Sensible Defaults

My friend Jamie responded to my Final Choices post from last week with a very thoughtful addendum. One I failed to cover but certainly agree with. It’s a very close relative to the idea and reasons behind making final choices. He calls this idea “Sensible Defaults”. He explains it thusly:

While Patrick is spot on about final choices, I would add that it also goes for things you buy on a more frequent basis as well. For instance, I never think about what pencil I’m going to buy and use. I know I use Uniball Kuru Toga pencils. (Thanks to Patrick for turning me on to these as well.) If I lose, break, or for some other reason find myself needing to buy a pencil, I don’t go to Staples and gawk for an hour at the wall of mechanical pencils. I hop on the Amazon app on my iPhone while I’m waiting in line at Starbucks and order a couple to show up at my door step in two days.

I too, have many sensible defaults (including the Kuru Toga). And while final choices usually apply to items one purchases, sensible defaults can apply in a much wider range of circumstances. For instance, for writing on the Mac, TextEdit is a sensible default for me. It is the first thing I reach for when the need arrises to write anything when I sit down at my computer. I don’t even have to think about it. Launching it is essentially a reflex action. Anything else generally has to make a strong use case for me to choose it for the task at hand over TextEdit.

I also think of my friend Michael who is so steadfast in which restaurants he frequents, on which days and times, and what menu items he orders, the staff often just starts preparing it when they see him enter and it is delivered to his table with no words between he and the server exchanged. No need to even waste the time or mental energy of making an order. One may find this extreme, but if you know what you want, why waste unnecessary motions.

Of course, there are the more famous adherents of sensible defaults. Steve Jobs rarely has to think about what he is going to wear. Anyone who has seen any photos or videos of him taken in the last 10 years knows what he is going to be wearing – A black mock turtleneck, Levis 501 jeans, New Balance sneakers. By having such a sensible default, he never has to stand in his closet looking for the right thing for the right occasion. What he has chosen will work for practically any occasion he may find himself in.

Sensible defaults can reduce friction and provide simplicity anywhere one can think to apply them. They are the bedrock of minimalist practice and a quiet mind.

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