LIDL and removing decision fatigue

At the start of 2015, I decided for various reasons to change my shopping habits and can now explain having experimented for nearly 5 months, how this has helped me retain more energy and more money every day I visit the shops. It’s all to do with reducing decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue is essentially a name for what happens when we expend our psychic energy during the day making decisions. When we wake up in the morning, most of us generally feel fresh and ready for the day, able to make good decisions about the choices that we have.  A good analogy for this would be to think of us as having Hit Points (for the old Dungeons and Dragons players among us – you know who you are!) As the day wears on, we use up these hit points when we make decisions.

This explains why when we get to the end of the day, feeling totally shattered and emotionally drained, we go into the kitchen to be faced with the choice between having a piece of fruit or sitting down with half a Tolberone, we make the bad choice and the health conscious diet goes out the window.

Bad decisions can have a variety of costs, from financial, health and relationship and so minimising these costs helps us all to lead a better life. One small area where bad choices are especially painful is in an everyday activity most of us indulge in each and every week .


The nature of shopping has changed dramatically over the last five decades. American supermarkets in the 1970s carried 9,000 products but fast forward twenty years later this figure was fast approaching the 40,000.

By increasing the choice available to consumers, supermarkets were able to take advantage of decision fatigue and apply marketing tricks to products that they wanted to push. When shoppers were already in a fatigued state (or low on hit points to continue the D&D analogy from earlier) they would be less resistant to the subtle cues from the marketeers.

No prizes for guessing that this combination of fatigued shoppers and clever marketing strategies resulted in boom times for supermarkets. In the UK, Tesco’s share price increased nearly 300% from the turn of the millennium (from 176 in 1999 to a peak of 487 in 2007). Only since consumers began the process of belt tightening in the wake of the recession have supermarkets started to feel the effect of the consumer pound going somewhere else.

Working in retail and food, shopping for me has always been something I’ve had an interest in and I’ve always done the weekly shop. I’ve probably tried every variant of cost cutting that there is from online comparison sites to shopping around to get the best deals.

A couple of months ago I’d made another decision to switch the regular shop to LIDL rather than one of the big four multiples and found my weekly bill dropped dramatically. Sure, their prices were cheaper but was there something else at work here? Then it hit me.


Or rather the lack of at any rate.

I’d been struck by how LIDL just seemed to have only the things that I was planning to buy, since another element of my strategy was to buy more ingredients and less pre-prepared. Their stores are small (they range from 8,000 to 16,000 sq ft) but the number of lines they stocked seemed limited but sufficient.

With a bit of research, I discovered that LIDL routinely stock around 1,500 to 1,650 products (stock keeping units or SKUs in supermarket speak) in their 600 UK stores which is a massive reduction in the potential options when shopping. They are a bit of a throwback to the stores of the 1970s when choice was limited to the bare essentials.

In fact, a recent article in the Telegraph by Graham Ruddick said that many city analysts were referring to LIDL (and its category competitor AIDL) as “limited assortment discounters.”

But that’s the secret of their rapid success in the UK. These days decision fatigue is a first world problem and with social media, email, smartphones and longer working hours, most people have made more decisions by lunchtime than their Grandparents made in an entire week.

In fact, David Allen author of Getting Things Done has often said that “there’s nothing new in the world except how fast it shows up”. He says that clarifying our inputs and deciding appropriate action is the cornerstone of personal productivity and, ultimately, having a productive life leads to that satisfied feeling inside us all.

So while I’m highlighting that shopping in LIDL is a conscious choice you can make to reduce decision fatigue in your what other practical steps can you take to manage decision fatigue in your life?

Well, here some of my tips you can implement today:

  • Keep decisions around food simple – Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet is excellent in terms of it’s simplicity and a key element is to limit your meal choices to 4 or 5 key dishes and try, where possible, to use the same ingredients in different combinations to generate those 4 to 5 dishes. Examples of this might be using mince beef as the basis for several dishes like chilli, spaghetti bolognese, mince and vegetables or even a stew. My personal favourite has been to buy only chicken fillets in bulk and then use them in curries, sandwiches, vegetable dishes and even as a replacement for the weekly Sunday joint.
  • Decide what you are going to do for the first hour of your day. List out all the steps as if you were a pilot going through their pre flight checklist. It so be so clear that anyone could do your routine from the notes.
  • Standardise what you wear – Steve Jobs, Neil Gaiman and several others have practiced this – almost having a uniform that makes choices automatic about what to wear in the morning. That’s another choice avoided.
  • Set yourself up for success by arranging things ahead of time for minimal resistance. If you’ve decided to go to the gym early one morning, then make sure that you set out all your gear and use it to block the door. That way, you don’t have to make the choice to go and it’s as close to automatic as it can be.
  • Make decision quickly if they are reversible – to decide and move on is more important sometimes especially when you can always change your mind later on. Keep up the speed and simplicity.

We could all do with a little less fatigue in our lives and practicing some of the above has been a massive help to me – and saved some money too!



Superheroes and procrastination (or How to avoid putting off saving the world!)

CONFESSION time… I’m a tenth dan practitioner of the demon art of procrastination.

I can put things off to world class level. If procrastination was actually classified as an olympic sport, I’d have more gold medals than Michael Phelps and, more to the point, since there’s very little physical skill involved in it, I’d probably still be able to over achieve well into my 80s – if I could be bothered!

Through my attempts to overcome this natural tendency to not bother, I have discovered one tip that really does work and, until today, never thought there was anything scientific behind why it worked.

In order to push on and not put off certain types of tasks, I have tried to simply commit to doing something on it. If I had a big presentation due in work or a particularly challenging piece of analysis work that was going to take a while, I just made myself sit down and create the file, maybe name the piece or at least gather all the data files into one place.

I first got this tip from David Allen of Getting Things Done fame (if you haven’t read his now legendary book then get it from Amazon here).

He highlights a example that most of us can probably relate to. His anecdote is that people sometimes go to the fridge to get something and see a spillage or some other kind of mess. They then start to clean up the mess only to notice something in the fridge that’s out of date. Before they know it, they’ve spent 2 hours cleaning out the entire fridge.

By starting an activity, you can quickly become engaged in it, losing yourself completely to the task in hand. In essence, you become lost in the flow of simply doing.

Today, while watching a short but extremely useful video by Jim Kwik on 5 key tips to SMASHING procrastination, I was struck by how similar one of the tips he gave was to the “cleaning the fridge” trick I’d used myself.

(BTW – Jim, like me, loves his super heroes. His company website is called – hence heavy on the Marvel-isms!)

One of the key tip from Jim for beating procrastination is also to simply start anywhere on something you are putting off .

By starting something, the very fact that you have left it incomplete will start to gnaw away at you generating thoughts and feelings that compel you to finish the incomplete.

The effect is actually known as the Zeigarnik Effect. Until I watched Jim’s video I had no idea that there was a scientific theory for this effect but seemingly I’ve used it very effectively for a number of years to move forward on projects, assignments and work tasks that have been sat idle for ages.

The evidence that supports the existence of the Zeigarnik Effect leads us to believe that the memory of incomplete tasks linger longer than completed tasks. If you set yourself a low pressure goal to simply do anything on a project that you’ve been procrastinating over, then you can use this dissonance created by the incompletion to drive your conscious mind to finish it.

You can check out Jim’s entire video below.


Writers have sometimes employed a version of this by finishing writing midway through sentences or even words. Ernest Hemingway gave this advice to writers to overcome writer’s block in A Moveable Feast:

All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”

Here’s a reminder of the simple steps for using this technique.

  • Set yourself the challenge of simply accomplishing something on a project you’ve otherwise stalled on.
  • Ensure that you allow adequate time for the 5 minute task to evolve into a longer session if need be.
  • Focus on just accomplishing that task but allow your conscious mind to feel a sense of incompletion to drive you on.

So there you have it. A simple trick to get moving on stuff that actually has some cool and important sounding name and solid theoretical basis behind it. Who knew that cleaning out the fridge could be so complex!


Golf – longer, healthier and harder than you think

LAST month I posted an article that was meant to answer all those people that felt that 4 rounds of golf in one day wasn’t really much of a challenge.

Well, in that article, I included a link to Inside Golf where editor Richard Fellner has added some science to the debate around how far we walk in a round of golf.

It appears Richard somehow found the article and added a great link to an updated post from last year where Inside Golf embarked on an Australia wide project to actually track how far the average golfer walked in the course of a round.

The results of the project were posted in June last year and resulted in the distance walked versus the scorecard increasing to an astounding 77% more!

The study also had some interesting additional data items from respondents who used mobile apps like Map My Run to include data on calories burned.

The average number of calories burned in the sample rounds was in the 900 – 1000 calorie range and these numbers didn’t include swinging the club or other non motion activities like pitch mark repair or bending to retrieve balls from the hole.

All in all, that’s useful info when considering our Macmillan Cancer Longest Day Challenge next week (Sunday 22nd June).

Over the 4 rounds we should use over 4,000 calories. That’s some amount of calories to burn and replace during one day.

To put this into some kind of perspective, according to, the number of calories burnt in a marathon (26.2 miles running for those that don;’t already know!) ranges between 2,224 and just over 3,500.

And remember, we hadn’t included any of the active but non motion stuff in golf! Website had an article that listed the amount of calories burnt in playing golf and stated that the average person at the driving range would burn somewhere in the region of 211 calories per hour of hitting golf balls.

Back in the original post, I calculated that the 4 rounds challenge would contain about 3 hours solid of hitting golf balls. So there is another 633 calories added in.

Total calories burnt in the longest day rounds = 4,633

Some total.

You can read the full account of Richard’s survey here.

For those that are interested, rebasing the longest day distance the team is going to walk with Inside Golf’s updated figures gives an estimated 18 miles for the full day.

Whew! The challenge is getting bigger and bigger with each day that passes.

Remember, that you can still help us to raise money for Macmillan Cancer by sponsoring our challenge via our Just Giving page below.

Thanks again.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!


Warhol and Satriani on making art

THOSE people who know me well will know that I do like a bit of rock music and one of the best sounds in the world to me is a cranked electric guitar. Joe Satriani has long been at the top of my all time list of great guitarists. I even bought a JS24P guitar for a recent significant birthday – that’s it at the top.

Joe is a true all round creative though. He released a book of his drawings last year and I was lucky enough to get given a copy of it. A full colour, coffee table style book, it shows a different side of the man who come up with Strange, Beautiful Music (the name of Satriani’s publishing company)

In an recent Music Radar interview for the release of his upcoming Complete Studio Recordings album package, Joe talked about the task of remastering  his 14 studio albums and the temptation give in to his legendary perfectionism. His longtime engineer and producer John Cuniberti sent Joe an email with an Andy Warhol quote in it. The quote was:

‘Don’t think about making art. Just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they’re deciding, make even more art.’

That quote kept Satriani focussed on moving the project along. A reminder of the big picture.

The quote resonated with me (and not just Joe is probably the best guitarist on the planet). The same can be said of writing. We all know that the best way to get results is to draft then redraft followed by redraft.

But that’s a recipe for perfectionism. At some point the work has to “get done”. Perfectionism can be a form of procrastination (one of my deadly sins). Another hero of mine, Neil Gaiman, referring to art in the broader sense, said something similar in his Make Good Art speech. Gaiman said:

‘I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.’

Yes, you have to Make Good Art which both Gaiman and Satriani have managed to do, but to start with they had to make something. If you are scared to put something out there until you feel it will be free from criticism or be perfect – don’t be.

Get it done, get it out and while others are deciding or, in this age of information overload, ignoring get some more doing done (very bad I know but it felt… nicer!)

Read what I learnt from Gaiman’s speech here and here.

And it’s in!

IN a previous post I mentioned that I was entering my first short story competition. In fact, this is my first writing competition of any kind.

I feel pretty good!

It’s in and done and now all I can do is wait and try to get off my backside and write some more.

Check back for an update on how I get on or click on the sign up to be kept updated by email.

Working with FareShare – my experience

ONLINE success for me in my writing adventures in this past week as I had an article published on the FareShare website!

The article centred around my own personal experience volunteering with the local FareShare branch in Belfast. FareShare is a great charity that my paid job company contributes to in England and since I found out they had a Northern Ireland branch, we have since contributed over 5,000 meals to them last year.

FareShare is essentially run by volunteers with very few paid employees. Standards are high but costs need to be kept low. After volunteering with them for a day to see what it was all about, I decided to try and help them by writing an article and hawking it round some places.

Unfortunately I haven’t managed to get somewhere for it yet but FareShare themselves were keen to put it on their website.

I’m please to be able to help them in some way as this is a great charity and worthy of your time if there’s one in your area.

Read the article here.


The value of routine – why I have found it important

THE idea for this post really struck me yesterday as I squelched round my first round of golf in over 3 months. It was going surprisingly well and I couldn’t rationalise why. I kept thinking that since I hadn’t swung a club in anger for so long that my body would have forgotten the motion. Then there was the effect of the layoff on the most important part of golf – the mind. Surely with nearly a quarter of a year off, the doubt swishing around my mind would cause untold errant shots, dodgy decisions and poor scores? But this wasn’t the case.

Ok so there was the odd bad shot and there were certainly plenty of missed putts but on the whole not a bad performance. In fact, statistically, it was my 3rd best round of golf since I retook the game up again over 2 years ago. Amazed? I know I was!

The reason I felt with a growing certainty was something to do with my routines.

Golf has long been synonymous with the value of routine. I had actually worked hard on building routines into my game over the past two years. I tried to make sure that I set up for a shot the same way each time I was out on the course. I got into my stance in the same way each time, whether on the course or on the range. My putting routine was unvaried to any great degree since I had taken the sport up the first time (even though the feel may have deserted me in the temporary layoff). It appeared to me that those routines had enabled both mind and body so slot back into the habit of swinging the clubs without losing so much as a step.

After the round, I actually thought that not only had the routines helped me return to playing the game quickly and easily, I felt that I was actually swinging better than I was when I had decided to part company with the game at the start of the winter.

It’s surely more than just muscle memory as the mind is such an integral part of the game. The mind must surely be responding to the sense of familiar and allowing the muscles to use their memory – otherwise the mind would be trying to control the muscles and causing havoc.

I then thought about routines in my own job and the value that having those routines gave me. I have never considered myself a very structured or ordered person and a causal observer in my home may well agree that this is the very last thing I am but many of the people I work with assume (wrongly BTW) that I have some form of OCD as much of my work appears routine driven.

I have my best days when I can get into my routine undistracted and start to move through the day with confidence. That doesn’t mean that everyday has to be completely structured and controlled exactly as planned. It simply means that the morning routines that gently move me from sleep and home to work, perform exactly the same function as those routines that enable me to swing the golf club freely after many months off. Those self same work routines enable me to deal with coming back from holidays and get back into the work mode as easily and stress free as possible.

The days when I feel disrupted and out of control start badly and with a lack of routine.

My routines in work consists of:

  • Coming in, booting my laptop and making a cup of coffee while it starts
  • Logging on, opening Outlook and printing my calendar for the day
  • Checking the morning reports and logs from the night before
  • Highlighting any areas that will potentially cause problems for the day
  • Checking my calendar and engaging for the rest of the day

Note that my day doesn’t consist of necessarily doing the same thing everyday. After this, I could have all day meetings, be sorting through backlogs of emails, working on projects, dealing with customers or staff or planning out new ideas.

The structured routine of the morning creates, in the words of Mason Currey from his book Daily Rituals, “a solid routine fosters a well worn groove for one’s mental energies and help stave off the tyranny of moods.” Currey studies the routines of many famous creatives throughout the ages and lists them out. In his introduction he cites chronic procrastinator William James talking about this very topic. James said by forming good habits we can “free our minds to advance  to really interesting fields of action”

Readers of this blog will know that I wrote a post entitled 10 ways to make yourself write every day. I have strived to make this a reality and, in another post was charting the use of Habitforge to create a new habit of writing every day but have so far failed to make it an “every day” habit. Perhaps this is down to the lack of a routine for writing.

While my writing output has been better and more than ever I thought possible, I feel that I need to generate a routine around my writing that makes it more and more like the golf swing or eases my mind into it the way the routine does in my workday morning.

Some quick takeaways for building routines:

  1. Start simple with something small. It’s important to give yourself quick wins
  2. Give yourself some time to groove the new routine to see the benefits. Ever go to bed early one night and wake up the next day feeling worse than you did the day before? There’s no benefit to be had doing something just once.
  3. Use something positive to build the routine rather than forming a routine that focuses on preventing something negative. Smoking is the classic example. Form new routines with your hands rather than focusing on not smoking.
  4. Change one thing at a time. More than that and you’ll overwhelm yourself.
  5. Willpower is a finite resource. If you find you are dealing with a lot of change, the simpler the change the better
  6. Make the barrier to entry as low as possible. If you are planning to go for a run each morning, make sure that you leave out your running kit in the handiest place to get changed into – consider even sleeping in your jogging bottoms ready to get out and start running – clean ones obviously!

I intend to explore some more ideas, including some from Mason’s excellent book and have some fun trying to implement them with my own writing. I’ll be posting about some of the best on this blog in the near future.