Why Limiting Your Options Can Make You a Better Worker

Removing ourselves from boring routines is among the biggest trends in the workforce. As the millennial workforce pushes to end the regular nine-to-five grind, companies are responding by becoming more and more open to the idea of breaking old work-world routines. The flex-schedule mindset is also growing: the number of companies offering customized work arrangements went from 11 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2013. Incoming workers value their freedom just as much as they value their income, and employers are giving them what they want.

Working where, how, and when you want is “in” right now, but in establishing this new work paradigm, we may be too quick to forget that this freedom of choice can end up hurting us. Sometimes routines are a good thing.

The Problem With Choice

Let’s start with a cold fact: human beings aren’t the best at making decisions. We don’t always know what we’re doing when it comes to making decisions. That problem is exacerbated by the amount of information we have to sift through every day. We’re bombarded with over 54,000 words, 443 minutes of video, or 12 hours’ worth of information every day, leaving us to decide what, if any, of it is useful. We’re interrupted 56 times every day, on average, and spend about 2 hours recovering from those distractions. Even our laziest days are crowded with information we don’t need, and that’s affecting how much work we can do on a daily basis.

We don’t benefit from this blitz of information — nor do we benefit from a variety of choices — as much as we might think we do. In a recent study of employee investments, researchers found that for every 10 mutual funds that were made available, employee participation dropped by 2 percent. Another study (found in the same infographic) discovered that, when buying cars, more ends up being less. The group that started with fewer choices and then expanded their choices felt happier with the car they ended up with than the group that started with the most options.

Settle Down, Get a Routine

The lesson to take from this is: in the workplace, more choice isn’t always a good thing. Of course, it is nice to have a variety of work options available, but we shouldn’t get carried away with the number of choices we make on a regular basis. Changing our routines repeatedly can slow us down — even when it comes to something as mundane as the clothes we wear. This is why some of the most successful people in the world, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and a few NFL Coaches, wear the same thing every day.

Some may think that establishing routines is only for the dreadfully boring — not for their fun and creative workplaces. Those people should consider that some of the world’s most creative people established routines in order to get their work done (even if they worked and slept at some odd hours). If anything, we should focus on cutting out the parts of a process we don’t need.

While it’s tempting to collect as much information as we can, there are benefits to repeating the same routines every day. We have to work on reducing the number of things we do each day and make way for the tasks that matter. Doing so leads to better memory, which is invaluable for creative work like writing and design, as well as quick, reactionary tasks.

The freedom to work however we want is a valuable thing, and we should take it where we can get it. Just don’t get carried away!

Bio: Maren Hogan

Maren Hogan is a community builder and seasoned marketer in the HR and Recruiting industry. She leads Red Branch Media, a full-service marketing and advertising agency serving the HR and Recruiting sectors. A consistent advocate of next generation marketing techniques, Hogan has built successful online communities, deployed brand strategies in both the B2B and B2C sectors, and been a prolific contributor of thought leadership in the recruitment and talent space.

You can read more of her work on Marenated.com, HRExaminer.com, Recruiter.com, Inc.com, Forbes, Entrepreneur and the Glassdoor and Peoplefluent blogs. Follow her on twitter @marenhogan — she’s funnier there.

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