I couldn’t find anything good to listen to.
That’s quite a statement considering Spotify offers access to nearly limitless array of music in all genres, not to mention how my own substantial music collection is…well…exactly the kind of sampling I would curate if given the chance. Radio wasn’t working for me and neither were podcasts.
This was a problem because I like to have something going in my ears when I’m working. It helps to focus my mind and keep me plugged-in on the task at hand. I listened to a few newer albums discovered either via WXRT or MusicREDEF but needed the kind of “settle in/lean back” experience that lets me not think about it for a good chunk of time.
Over the last few years I’ve saved several dozen playlists on Spotify, but even looking at these wasn’t doing anything for me. I tried a few but nah. They were turned off only a few songs in most cases. Also, I kept coming back to the same handful, effectively ignoring or discounting 80% or more of the options I myself had put in front of me.
Finally I decided on a course of action: Instead of choosing what to listen to each day, going through the usual “What sounds good, what do I feel like?” process, I would start at the top of my list of saved Spotify playlists and work my way down. The way have the organized is alphabetically by artist name, so the first one was devoted to 10,000 Maniacs. Then AC/DC. Skip down a few and you get to Count Basie followed by The Beatles. Scan down toward the end and you’ll see Wilco followed by The Who.
This whole thing reminded me how much brain power we devote to small decisions. There have been whole studies devoted to this, showing our brains are really only capable of making so many decisions per day, after which we’re essentially useless. So why expend a good chunk of that finite resource bouncing around between something as inessential as music playlists.
Even more than that, it reminded me that the best way to get yourself out of a rut is often to take a deliberate action. By choosing something structured and rigid, I was removing uncertainty. I knew what I’d be listening to next because it was next, not because that’s what I thought I’d dig that day, only to find it was annoying me. This allowed me to free that brain power up to do other things.
It’s similar in a way to how some people have found limiting their wardrobe to be freeing. They no longer hemmed and hawed over what would be the best thing to wear that day. If it’s Tuesday, it’s this shirt. Or maybe the entire wardrobe had been overhauled to include a few of one item like a simple black shirt, with just enough to keep one or two clean at any given time.
Minimalism, in its most broad (and sometimes inaccurate) definition, is about owning less stuff. That’s a worthwhile goal from a consumption point of view since you’re more likely to value what you still have and take care of it as opposed to being ready to just toss it and buy something to replace it, at which time you’ll probably buy five other things you don’t really need as well.
What I’m talking about is more along the lines of minimalist decision making. There’s ready proof that when confronted with too many options we experience decision paralysis, overwhelmed and unable to make a call. If you’re counting on that one decision to be the right one to set the tone for the day and have ripple effects through your productivity, getting stuck in a state of paralysis can be detrimental, to say the least.
So take it, or something like it, out of the equation. Make a single deliberate and firm choice that frees you from the bonds of making 17 tiny decisions because you made one big one. It can’t hurt and it could help immeasurably. And as an additional bonus, I’m listening to some music I hadn’t heard in a while, which is always a good thing.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.