So this is a macchiato…
Last Friday morning, I had an early meeting for my part-time consulting job. Before I left home, I grabbed my travel mug and made a cup of coffee with cream to enjoy on the drive. Our meeting was in a nice café in a large grocery store.
I arrived before my colleagues so I made my way to the coffee bar and got in line. There were winding rows of people and we were separated by displays of travel mugs, pastries, and other merchandise. After being distracted by all the things I could buy, I looked up and saw a series of large boards that showed all of the drink options. I started taking it all in and I was really happy to be toward the back of the line!
By the time I looked over all the drink choices, I was a few spots closer to the register. That’s when the conversation started in my head – “Well, I don’t know – what do I want? I usually just have coffee with cream. Maybe all of these other coffees are really good. What’s the difference between Morning Blend, Medium Blend, and Mountain Blend? Which one should I try? Will I even like them? What is a macchiato? I don’t even know if I pronounced that right…Pour over – what are they pouring over what? And chocolate drizzle with whip cream on my coffee at 8 am? I don’t like my kids eating toaster pastries with chocolate drizzle on them but I am going to drink coffee with all that…”
As the conversation in my head continued, I was getting closer to the register. “And are these special coffee drinks really worth $5 (or more!)? If I pick one and don’t like it, I will really be ticked off…But I’ll probably like it. Or not…I should try one…They almost look to pretty to drink.”
Although I wouldn’t call it panic – I honestly could not decide what kind of coffee to order. I felt kind of ridiculous standing there not being able to decide when they had SO MANY choices available. I guess I could have just got to the register and ordered coffee with cream but that seemed like such a waste! I had the vision of others saying – “Really lady, that’s it – coffee and cream – wow, you lead an exciting life!” What I was secretly wishing for at this point was shots of alcohol to appear as choices on those boards – Kahlua? Sure – Irish Crème? Yep – make it a double shot.
When I was “on deck” for the register (and still not ready to order), I was considering letting the lady behind me order next. Then I noticed a young lady behind a portable register about 15 feet away from our line. The sign on that register said – Express Coffee and there was a tall stack of paper cups and no customers. How did I miss that?
After more than 5 minutes of standing in line, I stepped away without hesitation, walked over and handed her $2, went to the coffee carafes, poured a cup, added some cream and stirred…DONE. It was exactly what I had wanted and it tasted great.
I wish I could get the five minutes of my life back that I wasted standing in that line…
Before the others arrived, I jotted down all of the different options I had available to me at that register. I could see a blog post in the making! Here are all of the questions I could have faced at the register:
- What cup would you like? – travel cup, ceramic mug, paper cup (with the little cardboard sleeve thing to not burn your hand)
- What size? – small, medium, large, extra-large (at least they use normal words)
- What kind? hot, cold-pressed, iced, and pour over (OK – pour over what again?)
- Would that be regular or decaf? (like that was a question)
- Blend? – Morning, Medium, Mountain, Dark, Light, Columbian, French…
- Any flavoring? – vanilla, hazelnut, blueberry, caramel, white chocolate, pumpkin spice (Once you add the flavoring does it really matter what blend you picked in #5??) And do you want regular flavoring or sugar free?
- What about an extra shot of espresso? Or two? (Really two? I did actually sleep last night)
- Are you sure you don’t want a latte, cappuccino, or macchiato? (I still don’t know what macchiato means? I can’t even spell those words – and remember – I am at a grocery store. Why is that even a choice?)
- So what about the cream? It couldn’t just be Half and half. They have heavy cream, skim milk, almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk (OK – I’m glad it isn’t the cardboard canister of powdered cream – but really?)
- Sugar? What about the “in the raw” stuff, or brown sugar, or honey, or low calorie sweetener (always thought that was somewhat of an oxymoron)
- And don’t forget the toppings! Would you like whipped cream? And a drizzle of chocolate or caramel, maybe some chocolate shavings? Or a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg? (Hmm – chocolate shavings on my morning drink with heavy cream, I might as well order a sundae for breakfast!)
And I’m guessing I forgot something along the way.
So let’s give it a try – I’d like to order a large, hot, Mountain blend coffee in a ceramic mug with shots of sugar free vanilla and espresso, and make it a latte I guess with almond milk & honey, and go ahead and top it with some whipped cream, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and drizzle it with some caramel…
Or, can I just have a medium coffee with some cream? Yep – I’m boring.
It might sound like I’m exaggerating (and yes, I was having fun there to make a point) but there were at least 11 decision categories to consider in ordering that cup of coffee. And within those categories, there were multiple choices too.
So really, does it that have to be that complex? If I’ve offended you coffee drinkers, I apologize 🙂 Feel free to substitute any overly-complex menu item that you would prefer to bash… Maybe fancy self-serve yogurt? You know – with 30 flavors and 50 toppings? Where you get a little dish that ends up weighing a pound (and costs $8) because you just can’t decide what you have to have because it all looks so good!
Like it or not, your brain is processing all of that information (even if you have a favorite coffee order) and the series of micro-decisions can contribute to something called decision fatigue. You have probably heard of this before but maybe you haven’t recognized it at work in your life with little decisions like choosing a coffee drink.
Keep in mind that by this point in the morning you have already made a lot of decisions! What to wear, what to eat, when you should leave, what you should bring, what route to take, and many more! And you still have the meeting coming up where you will be making even more decisions. And then there is the rest of the day to consider too…
If the coffee bar had just had a few flavors, I probably would have tried something other than my regular coffee. I can understand why businesses increase the number of choices, but there may also be a “critical mass” of offerings. If the choices create “analysis paralysis” for some people – that isn’t a good situation either. I definitely felt this way because of the pressure of others waiting and not really understanding the menu items.
Just keep in mind, “More isn’t always better, sometimes it’s just more.” (B. Benedek)
According to researcher Roy Baumeister, “the simple act of making decisions progressively depletes our ability to make them well.” If you want to read more about Baumeister and about decision fatigue in general, check out the article by John Tierney’s NY Times article, Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?
We have limited decision-making energy and we need to manage it for use in making the more important decisions we need to make each day. Just think about some of decisions you make at the end of the day. Have you heard of mindless eating? Could that be the result of not having the energy to make better food choices? Have you ever been so tired from all the work (and decisions) you have made all day that you just can’t think at night? It’s a good time to put off decisions then too…
Here are a few other examples to consider. Mark Zuckerberg explains his choice to wear the same color shirt each day as, “clearing my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.” He added that he doesn’t want to waste any time on “even small decisions like choosing what to wear or what to eat for breakfast”.
And here is an article about Steve Jobs and decision fatigue . I also read about Apple only having a few products so that they could focus their energy (and reduce the number of decisions to be made) to create better products with more brand loyalty.
Check out this Afford Anything Post (see the “I’m tired” part that has links to an article and book on decision fatigue too.) Paula talks a lot about protecting your time and using your “mental bandwith” carefully. And what about Jim (JL) Collins and his Simple Path to Wealth? Stay out of debt and choose index funds. It’s all about limiting the number of decisions you make in order to be successful!
I’d suggest you take some time to think about decision fatigue. Could you be happier and more productive by removing some of those micro-decisions that might be creating more energy drain than you realize?
I’ll end this post by sharing that we went to a small country restaurant the evening of my coffee bar failure. The restaurant was called Brew and Brats – that’s it, beer and sausages! We had the choice of 5 different craft beers, six kinds of sausage, a few side dishes and that was it. And the place was packed with happy people listening to some great music. Who would have thought? They didn’t have a complicated menu and everyone was satisfied! We’ll be going there more often!
So – have you ever noticed that you are experiencing decision fatigue? What time of day is it? Do you do anything on “auto-pilot” to help save some decision-making energy? And do you have any other examples you can share so we don’t tick off just the specialty coffee drinkers? 🙂
Photo credit: Travis Walker@freeimages.com