Deciding everything from which pay of socks to wear to which candidate to hire is cumulatively exhausting.
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Making decisions, even small, seemly harmless ones, can wear us down over time. Every day we must decide how to spend every waking minute — what we eat and wear, what we work on, what we do with our spare time. By bedtime, the average person has made 35,000 decisions. Every decision requires time and energy, and depletes our willpower.
This is called decision fatigue, and it’s different from physical fatigue. You’re not consciously aware of being tired, but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts. This may cause you to become reckless in your decision-making, acting impulsively instead of thinking things through. Or you may simply do nothing, which can create bigger problems in the long run.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can keep this from happening. Learn you how can combat decision fatigue, replenish your willpower and boost your productivity during a decision-heavy day with these nine simple steps.
1. Make fewer decisions.
The best way to reduce decision fatigue is to reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a given day. Look for ways to streamline your choices. Avoid random decision-making by using lists throughout your day. To-do lists keep us on track. Shopping lists help us avoid walking up and down grocery aisles trying to decide what to buy.
Plan your meals the night before, so you know what you’re having for breakfast, whether or not you’re going to pack a lunch and what you’ll make for dinner. Stop trying on 10 different outfits in the morning; pick out your clothes ahead of time. Find ways to automate certain decisions, such as signing up for automatic bill pay for the regular bills. Instead of thinking through which route to take when driving somewhere, use a GPS to help you navigate where you need to go.
2. Delegate decisions.
You can delegate decisions the same way you delegate tasks. By giving responsibility for decision-making to other people, you reduce the number of decisions on your plate. Consider your responsibilities in your home life, work and elsewhere. Are there obligations you can delegate to someone else? This means you’ll need to stop micromanaging those around you and have confidence that others will do their part.
Managers can delegate some decisions to employees. Parents can delegate certain things to children. There are times when we can delegate to friends and family. This could be as simple as asking a friend to put together a playlist for a party or asking the person you’re meeting up with to pick the restaurant for dinner. When done right, delegating can empower people and show them that you trust them.
3. Have a process for making decisions.
When you have to make difficult or important decisions and you have several options to weigh, use a decision matrix to help you make the best determination. A decision matrix helps you analyze your choices by listing the options and the factors you need to consider and then scoring it by the importance of each factor you are weighing. This may sound complicated, but once you get the hang of it, a decision matrix can be extremely helpful.
A decision matrix can clear up confusion and remove emotion when you’re faced with multiple choices and countless variables. Unlike a simple list of pros and cons, a decision matrix allows you to place importance on each factor. Here’s one great example of a decision matrix template you can use.
4. Make big decisions in the morning.
Researchers have found that time of day impacts our judgment and our ability to make the best decisions. It might seem to make sense that morning people make their best decisions in the morning and night owls make their best decisions at night, but researchers have found this just isn’t so. For most of us, the best time of day is in the morning — that’s when we make accurate and thoughtful decisions. By afternoon, most people hit a plateau, and in the evening, we start making riskier snap decisions.
According to the study, people tend to change their decision-making policies throughout the day. In the morning, they tend to be more cautious and meticulous in their choices. But as the day wears on and decision fatigue sets in, they start making riskier decisions. So if you have a have a big decision that requires careful consideration, aim to make it in the morning.
5. Limit your options.
Having too many choices will stress you out. You become mired in your decision-making and start second-guessing yourself. This often happens when we’re making purchases and are faced with endless options and alternatives. Our decision fatigue is heightened by our desire to “shop around” and get the best deal. It all takes up so much energy and overloads the brain.
Try paring down your options, so you have a limited number of choices. Often, the benefit of spending a great deal of time investigating a wide range of choices is negligible — you might save a few dollars, but you’ll end up feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Instead, pick two or three to compare and don’t spend too much time wading through the pros and cons. Make a decision and stick to it.
6. Set deadlines to space out decisions.
Decision fatigue can often occur toward the end of a long, complex project that you’ve been working on over weeks, months or years. As the end of the project looms, there may be many last-minute decisions to make, which you’ve been putting off until now. This is when people start making snap decisions and bad choices because the length and intensity of the project have worn them down.
The solution is to create micro-deadlines that force you to act early and not keep pondering your choices. Don’t set yourself up to make critical decisions at the eleventh hour. Space out these decisions so you’re truly using your best judgment.
7. Simplify your life.
Constantly needing to make decisions can leave you feeling depleted and eat away at your willpower. That’s why, after a busy, exhausting day, we’re tempted to eat junk food, skip our workout and veg out on the couch. Making healthy choices just seems beyond our self-control. If this is you, it’s time to scale back. Find ways to simplify your life. Cut out things that aren’t important.
Hobbies, activities and volunteering are all great and wonderful things to do, but if you’ve reached the point where you’re overwhelmed, it’s time to drop the excess commitments in your life. Having fewer tasks and activities will lead to fewer decisions and will help you feel restored and in control of the choices you do make.
8. Stop second-guessing yourself.
We often get trapped in the mindset that everything we do needs to be perfect, and this puts a lot of pressure on us to make the “right” choice, because a “wrong” choice could somehow ruin something. The truth is, this is rarely the case. Still, we regret our choices and wallow in uncertainty over the selection we made. It’s time to let go and move on.
Stop second-guessing yourself. Stop going back and pondering your choices to see if you like something else better — that will only make you regret all the time you’ve wasted. And most likely, the choice you made to begin with, the path you picked or the selection you opted for, is just as good as any other option out there. Now you need to focus on making it great.
9. Develop daily routines that put less-important tasks on autopilot.
Establish daily routines that minimize and simplify your choices. By having firm habits and a strict routine, you put certain decisions on autopilot. Set a wake-up time and stick with it. Instead of debating whether you should work out or not, have a routine that establishes what days and at what time you exercise.
Eat a variation of the same healthy breakfast every morning. Pack a simple lunch every day. Instead of agonizing over what to wear every morning, have established outfits that you rotate each week. Many successful people have a handful of go-to outfits. President Barack Obama talked about wearing only gray or blue suits while in office so he didn’t have to give too much thought to what he would wear.
Steve Jobs was known for his black turtlenecks and jeans, and Mark Zuckerberg sports his iconic gray Brunello Cucinelli T-shirt. Whatever your preferences, make it a routine. Doing all this will help you waste less time and create consistency in your life so you know exactly what comes next without a lot of thought. It will also help you conserve your willpower and give you self-control.