We need to learn to manage ‘choice overwhelm’

This is something that’s really been on my mind lately. Having many choices is very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s good to have options, but, on the other hand, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and over-stretched, never feeling like you have enough time for anything. I think some people are more prone to this than others.

It is often assumed that a benefit of the free market is having lots of choice. I’m sure it’s better than having no choice, but at times I do wish there was a bit less choice. I’ve often spent hours trying to find the best price or the best product, and it was tedious and exhausting. I felt, somehow, obliged to do it. If you enjoy shopping around, or, alternatively, don’t feel obliged to do it, I envy you!

A writer in the Economist seems to agree with me, saying “The explosion of available goods has only made time feel more crunched”. [1]

A gender thing?

Women seem to be more prone to this than men, as we find ourselves traipsing round all the shops to be sure we’re getting the absolute best deal on something, whereas men seem to find it a lot easier to just buy the first suitable item. I remember a journalist once saying the same difference applies to holiday booking. Of course, browsing and getting the best deal can be really enjoyable, if you like that kind of thing… But, if you don’t, how do you drop the habit?

Never enough time, and FOMO

And it’s not just shopping that can be plagued by choice overload. Our leisure time can often feel fraught as we struggle to juggle invites, events we want to attend, chores that need doing and hobbies we’re struggling to keep up with, not to mention exercise and spending time with friends and family. When did having lots of wonderful options turn into feeling like we never have enough time and always feeling like we’re missing out?

child-in-maze

The vast, messy, ever-present internet

Obviously, the internet has a lot to do with choice overload. It offers almost infinite resources including blogs, vlogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and news websites. I was wondering the other day whether teenagers are allowed to have their phones at school lunchtimes. Our hour-long lunchtimes seemed to last forever and were usually very boring; I feel like I could’ve had a better time online. Most often though, I reminisce about an era when people didn’t check their phones during our lunch date, an era when I seemed to spend a great deal of time enjoying the outdoors… It comes as no surprise that 60% (or more) of British 16−24-year-olds visit a social media site several times a day. [2] Ultimately, I think the internet is a good thing, but how can someone who used to read magazines from cover to cover get the most out of a great resource without feeling overwhelmed?

Netflix and such

The same issue can arise with things like Netflix: in the olden days, we had a choice of 4 channels and recording something to watch later was a bit of a pain. You went to a shop to hire videos. Now, we are faced with a huge choice of material, on demand. But we simply don’t have time to watch it all so, how to choose?

doors-1767562_960_720
Thanks to the internet, our leisure options now look a bit like this. (Photo of 7 doors from Pixabay)

The pain of prioritising

The obvious answer to the ‘too much choice’ problem is clear: prioritise. For years I somehow didn’t realise this was necessary, accepting invites in a first-come-first-served manner, planning my life with a scattergun approach, lacking any ‘white space’ to reflect on life or make decisions. At one point, I actually had to pencil in my diary a slot to make a decision on some big issue, because otherwise the time didn’t arise! Looking back on that time, I’m so glad that my life is now so much more spacious.

Prioritising has a big place in my life now: in my work and professional development, in my personal admin time and in my leisure time. I’m the kind of person who finds many things interesting, so prioritising is, frankly, often quite painful, especially when it means saying ‘no’ to something. Ultimately though, time is finite and I don’t want to be one of those people who is completely over-stretched, never really listening to anyone or having time to reflect on their relationships and lifestyle. So, I’ve chosen my key hobbies (three of them), I’ve narrowed down my areas of work, and I prioritise friends based on how much they seem to care about our friendship.

Other strategies to manage choice overload and overwhelm

I’m thinking aloud here. Feel free to help me in the comments section below! This is very much a work in progress for me.

  • Think about how you fill your time. Rank the activities, from ‘favourite’ to ‘not that keen on’. Can you cut anything out? I realised I don’t really enjoy eating out: now I only do it for special occasions like birthdays or when a friend suggests it. Can you increase your favourite things? Maybe you just need to suggest them more, and people will be as keen as you are.
  • Narrow down the apps and social media. Do you really need to be on them all? Decide which ones are of most benefit to you and your network, and bin off the rest.

daria-nepriakhina-unsplash-woman-looking-at-phone

One study shows that young adults use their smartphones roughly twice as much as they estimate that they do (an average of five hours a day). [3] Photo by Daria Nepriakhina (Unsplash)

  • See the bigger picture: It’s not all about you. When you prioritise, factor in the feelings of relevant people. And give yourself enough time to help a stranger on your way somewhere, or do something for a friend at the weekend. Life isn’t a hedonistic pleasure spree, even if advertisers want us to think it is.
  • Narrow down your hobbies to the two or three most important ones. Combine them with socialising if appropriate e.g. in art clubs, book groups, dance groups, Meetups etc.
  • Learn mindfulness and slow down. Give up the frantic pace and really get the most out of what you’re doing right now.
  • Accept that life is full of obstacles and other people’s inefficiencies. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, so take a deep breath and let go. Don’t resent the ‘wasted time’ − it would only make you angry.
  • At the risk of losing email subscribers to this blog, I’m still going to say it: subscribe to only a select few things. 
  • Set limits: decide in advance how long you’ll spend looking for the best deals (or whatever it is you’re doing), or limit yourself to looking only at a certain number of websites, for example.
  • Whatever you do, don’t get emails and Facebook notifications popping up on your laptop or phone screen!
  • In your free time, try thinking ‘what do I actually feel like doing now?’ Learn to go with your instincts instead of following a habit to go on Netflix, Facebook or whatever. Maybe you’ll actually feel more like going for a walk, painting, calling a friend, baking a cake…. Don’t know about you, but too much time online makes me feel bug-eyed, zoned out and drained.
  • Keep some white space in your diary. 
  • Look for recommendations g. try the Good Garage guide if you need to choose a local garage and consider subscribing to Which?

Share your ideas and reflections below!

Related links:

http://liveyourlegend.net/the-art-of-slowing-down-12-simple-ways/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201109/4-tips-slowing-down-reduce-stress

http://bemorewithless.com/artofslow/

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/105969207/posts/274 When choices become clutter

 

References:

[1] http://www.economist.com/news/christmas-specials/21636612-time-poverty-problem-partly-perception-and-partly-distribution-why

[2] 2014/15 Department for Culture, Media and Sport https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/476095/Taking_Part_201415_Focus_on_Free_time_activities.pdf

[3] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0139004

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “We need to learn to manage ‘choice overwhelm’”

  1. I have a big issue with too much choice: it’s one reason I like IKEA, because I can get everything I need there, but I often find that there are only 2-3 items or less that would work, so I don’t feel overwhelmed.

    The worst kind of choice is that offered by utility and phone companies that seem to be designed to confuse, make you pay more than you need, and tie you into contracts that you cannot escape from.

    Like

    1. Tell me about it! I have had big issues with both EE and BT and I’m sure some of the others aren’t much better! That’s interesting about Ikea… might be needing some furniture myself soon so I’ll bear that in mind! I ought really to be following my advice when househunting also…. another potentially overwhelming task!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s