Freedom ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Or, “Oomph, chocolate, and vanilla”

In Dan Pink’s Drive, he says that the 3 things you need to feel motivated in your work are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

In Roman Krznaric’s How to Find Fulfilling Work, he says that the 3 things you need to find fulfilling work are freedom, flow, and meaning.

Autonomy and freedom are pretty much the same thing.

Mastery is an important component of flow.

Meaning and purpose are pretty much the same thing.

It looks like we’re on to something here.

Let’s start with autonomy/freedom.

Yes, it totally sucks to have no freedom. The biggest complaint employees have about their jobs is that they always have to do what they’re told, they have to do things in a specific way at a particular time. They have no room for creativity, no autonomy, no freedom. They can’t decide what they do and they can’t decide how or when they do it.

But it also sucks to have too much freedom.

Economists call it “The tyranny of choice.” Give people too many options, and they’ll panic and choose none of them.

Writers call it “The terror of the blank page.” Staring at that empty page, knowing you could write anything… but having no idea where to begin.

Unschoolers know it, too – if you don’t give children any guidance or direction at all, they may sit around and be bored instead, overwhelmed by too many choices.

It’s the reason so many entrepreneurs are suckered into step-by-step, paint-by-numbers “make money online” programs that claim to tell you exactly what to do. They’re overwhelmed with all the options and exhausted by decision fatigue, so they’re willing to believe that someone else can take all the decisions away from them.

The truth, though, is that an entrepreneur is a professional decision-maker. Systems and blueprints can help, as long as they leave room for creativity and your own unique touch.

But if you give away all your decision-making power, you’re no longer an entrepreneur, you’re an employee.

It’s hard to find the balance.

You want autonomy… but you’re terrified of the blank page.

You want to make the decisions… but you’re exhausted from decision fatigue.

You want more freedom… but not too much.

I hear you. It’s tough.

Oomph! There it is!

The thing that has helped me the most is to treat my decision-making ability (I call it “oomph”) as a precious resource, and to manage it just like I manage my other precious resources like time and money.

I have the most oomph first thing in the morning, so I put all my decision-making tasks at the beginning of my day, and all my other tasks in the afternoon.

Chocolate and vanilla

The first thing I do each day is plan my day, because planning takes oomph.

When planning, I separate my tasks into “chocolate” and “vanilla”. Chocolate requires oomph, vanilla doesn’t.

Oomph: Decision-making ability.
Chocolate: A task that requires oomph.
Vanilla: A task that doesn’t require oomph.

I do my chocolate tasks in the morning, when I have lots of oomph, and my vanilla tasks in the afternoon, when I’m often low on oomph.

Boss and employee

A reasonable person might call chocolate “Boss” and vanilla “Employee”. You put on your boss hat, make a bunch of decisions and queue up to-do items for your employee-self, then put on your employee hat and do them.

Boss: A task that requires oomph.
Employee: A task that doesn’t require oomph.

If that metaphor works better for you, go for it. I, being a thoroughly unreasonable person, find chocolate and vanilla far more delicious than hats.

Example chocolate tasks:

  1. Create an outline for this month’s Ice Cream Saturday teaching topic
  2. Reply to J’s invitation (this task is really hiding the task “Decide whether to say yes or no”)
  3. Plan the schedule for Peaceful Productivity launch and classes

Example vanilla tasks:

  1. Teach (once I’ve got an outline, teaching puts me in flow and doesn’t require oomph)
  2. Get to inbox zero (actually, only 80% of emails are vanilla, the rest require oomph)
  3. Record a Wild Crazy Meaningful Life podcast (deciding who to invite or deciding on the topic to cover is chocolate, but actually doing it is vanilla, so I separate those out)
  4. Do the audio processing for the latest podcast
  5. Pathfinding coaching (for some reason, this doesn’t require oomph. maybe because I’m in flow, being a conduit?)

Einstein’s Theory of Chocolativity

What’s chocolate or vanilla for you might be different than what’s chocolate or vanilla for me. A task that takes a lot of oomph for me might come easily and oomphlessly to you. What’s important is to know yourself and accept what’s true for you. Pretending that something is vanilla when it’s actually chocolate for you will only lead you to exhaustion.

Let’s talk about oomph, baby!

Do you struggle with decision fatigue? How do you manage your oomph? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Feel clear and confident about your direction in life!


Do you wish you could follow your heart, but it seems impossible? I can help you find the clarity and courage you need.

In other words, I can help you find your path.