Choosing things

Here is something that I appreciate about my new colleagues: They affirm the choices that I’m making.

“You decided to have your office painted in such a nice color!”

“You should totally apply for that grant you’re thinking about applying for!”

“You made a great decision about where to live; that is a really nice area/building!”

Getting set up in a new place required a LOT of choices, and I’ve heard many new faculty (especially those setting up labs) talk about choice fatigue. I tried to avoid this by mentally categorizing decisions as “really important, need to think about this for a while” and “everything else,” and then being selective about what I put in the first category. When something went into the “everything else” category, I spent a few minutes thinking about what I wanted, picked that thing, and then moved on with my life. And sometimes I reminded myself that I was doing this so that I would have enough energy to deliberate about decisions that actually mattered to me.

Examples of things that went in the first “think about this for a while” category were decisions about hiring personnel for my lab and decisions about how to lay out my lab space (how many rooms, what types of rooms they should be, etc.). Examples of things that went in the second category were decisions like the following:
What color I should have my office painted (I *love* how it turned out, but ultimately, if it hadn’t turned out well, it wouldn’t have been the biggest deal in the world for me)
What kind of office chair I should get
What kind of dividers should go between the desks in my grad student office
Whether the seats and backs of the chairs in my lab should be the same color or different colors
Where on my desk the technician should drill a hole for my computer wires

(These are all actual decisions that I was asked to make at some point. Luckily I was also working with a fabulous architect, and many times I asked her to make a suggestion or two from a number of options, so instead of picking the best option out of 3.25 trillion I just had to decide whether or not I liked her suggestion. I did this because I trusted her judgment and because this made things infinitely easier for me; fortunately for me, research on decision-making also suggests that people are happier with their choices when they choose out of a few options rather than many options.)

There are also some decisions I spent too much time agonizing about before firmly escorting them from the first category, where I had mistakenly let them wander, into the second category, which is where they actually belong. Examples include things like whether a particular piece of floor space should contain a bookshelf or a filing cabinet, how many shelves tall the bookshelves should be, and how many phones my lab space should have.

This strategy of categorizing things and then deliberately spending most of my decision-making time thinking about only one of the categories may not be for everyone, but it’s worked well for me. And the way that I divided things up between the categories may not work for everyone, but so far it’s seemed to work out okay in most ways for me. Nevertheless, after making approximately 1.37 gazillion choices, it’s reassuring when my colleagues affirm that they think I have made a good choice. It makes me feel like I’m doing an okay job at something that’s brand new to me.



Author: Happy Balloon

I am a new assistant professor in a STEM field at a research university. If you think you've figured out my actual name (which, sadly, is not Happy Balloon), please refrain from posting it anywhere here. But please do feel free to post all manner of other comments!