Be Your Own Choice Architect

If you’ve just read the title of this post you’re probably thinking ‘what’ ?

More specifically ‘what on  earth is a choice architect meant to be’ ?

Anyone who consciously designs an environment in which people make choices, is a ‘choice architect’. So, for example, a supermarket manager who decides where in the store, and on which shelves, various items are placed, is a ‘choice architect’. A restaurateur writing a menu, a software engineer deciding how to display search engine results, an interior designer presenting a portfolio of options for a new look living room, or an investment banker presenting a portfolio of stock options, are all ‘choice architects’.

All are presenting their customer with a choice – but deliberately setting out to influence that choice.

It should be obvious that the way in which options are presented, their context and their timing are all significant factors in determining the choices we all actually make. Virtually all our choices are influenced by others – the car we drive, what we’ve bought for tonight’s dinner, the make of our mobile phone or the next music album we listen to.

The thing is we all like to think we make well thought out, rational decisions when we decide between options – but the reality is that’s far from the truth. All of us are subject to a wide range of inherent bias, beliefs, judgements, preconceptions and preferences, of our own, which others can exploit to help direct our choices.

For example, most of us, most of the time will opt for the status-quo, and avoid change unless necessary (we find change stressful). Most of us, most of the time will tend to favour a scenario that confirms our own pre-existing beliefs, rather than one that challenges them (we like it when our beliefs are confirmed). Most of us, most of the time will choose familiarity over novelty (we stick with what we know). Most of us most of the time will support something presented by someone we like, and react negatively if presented by someone we don’t like, regardless of the actual merits either way (we’re influenced more by the messenger than the message).

Social scientists have been busy listing so many of these cognitive biases, that subconsciously affect the way we think and act, that well over a hundred are now recognised.

We’d all like to be better people – most of us have a mental image of how we’d like to be. The problem is at times these emotional biases get in the way of us doing what our more rational self would like – getting fitter and healthier, loosing weight, working more – or less, spending more time with family and friends, being more generous with our time or money, or clearing the accumulated clutter from our lives and homes more frequently.

We’re all only human, and it’s hard. We get tired, worn out, hungry, depressed, bored, upset, hurt and angry, and when we do we easily end up doing something our more rational self would rather we didn’t – whether it’s going to bed too late again, or something far worse.

If we’re smart we try to overcome these moments of weakness and exercise self-control. So we should, but we might do much better if we also simply accept we will have them sometimes, but try to put in place a framework that helps us make better decisions even when we are being ‘less than perfect’. ‘Nudging’ ourselves, so we have to rely a little less on our willpower alone.

If we know we always make bad food choices going shopping while we’re hungry, or when faced with having to cook tea from scratch after arriving home – then eating before shopping, shopping online, or having pre-prepared meals ready to simply heat up when we get in, will all help.

If we tend to make excuses not to go to the gym, perhaps arranging to go with a friend will introduce sufficient accountability to encourage us to go, as will leaving our gym bag somewhere visible, or consciously organising our diary and day so we have time to go.

If we’re prone to distraction by social media, random surfing or playing games when we’re meant to be working, perhaps we could install software that automatically disables Facebook and Solitaire etc during certain hours, or perhaps tracks the time we spend doing certain things to make us more aware of the time we’re wasting.

There are many ways we can structure the architecture of our own lives to help ourselves become more like the people we would like to be.

I’m a firm believer that if we’re more balanced and better organised in our own lives we’ll face fewer distractions and pressures, and generally make better choices as a result – both for our own good, and for the benefit of others.

If we are healthier, happier and more content with what we already have, we will perhaps consume a little less. If we waste less of our money on unnecessary, and ultimately unrewarding luxuries, seeking status or personal affirmation, then we will have more money available, perhaps being inclined to spend a little more of it for the benefit of others. If we can get more sleep, be more productive and procrastinate less, then perhaps we’ll have more time and more energy to help improve the lives of others . . . as well as our own.


Photo by Breahn via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – Good BehaviourThe Art of Giving Up,  It IS the Winning and Losing that Matters

New Year Resolution: Systems Systems Systems !

I don’t really do New Year resolutions – but I do have a suggestion for us all in the New Year.

We should develop our systems.

It doesn’t sound that inspiring I admit, but I think it’s one of the most useful things we can do; both to improve the quality of our own life, and to maximise our efforts for the benefit of others.

Developing and maintaining an effective and efficient system – whether for managing your email inbox, running a local charity, or campaigning on international issues – will deliver a lot more ‘bang for your buck‘.

Trying to just keep battling through, relying on enthusiasm and personal energy, will innevitably result in burn out and failure. Instead the trick is to develop systems that will keep running with minimal effort and intervention, leaving you free to direct your energies most effectively.

No doubt this will sound like common sense to some, and abstract nonsense to others. It might perhaps also sound a bit too much ‘management science’ or ‘self help book’ for some tastes, but it’s really nothing more than trying to look at the whole picture and identify and solve problems holistically. The more complex the issue, the more important it is to develop a reliable process for managing it.

I’m actually a bit of a personal efficiency geek, spending hours reading websites like Lifehacker and 99%. I use a system called Getting Things Done (GTD) to manage my own work, ideas and projects – but one system’s as good as any other, so long as it works for you. One of the key ideas in GTD is to have a regular method of capturing information (ideas, things to do, jobs etc) on lists – once on the list you can forget about it and relax, effectively ‘dumping your stress’. I could write for hours on the joys of Evernote, Google Docs and Remember The Milk . . . but I realise I’m probably edging towards ‘too weird’, so I’ll get back on topic.

The idea isn’t to become ever more hyper efficient, as much as to build good habits. It’s a cliche that we are what we repeatedly do, but it’s nevertheless largely true. The more natural and unthinking it is for me to clear my emails, backup my files, organise my paperwork, keep abreast of relevant news, network with others, manage my diary and progress projects – the less stress I’ll feel under, the more time I’ll have available to do other things, and less chance there’ll be of missing something important.

If you’ve had experience of voluntary groups, committees, churches or similar, you’ll know the tremendous benefits having effective systems can deliver, and the chaos and wasted effort that can result in their absence.

In picking just one thing to suggest for the New Year I could have easily gone for compassion, communications, sharing, or any number of other vitally important things – but having efficient systems is what will turn our best intentions into real results !

Whether you’re part of some organisation or larger project, or whether it’s just for you – join with me in spending a few moments improving and developing your systems this year,

. . . . we’ll all get more done as a result.

Happy New Year !

Photo from Rita H Cobbs, via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – Not Enough Hours in the Day, Time Management Doesn’t Exist 

Time Management Doesn’t Exist

Unless you’re Doctor Who, it’s impossible to manage time.

Give up trying and manage your life instead.


When we talk about trying to ‘find time’ for something, what we mean is craming even more into our already full and over-busy lives. If we want to make better choices in our lives, about diet and exercise, how we relax and enjoy ourselves or how we spend our money, then we will help ourselves if we stop filling every minute of every day with more ‘stuff to do’.

Relaxed and stress free people are less selfish, less angry, more generous, more considerate and more connected with others. Taking on more and more ‘to do’s', squeezes out other things from our lives, time for: reflection, imagination, inspiration, relaxation, fun, and if we’re not careful even sleep! We might not even notice ourselves loosing these things at first, until we suddenly think one day – when was the last time I played my guitar?, spent time just playing with my children?, or simply daydreamed while watching the clouds?

Most time management books and courses focus on using time more and more efficiently, so you can get more and more done. Why ? Is the purpose of your life just to do as many things as possible ?

Swim against the tide a little – slow down and do less !


Life is complicated and sometimes difficult, but every day is filled with new possibility. We can change our direction and rhythm – our tomorrows needn’t be always dictated by our yesterdays. Many people drift into depression gradually, becoming trapped by routine, stuck-in-their-ruts, and loose touch with all the enjoyable parts of life. The key thing is to realise that you can make things different.

Even the act of mentally deciding to take control and direct your life can be tremendously liberating and empowering. Give yourself permission to change your life and you’ll feel better as a result.

Avoid the temptation to blame chance, events, or others – of course things go wrong and bad stuff happens, but how we choose to react is up to us.


Imagine yourself at the end of your life, looking back – what do you think will seem important ? What would you like to have achieved ? What would you like your relationships to have been like ? What kind of person would you like to have been ?

How can you live your life so that you will get to that point ? Having a sense of clear vision for your life will help prevent the feeling of ennui and being adrift in the world.

We’re all different. Take time to consider what the most important things in your life are, and what you want to spend the rest of your time doing. Identify some key goals and objectives to work towards.


But life isn’t that simple – one of the contradictory things about it seems to be, that although it’s important to have goals and objectives to strive towards (no matter how modest), to give life a sense of purpose. Much of the joy and happiness in life comes not from achieving goals, but from the process of working towards them.

Very often we can become so focussed on reaching our objectives, that we forget to appreciate the journey.

And ultimately our whole life is ‘journey’.


Three different videos – for whether you’re feeling in need of inspiration, spirituality or poetry !

The Power of Time Off               Shells                                         The Road Not Taken

Stefan Sagmeister                      Rob Bell                                     Robert Frost

Photo by Shining Darkness