WORK SMART, ALWAYS WEAR THE SAME SUIT:

By FAST COMPANY

President Obama always wears the same thing. Which is part of his secret to getting so much done.

President-Barack-Obama

As he told Vanity Fair:

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

This is because, the Commander in Chief explained, the act of making a decision erodes your ability to make later decisions. Psychologists call it decision fatigue: it’s why shopping for groceries can be so exhausting and judges give harsher rulings later in the day.

Managing decision fatigue calls for the high-value, low-effort systemization that entrepreneurs swear by. Whether or not our offices are oval, we need to find ways to reduce friction in our days. As Obama says:

“You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

Obama makes messy decisions cleaner

In 2012, Ryan Lizza had a big scoop for the New Yorker: hundreds of pages of White House memos. Woven together, the memos paint a picture of what the presidential workflow looks like–especially since this president prefers written advice to spoken. What’s most illuminating is how “decision memos” get delivered to his desk with three checkboxes at the bottom:

  • agree
  • disagree
  • let’s discuss

This is effective because, like always wearing the same suit, the checkboxes impose simplicity. While the decisions are obviously complex–how else do they end up at the desk of the president–creating three choices speeds up the feedback loop. Rather than submitting an essay test for each problem, the president can opt for multiple choice.

Obama keeps a select social calendar

During their first presidential campaign, Barack and Michelle made a quizzical vow:  “no new friends.” While we can’t peer into their decision-making process, that antisocial statement sounds like the kind of time-protecting strategy that Warren Buffett and Bill Gates always emphasize: you need to keep your calendar empty if you’re going to get anything significant done, like become president.

“There have been times where I’ve been constrained by the fact that I had two young daughters who I wanted to spend time with–and that I wasn’t in a position to work the social scene in Washington,” Obama tells New Yorker editor David Remnick. Now the kids are older, the Obamas are hosting dinners–starting at six, sometimes lasting until 1 a.m.

Image: Flickr user The White House | Pete Souza

The function of that socialness may be to practice something that Obama’s been historically hesitant to do: build relationships, the kind that help make legislation happen. Still, Obama is cool on the networking: “there are some structural institutional realities to our political system that don’t have much to do with schmoozing,” he says. READ MORE OF THIS ARTICLE FROM FAST COMPANY