It seems like we are bombarded by decisions galore as soon as the alarm sets off: starting from the perennially difficult decision of getting out of bed or remaining burrowed in your warm bed to what to have for breakfast, hit the gym or take your dog for a walk, what to wear, whether to take the sub or drive to work. And once you clock into work, you are buried neck deep in decisions so that by the time you hit the bed at night, you’ve made an average of 35,000 decisions!
Having to take all those decisions can wear us down throughout the day. This is called decision fatigue and it is just as real as physical fatigue. Even though you may not realize it, you end up exhausted, low on mental energy, drained of any creativity or productivity, and literally functioning on auto-pilot by the end of the day.
As the day wears on, your brain starts looking for shortcuts so that you become reckless in your decision-making, acting on sheer impulse instead of thinking things through. No wonder when your partner asks you what to have for dinner, you find yourself shrugging off a “whatever, you decide”.
Decision fatigue can have a dramatic impact over your professional and personal life. Luckily, there are a lot of things you can do to refuel your productivity and replenish your willpower during a decision-intensive day.
Pull Back From Daily Drudgery
I don’t know about you but I usually hit my Eureka moments in the shower or on a solitary stroll. Sometimes you have to pull back from life’s chaos to free up your “prefrontal cortex”, or more precisely the “logical thinking” part of your brain. This is the area that triggers our willpower to help us overcome impulses, and ultimately, decision fatigue.
Once you withdraw yourself from day-to-day hassles, your brain subconsciously lets you tap into a repository of knowledge that you never knew you possessed while wound up in the buzz of work life. In a nutshell, by giving yourself a break, you empower your brain to make better decisions.
Follow A Set Routine To Minimize Decision Making
Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs seem to have a rather limited wardrobe, and for a good enough reason! Barack Obama is mostly seen clad in gray or blue suits, not co-incidentally, but because he has much more important decisions to make throughout the day than worry about what to wear. In fact, developing a daily routine for menial tasks helps you save your energy and mental resources for bigger decisions.
Your brain has a decision making capacity, and once it’s exhausted for the day, prepare to zone out. Why use your limited decision-making capabilities for redundant tasks such as what to wear or what to have for lunch. The most successful leaders follow patterns and established routines to conserve their will power and reduce the amount of stressors in their life. You can also limit the number of decisions you make every day by simply “repeating” certain non-critical actions daily to simplify your day and eliminate micro-decisions from your plate.
For instance, you can choose to wake up the same time every day, choose a restaurant or two as your go-to place for lunch or meeting clients, build a wardrobe with similar clothing schemes, pick your outfit ahead of time, or even pre-plan your weekly menu so you already know what you are having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.
You can also automate certain decisions, for instance, you can sign up for meal subscription boxes or go for automatic bill payment every month. Instead of having to decide which route to take every day, trust the GPS to find you the best route. Make sure you conserve your time and energy for important decisions.
Make Big Decisions Earlier In The Day
According to research, our ability to think logically and make decisions differs throughout the day. Morning people assert that they become their finest selves in the morning, while night owls argue that they take their best decisions at night. However, it’s not that simple. For most people, mornings are the best time to make thoughtful and rational decisions. Our decision-making prowess takes a downturn by afternoon, while most people start making riskier snap decisions as the evening draws in.
In fact, research tells us that our decision-making policies vary according to the time of day, for instance we may tend to make more cautious and meticulous choices earlier in the morning, but as we drag through the day and decision fatigue starts to set in, our decisions keep getting more irrational and brusque. So if you have a have a big decision that requires meticulous diligence, get it over with at the start of your work day.
Don’t Make your Life Harder
If you know you will end up spending all night watching Facebook videos, don’t take your phone to bed. If you are on a stringent diet, don’t keep ice-cream in your freezer. If you are on a shoe-string budget, don’t go window shopping. If something isn’t available, you won’t have to constantly struggle with yourself to resist the temptation. It’s unnecessarily cruel to yourself and just adds another self-conscious decision to the long list of decisions that you have to take throughout the day. Stay as far away from the habit you’re trying to change so that you won’t have to decide not to indulge.
Learn to Delegate Decisions
Just as it is important to stop wearing all the hats and delegate responsibilities to others, you can also flick off a few decisions off your plate by having someone else take them for you. However for that to happen, you need to stop micromanaging those around you and have confidence in their decision making capabilities. These could be simple tasks like having your friend pick the place where you are meeting or have your partner decide what to have for dinner.
Batch Similar work Together
Grouping together similar tasks not only boosts your productivity but also improves your focus at work. For instance, you can allow yourself to only focus on creative tasks twice a week, blocking off everything else on those days. Or you can dedicate whole days to managing and strategizing on projects and conducting meetings with your team. You can also batch your day-to-day tasks by time blocks, as well.
For instance, you can dedicate the first half hour of your day to checking emails or set aside one hour a day for meetings. By pre-scheduling time slots for different tasks, you don’t have to decide what to work on every hour. Having a consistent daily routine eliminate a few decisions off your list and frees your mind from having to take petty decisions.
Limit Your Options
Being faced with too many options can be quite overwhelming and keep us constantly on edge. One way to keep your stress levels in check to simply limit your options. Whenever you have too many options to weight over, start by paring down your options so that you set aside fewer choices to choose from.
For instance, if you are looking for a new dress, choose a store or two instead of roaming around the entire mall. Next, set certain criteria to focus your options, such as your budget, and only select options that come under a specific price point. Setting limits on your options means you won’t exhaust yourself unnecessarily comparing all of the possible choices that are available.
Learn to Say No
Sometimes it can be hard to decide what you want to do and what you don’t. Other times, your choice is clear in your head but you also have to factor in the wants and needs of others. Especially for leaders, the juggle of decision-making gets to the point, where they have to remember what each team member wants, what is good for the entire organization, track due dates for all the projects, who can work on what, and so on. All of this can play a pivotal role in causing decision fatigue.
If you don’t learn to turn down other people’s requests or keep prioritizing the needs of others above yourself, your plans can be sabotaged by last-minute changes, needing you to make even more decisions to juggle it all. Once you learn to say no, you will never bite off more than you can chew.