Our heuristics for work, travel and food

Unfortunately we have yet to create a heuristic for sausage shopping
Unfortunately we have yet to create a heuristic for sausage shopping – let us know if you have one

A little while ago Rob wrote a post about how to simplify your life, and the section that provoked the largest number of emails was “Embrace heuristics” – with most of you suggesting your own heuristics, and some of you wondering what on earth is wrong with restaurant menus showing pictures of the food.

Why have heuristics? For us, it’s because we’re terrible at making decisions on the fly: we’re always worried about making the wrong decision and regretting it. And as a result, we used to waste a lot of time and mental energy on it. We created heuristics based on the cumulative times we made a good decision, because we figured that if that particular decision worked so well and for so many times in the past, it’s probably safer and easier to stick with it for all future similar situations.

I thought I’d share some more of ours here, but please do add your own in the comments so that we can all shortcut our way through the pointless, time-consuming and ultimately ineffective habit of umming and aahing over what to do next.

Warning: these most definitely aren’t the most serious heuristics you’ll ever come across. That’s because we tend to waste time on the silly little dilemmas rather than the big, important issues – which really do deserve time and thought rather than simple rules of thumb.

Eating/drinking/going out

If the menu shows pictures, don’t eat there.

Ditto if there’s plastic food outside the restaurant to indicate what our meal will look like.

If the waiting time is over 45 minutes, don’t bother – the meal/drink/experience will be an anti-climax by the time we get round to doing it.

If the movie is longer than two hours, wait until it can be downloaded (so that we can take coffee breaks – we’ll only fall asleep in the cinema).

If we get invited to something that we know we don’t want to attend, say no right away rather than spend the next few days/weeks/months thinking up excuses.

If a main course costs more than £12 (London), £10 (NYC), £5 (Chiang Mai), £8 (Barcelona), £7 (Budapest)… we’ll probably feel a bit ripped off and that the food wasn’t worth it.

Supermarket shopping

When looking through the options of tin foil, buy the one up from the cheapest.

It’s always fine to buy the “value” range items of the following: peanuts, tinned tomatoes, milk, tea, vegetables, salt, dried pasta.

Never buy the “value” range items of the following: ketchup, coffee, washing-up liquid, baked beans, cereal.

If garlic is the main ingredient in any sauce, condiment or anything else, don’t buy it (it’s not worth it the next day).


If we have to wonder whether we “need” to pack something, we don’t need it.

All clothes must be machine washable.

If the hotel breakfast costs more than £5 per person, find a local supermarket and have a bedroom picnic.

For Airbnb apartments in cities: if there’s a choice between getting a larger apartment outside the city or a smaller apartment slap-bang in the city centre, always go for the one in the city centre.

If the journey from the airport to our accommodation involves more than one simple change, splurge on a cab.

Book the more convenient flight as long as it’s no more than £20 per person more expensive than the cheaper one.

If TripAdvisor reviewers LOVE a restaurant, don’t go (or look at other review sites first): the restaurant is probably shit, overpriced and full of tourists.

Hire the cheapest car.


Do our three hardest tasks first every day.

If we can’t fix the problem (website maintenance, forum plugins…) after 30 minutes of trying, ask our VA to post the job on Elance.

If an email makes us angry, wait at least a full hour before replying.

If the Elance contractor starts his message to you with “Dear Sir/Madam”, delete the job application without reading any further.

If we’re struggling to use the free version of an app or website, test out the premium version and see if it makes life infinitely easier.

Your turn!

Please share your heuristics in the comments below – especially if they’re wacky or slightly ridiculous!

  • Haha, these are great! This one made me laugh: “If Tripadvisor reviewers LOVE a restaurant, don’t go (or look at other review sites first): the restaurant is probably shit, overpriced and full of tourists.” SO TRUE!

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Yay! Thanks Kelly!

      And yes – it took us a while to learn how to handle TripAdvisor reviews…!

  • Pete

    Tripadviser – one of my Uni friends swears by it. I ‘m with you.

    Supermarket items – SO true.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Haha! Glad I’ve got another fan of the TripAdvisor heuristic!

      And we ought to go supermarket shopping together… we’d agree on EVERYTHING.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Sausage shopping – always buy the pork & apple ones, y’all!!

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Yup – that’ll do nicely as a sausage-shopping heuristic! Thanks Carla!

  • Jessi

    This one’s a little awkward, but here I go:
    When my boyfriend and I are walking hand in hand through the streets and someone’s standing in our way, we always walk past them on the left hand side (this really has become a habit of ours ^^).

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      At first I was thinking, “Huh? How does that help with decision-making?” But now I totally get it and it’s brilliant! Consider it officially stolen (if that’s OK)!

      • Jessi

        Yay, I’m glad you like the idea!
        I’m sorry, I explained it a little poorly – it really helps with maneuvering through a crowd.
        It’s less tiring when you don’t have to decide whether to turn left or right every single time someone stands in your way (and you want to avoid bumping into them ;)).

        • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

          Love it!

    • An American friend of mine once told me that there’s a standard rule of thumb in the US that when you’re walking towards somebody and you’re going to collide unless someone adjusts course, you both swerve to the right (because you drive on the right).

      This avoids the back-and-forth-and-then-collide-anyway-and-look-sheepish moment that can otherwise ensue.

      I’ve internalised this for the UK, always swerving clearly left. Sometimes this works. I wish everybody had this rule in their head.

      • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

        I agree: for certain situations we need rules of thumb for an entire nation.

        It would come in useful for cheek-kissing too!

        • This is actually a rule in Japan! Works really well in Tokyo where everyone follows it.

          Works less well in Kyoto which is full of tourists who don’t know the rule.

          • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

            SO cool! All you need now is instructions at the airports/stations.

    • Joe

      I have that rule too: if I’m due for a head on collision when walking, always go left.

      As you aren’t dithering about which way to go, the other person always goes the other way as you’ve been the assertive one.

      Probably a metaphor for life in there somewhere!

      • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

        Good point! It’s the dithering that’s the problem, so as long as one person is assertive, it should all work out fine!

  • How about:
    Never buy two of something you’ve never had before. If it sucks, you’re stuck with two. If it’s great, you can always buy more!

    This mostly applies to food and drink, but has served me well!

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      I like it! And I wish I’d had this advice a week ago: I made that exact mistake and now have way too much food that I don’t like!

  • The rule of half. If you feel unsure about anything, go for 50%. Unsure about a stock purchase/sale? Buy or sell half. Not certain about a hotel? Book for half your stay – you can always make another plan when there. Writing a blog post on a complex topic? Cut it by half. Not sure about a new restaurant? Order just half of what you would have. Planning a visit with friends? Stay half as long as you feel you want to right now.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Wow – that’s quite a mega rule of thumb! Do you manage to stick to it?

      The hotel one is interesting… hopefully if you like it, you can then book the other half of your stay at the same rate.

  • Bettina

    Very funny article! My heuristic to food shopping/eating: Eat what the locals eat. Don’t try too hard to get the food you eat at home. I love German sausages, but I don’t bother eating them outside of Germany, they’re usually a completely different product (a notable exception is ALDI). Or if locals don’t seem to enjoy drinking freshly pressed orange juice in Spain (which is utterly astonishing given that the streets are lined with orange trees in Sevilla or Granada) – don’t drink it, it doesn’t taste nearly as good as in “cold”countries like England or Germany. Canned food is a different story, of course you can buy Heinz baked beans in Spain.

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Thanks Bettina!

      I SO agree with “Eat what the locals eat” – it’s what we’re currently doing in Bangkok. And “Don’t bother eating German sausages outside of Germany” is brilliant!

  • Joe

    If you’re at the shop and aren’t sure if you need bread, buy it!

    • Mish @ Making It Anywhere

      Rob will concur that I live by this rule (perhaps a bit too much)!