6 strategies to tackle ‘decision fatigue’
Sometimes it is all too much. The other night I had to make the agonising decision of how to spend my evening. Should I play a game? Or read my book? Maybe I'll watch Netflix? Hmm TV show or movie? Wait, does Stan have a better selection? Arghhh!
I fully understand if my “dilemma” is prompting eye rolls and mutters of “first world problems.” Surely any of those options would have been great? So why was I struggling so much to choose? I had been gripped by an overwhelming case of “decision fatigue”. Between moving house, running the business with Michael and navigating the most responsible way to act during Covid lock-down, I had exceeded my quota of decisions for the day and my mind had gone on strike.
Decision fatigue is a real thing. This landmark study determined that judges rule less favourably when they are hungry and tired. The sentences provided at the end of the day are generally harsher than those in the morning or just after a meal. With each decision that must be made, our mind’s decision-making ability is eroded a little, making subsequent decisions harder.
Here are some handy tips to simplify the decision-making process and give our brains a break!
1. Keep it simple stupid!
There’s a reason Obama always wears the same colour suits. As President he had to make incredibly important decisions every day and he didn’t want to waste mental space on the small stuff.
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits, I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
I eat porridge for breakfast every day and choose my work clothes the evening before. This allows me to be a zombie in the morning and ease into the day while my brain wakes up. My friends also recommend “Capsule Wardrobes” where all the clothing items fit within the same colour palette and can be mixed and matched easily without much thought.
2. Take the emotion out of it
My oldest brother Daniel is an engineer and he swears by using systems to help make decisions easier. The key is to remove the decision from the emotional space and put it into a logical framework. Consider the options, consider the criteria that are important to you, then evaluate the options on each criteria. Daniel recommends using excel - classic engineer!
Daniel also recommends benchmarking. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Consider what others have done, and what their outcome was. Use them as a model. It is also incredibly helpful to create systems for yourself. For tasks you must complete more than once, take the time to note down the process, and return to it in future.
4. Take the pressure off
When I get writers’ block, I give myself permission to write a “bad first draft”. I do a messy brain-dump, write place-fillers in all caps (e.g. [ADD QUOTE HERE!!]) and don’t worry about editing. A page filled with writing is far less intimidating than a blank document and easier to tweak later.
5. Take care of your well-being
Remember those hungry judges? The importance of eating, exercising and sleeping well cannot be overstated. While we were travelling in Europe, my boyfriend learned to carry muesli bars for me to ward off the dreaded “hanger”. If I allowed my blood sugar to get too low around meal times, I would stare vacantly at the menu and snarl when he’d gently ask if I’d chosen what to eat yet. Decision fatigue is my warning that I need to pay more attention to self-care.
6. Back yourself
In many ways, the actions that follow the decision are more important than the decision itself. Once you have made a choice, stick with it and keep progressing. Down the track, you can evaluate and make a new decision if needed.
“I do not believe in taking the right decision, I take a decision and make it right.”
Muhammad Ali Jinnah
I give my decisions more meaning by taking instant implementation. Free up your mental load and Delete Delegate Defer or Do.
How do you combat decision fatigue? Let me know in the comments!