It may seem liberating to live in a world where variety is abundant, choices are endless, and there are at least 17 pizza options in a two-mile radius. You have your pick, no matter what you’re in search of. However, too many decisions can negatively impact your cognitive capacity, increasing the likelihood of procrastination, making poor choices, and decreasing your willpower – setting you up to be exhausted and overwhelmed. At the end of the day if you’re feeling irritable, tired, and having trouble focusing – you may be experiencing decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is the inability to focus and the experience of decreased energy caused by making too many decisions. Your brain makes thousands of decisions every day, some studies say 10,000 to 40,000 every day. All of the mental energy used to make these thousands of large and small decisions can be drained by the early afternoon. Once drained, that lack of mental energy can cause you to make poor decisions, which can also lead to increased stress and decreased productivity.
Extra choices can also lead to indecision, halting the decision-making process entirely. A study at Stanford found that when grocery shoppers were offered six different flavors of jams, 30% of shoppers purchased a jar of jam. In contrast, when shoppers were given 24 different flavors of jam, only 3% of shoppers purchased a jar. Were the shoppers experiencing choice overload? Decision fatigue? Indecision? Paralysis?
If you’ve ever felt agonized after a trip to the candy shop or ice cream parlor, you understand this concept. Mint chocolate chip or hazelnut almond? Chocolate espresso or coconut fudge? The task of making a decision can be debilitating and can drain precious brainpower. When you face a decision far more important than jam or ice cream, the stakes become even higher, and the side effects can be more taxing on the mind.
The good news is there are ways to ensure you’re saving your decision-making cells for important decisions, rather than wasting them on everyday nonessential rulings. This means that while variety may be the spice of life, variety for certain things may not be the way to go. Here are six ways to simplify your life to alleviate the effects of decision fatigue – so you can focus on what’s important in your work and life.
1. Follow Routines
When you have a routine, it eliminates the need to decide what you’ll do in that moment. For example, when you first wake up, if the first things you do every day are make a pot of coffee, meditate, and hit the gym, then you won’t have to decide what you’ll do as soon as you wake – which for many people is the hardest time to make a decision. Follow these tips for creating an a.m. routine for success.
2. Decrease Your Options
Many of the choices you’re given are tiny decisions you don’t even realize you have to make, but they are still draining your brainpower. For example, deciding what to wear, what to eat, and what to read are all decisions. To reduce the number of choices you must make, consider being more consistent. This can apply to things such as:
- Eating the same breakfast or lunch every day
- Ordering the same coffee every day
- Wearing the same thing every day (Idea courtesy of Steve Jobs, who wore a black turtleneck and jeans every day to reduce his daily decisions).
3. Set a Time Limit
If you’re one of those people like me who can go down the rabbit hole when purchasing a product, do yourself a favor and set a time limit. Next time you’re about to shop online for a new pair of shoes or a gift for mom’s birthday, decide up front how long you wish to dedicate to the decision and set a timer. I use this time cube, so that I don’t get distracted with cell phone notifications when I’m trying to focus. When that timer goes off, if you haven’t already, seal the task with a decision.
4. Make Important Decisions Early
Once you’re experiencing decision fatigue, the decisions you make will be less effective, so it’s important to get any important decisions out of the way before you spend your precious brainpower on trivial choices. Plan your day so that the important decisions are made by noon.
5. Avoid Rehashing Decisions
Once you’ve made your choice, stick with it. There is no such thing as a perfect decision, so second-guessing yourself will only lead to you having to make even more decisions. Once you’ve decided, take a deep breath and move on.
6. Don’t Make a Decision When You’re Tired or Hungry
To avoid making poor decisions – particularly when they are regarding important matters – gauge you’re energy when you begin the decision-making process. If you’re too tired, plan to decide the next day. If you’re too hungry, grab a snack before making a final call. To avoid being tired or hungry, make sure you’re well rested and well-fed. A good night’s sleep and sound nutrition are important to sharpen your decision-making skills as well.
Here’s an infographic to arm you with more ways to outsmart decision fatigue and make sounder judgments across the board.
Infographic Credit: https://blog.mint.com/how-to/decision-fatigue/#DECISION_FATIGUE_INFOGRAPHIC
Join my monthly newsletter!
If you loved this article, join the monthly newsletter — featuring tips and reflections on leadership development and stress management in the modern world. Join the 5,000+ leaders who have it delivered straight to their inbox each month.
Join my monthly newsletter!
If you’re an executive, leader, or entrepreneur, you’ll love Melissa’s monthly newsletters.
As an ICF Certified Executive Coach, Melissa partners with leaders to develop their executive presence, strategic and systems thinking, resilience, communication skills, and influence in order to reach their goals. Melissa is passionate about supporting leaders and teams on their growth journeys toward greater impact, more collaborative teams, and stronger results.