Having landed on this article, it is safe to assume that at least once in your life, you have experienced decision fatigue (if not every day like I do), and that didn’t end well for you. Therefore, you’re looking for a solution. Before we jump to the strategies, let’s be clear on the causes of decision fatigue:
- Too many decisions
- Too many choices or variables
- Too many distractions
- Lack of energy and hunger
- Lack or misunderstanding of priority
- Laziness and mood swings
- Aiming for perfection
For the sake of clarity, I’m dividing the article into two sections: things you can implement right away and things that will keep decision fatigue away in the long term.
Things you can implement right away to avoid decision fatigue
#1 Mornings are for the most important decisions
You are rested, refreshed and haven’t had to make many decisions yet. I’m talking about the time after getting up and finishing your morning business before reaching for your tea, coffee or newspaper. Take out your day’s to-do list and mark your most important tasks. Mull over on your decision-making approach for each of those and schedule them for the first half of the day.
Having done the most important tasks in the morning gives you a confidence boost that helps in the latter half. For afternoon tasks, you’ll find your thoughts much clearer because you already figured out the route early morning.
#2 Plan your to-dos and decisions in advance
You can follow #1 only if you have your to-do list ready the night before. So, discipline yourself to create your next day’s to-do list during the night. You could even include items like what to cook for breakfast and lunch. That way, you save your morning clarity for more important tasks and decisions. This is meal prep 2.0!
#3 Keep it simple for less important decisions
A red toothbrush or blue toothbrush? Does colour affect the efficacy of the toothbrush’s main function? No, right? Then, why waste time and energy in choosing the colour. Just get any and be on your way out.
The same goes for outfits. If all you need to do is look professional, then choose a work uniform and stick to it. The more important decisions will be made by the person in those clothes and not the clothes themselves. So, keep that person’s mind as clear and focused as possible.
“You’ll see I wear only grey 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.”
~ Barack Obama
If Obama can get away with that, so why can’t you?
#4 Avoid making decisions on an empty stomach
We’ve all seen the Snickers ads where we don’t remain ourselves when we are hungry. There have been studies confirming that we make our worst decisions when our brain is preoccupied in looking for things to eat. Also, recall how shopping groceries while hungry has led you to purchase things you never even wanted to.
Scientifically speaking, our stomach produces a hormone called ghrelin when it’s empty. While this hormone increases our appetite, it also decreases impulse control leading to impaired decision making. So, remember this common Indian phrase, “Pehle peyt puja, fir kaam duja” (Stomach work first, Other work later) and feed your tummy.
#5 Good-enough now, perfection later
Often, we dwell in the quicksand of perfection caring more about the fancy trimmings rather than the crucial content. This usually leads to delayed projects, half-done deliveries, and procrastination making you feel like a failure. Psychologically, this could hamper your decision making.
So, ship away the projects when they reach the “good enough” stage. You can always perfect them later. If that’s not possible, assign yourself a faux submission date that is before the actual submission date. Do the “good enough” part till the faux date and perfect it until the final date of submission.
#6 Schedule a digital detox every day
If you keep checking your email every time one pops up in your inbox, you’ll never be able to do the real task. The same goes for social media notifications and meetings. So, it’s important to schedule a few hours every day for your own work.
You could set a byline in your email mentioning the time you’ll be reading and responding to emails so that you don’t leave people panicked. If there’s a real crisis, they’ll call you up. For social media and other notifications, you can enable the work or Zen mode.
#7 Take the weekend off
Extending the detox philosophy from hours to days, take the weekends off from work to indulge in self-growth and hobbies that help you relax. In the past year, I have taken great interest in gardening and boy, how that paid off!
There’s a reason we get our best idea while sitting on a pot or lying down in a bathtub. Prefrontal cortex or the thinking part of our brain is responsible for logic, reasoning, making decisions, impulses, etc. When we pull back from chaos and turn off thinking, our subconscious brain takes over. It taps into connections and knowledge that prefrontal cortex cannot. By giving our brain a break, we allow it to reveal us with innovative ways of solving problems and arriving at decisions.
So, indulge in a hobby or a luxurious bath. Archimedes is proof enough that it works!
#8 Batch your work
In a day, not everything we do is creative that would require a lot of variable dabbling. A major chunk of it is managerial and clerical work. That stands true for even the creative folks. Even they have a pile of emails, work uploads, and meeting to tend to. They may not have to like it, but it’s a part of their job. So, instead of juggling them all the time, they batch it.
Take a leaf from their diary and batch your work. Not only will you find your mind clearer for more important decisions, but you’ll also see a boost in your productivity. This goes in line with #6.
Want to boost your productivity further? Try the Pomodoro Technique!
Things that will keep decision fatigue away in the long term
#9 Go minimalist
In a world full of distraction, minimalism seems like the way forward. It is a lifestyle movement that aims to cut down on possessions, so you only have the essential items. When you remove clutter and chaos, you create more space in life and your mind. This vastly improves your decision making as you have greater clarity on what’s really important.
Now, I’m not asking you to dump everything and start living out of your suitcase. I’m suggesting that occasionally, take time to reflect on what things are necessary and what is just noise.
#10 Evaluate your values and priorities
FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) seems to be an unofficial psychological pandemic these days. Giving in to addressing our FOMO means turning down other things; things we may regret not doing later.
So, it’s important to know our values and priorities. Is clicking the picture more important than enjoying the food you cooked in the company of those who are admiring your effort in the real-time? Is showing where you went more important than learning about the place? For some people, it may be. But is it for you?
Once you know what’s more important, your focus shifts to making decisions that add value to your lifestyle rather than boosting your ego momentarily.
#11 Turn decisions into commitments
This one requires discipline and not motivation. Motivation is like a moody bird, but discipline and habits are a life’s anchors.
Once you’ve decided to do a certain thing, say run a 5k and write a book, commit to it in your calendar. Don’t say, I’ll run a 5k and finish my manuscript this year. Instead, schedule days for the activity in your calendar – alternate days for each. So, when Monday arrives, you don’t have to choose between running or writing. You can see it in the calendar and just get on with it.
Go one step further and schedule even the time so that when you’re planning your next day’s to-dos at night, you rearrange your other tasks accordingly.
Over to you
Can you avoid decisions? I don’t think so.
Can you avoid decision fatigue? You could try. You must try.
Decision fatigue is one of the primary reasons why we may be falling behind our goals and hitting into disappointments at every turn. I hope these eleven tips help you avoid and minimise such instances and lead a more intentional life.