Why do we do the things that we do? Psychology attempts to answer this primal question for us humans in varying degrees of complexity. Here at Unplggd, our goals are slightly more humble. But that isn’t to say that we can’t look to psychology to help us improve our lives and particularly, our work environment. We’re going to look at a compelling argument by American psychologist Barry Schwartz regarding "the paradox of choice" to see if we can use his theory to create a more organized, enjoyable, and less stressful home office.
Watch Schwartz argue his theory that the freedom of choice does more harm than good at TED.
Schwartz, in his book, “The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less” isn't insinuating Americans should throw away their Constitution. Rather, he suggests that there is a point within the continuum of choice-opportunities where the ability to choose turns from a positive outcome to a negative one. Schwartz hypothesizes that even if we reduce our choices to a single “decent” option, it will be better than having an abundance of options that are “better” as well as “much worse”. He says a choice made in an environment of maximum possibilities will be filled with regret as we worry whether we have chosen the best option. Very simply put, choice can be paralyzing. If you stop and think about this for a bit, I believe you can begin to see where this is going and how true it may actually feel.
So how does this theory apply to the home office? First, lets think about our desk and its drawers. We’re willing to bet if you were to open that top drawer, you’d find a myriad of writing tools. Why do we need so many? Why do we allow them to collect there? Granted, when you reach for a writing implement you’re probably not paralyzed in thought for hours on end before deciding which one to pick up; but it certainly requires additional mental processing before we choose one. Try finding the pen or pencil that you like to use the most, allow yourself to buy a small stock of those same ones, and only keep those around. Don’t collect free pens from the bank or stray ones from work. Make a purposeful decision when buying them in order to reduce your options later.
Another example could be the programs on your computer. How many media players do you have? Web browsers? Photo editing software? Virus protection? Or maybe even something as simple as webpage bookmarks? Do we really need all of it? One common culprit for excess software is programs bundled with other programs. We often don’t want or need those bundled programs but with clumsy installing habits, we can accidently allow them to become installed. They not only take up hard drive space, but mental space as well. Do yourself a favor and spend an afternoon cleaning the excess programs from your system. One general relief people feel after performing a fresh install on their machine is the sense of a clean slate. You can give yourself the same euphoria without the hassle!
You can easily see how this scope can be applied to many things in the office: notebooks, manuals, storage space (yes, there is such a thing as too much storage!), wires (we’re looking at you, USB cable collector), computers, speakers/headphones, music, videos, pictures, and the list goes on.
Either through conscious decisions or not, we’ve all amassed quite an impressive collection of "things" in our home office. But how many of those things are actually increasing our productivity and happiness and how many are getting in the way? Maybe with this new frame of reference, we can all go back and assess our possessions (both physically and digitally) and see if they’re being more of a hindrance than a benefit. A lot of us here at Unplggd love a minimalist aesthetic but what happens if we were to apply those physical characteristics in a conceptual way? If we reduce our options, do we increase clarity and performance?
We’d love to hear from you if you’ve taken the time to purge some of your things as you considered this theory.