks to my rather (un)healthy obsession with automating the majority of my personal and professional life. When it comes to automation, standardizing your inputs is paramount to achieve consistency of quality and execution. If we replace the word standardize with default, it’s relatively the same thing. From this perspective, better defaults lead to a streamlining or automation of your life in the areas that drain you the most.

Tools like Instacart are only as good as the inputs they’re given. When you eat the same breakfast and lunch during the week, it’s much easier to completely automate your grocery shopping or have a bot quickly replace your favorite t-shirt via a Slack message. 

Deploying Explore / Exploit Algorithms

Another fantastic outcome of using defaults is that it ensures quality. I’m not sure about you but I have the biggest buyers regret when it comes to shopping for clothes. If I don’t already own the specific item, I’ve got a roughly 60% chance of regretting my buying decision within the following hour of the transaction. 

One method I can deploy to easily handle buyers’ regret is an algorithmic approach I learned from reading Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. The book looks at various algorithms that can easily apply to general life. One that I found most applicable is the idea of Explore / Exploit. This algorithm states that you should take a period of time (perhaps using an Optimal Stopping algorithm) to explore various options. In this first phase, you’re simply “tasting” a bunch of different options. Next, you would “Exploit” the best option found from the Explore phase. 

A great example of this could be purchasing t-shirts from 5 different brands (the Explore phase). Once you’ve tested all 5 you would then choose the best option as your new default (Exploit). 

You can also do this with restaurants (sometimes you want to Explore new options but when you’re not feeling adventurous, you should Exploit the best options using a tool like FourSquare to easily track your previous reviews). 

This is a very interesting perspective to view the mechanics of your life. A perspective that could lead to a better life altogether. I’ve found that the reduction of things, whether personal or professional, leads to more success. This seems to be the opposite of my assumption that a successful life requires more complexity. Rather, a simplified life leads to more success.