Have you heard of decision fatigue? If you’re ready to dismiss it as trendy nonsense—how can making decisions exhaust you?—not so fast.
A couple of months ago, I found myself mentally exhausted. I wasn’t sure why: my work hadn’t changed, nor had anything changed much at home. After thinking about my daily routines, I began to wonder whether decision fatigue was to blame.
But what’s “decision fatigue”?
Coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, decision fatigue is the emotional and mental strain resulting from a burden of choices.
Decision fatigue is real: you’re not lazy, your energy is depleted
It turns out that making decisions is tiring. The classic signs of decision fatigue include procrastination and avoidance.
Rather than assuming that we’re being lazy, or indecisive, we may be spending our limited willpower and energy on the wrong things. Who knew that we commonly make thousands of decisions each day?
This article on decision fatigue suggests:
In many ways, your brain is like a courtroom.
Every decision requires time and energy. If you aren’t careful, you can backlog the judge and jury with frivolous cases—when to eat, what to wear, and what to do.
Even the simplest decisions you make every day can exhaust you. Decisions like:
- What to wear each day;
- Choosing which products, sizes and brands to buy when you’re shopping;
- Meal choices. Cook, or eat out?
I still didn’t believe in decision fatigue, but what did I have to lose if I cut down on decisions I made? Amazingly, within a few days, my energy picked up. I felt better… And I got more done.
Here are some of the ways I streamlined things so that I could make fewer decisions.
1. Fewer choices, fewer decisions, more energy
I decided to give myself fewer choices. Instead of standing at my wardrobe each morning wondering what to wear, I made a list of clothes for the week on Sunday afternoon. (I sorted out my clothes too. Clothes I never wore went to charity.)
In addition, for the first time ever, I made meal plans each week. Meal planning turned out to be so useful (less waste) that I made it a monthly process. This cut down on shopping trips and saved money.
At work, I created blocks of time to devote to projects, and dealt with email twice a day–and I was more productive.
2. Routines are your friend: decide once, then do it
“No time to exercise”: I realized that I used a lack of time as an excuse to avoid something I considered unpleasant. Giving myself a choice about exercise was one more thing about which I had to make a decision each day.
Creating an exercise routine eliminated decision-making. So, my routine became gym visits twice a week, a long walk on Saturday morning, and a swim with a friend on Thursday morning before work.
Consider creating routines for things like:
- Shopping and errands;
- House cleaning and maintenance…
A routine takes time to establish. I found myself tempted to procrastination in the first couple of weeks of a new routine; after that, the new routine gradually became a habit.
3. Do important tasks first each day (before you’ve made a heap of decisions)
Willpower is stronger earlier in the day, you’re not exhausted by the decisions you’ve made. What if you scheduled important tasks for earlier in the day?
I set up a new routine: as soon as I got to work, rather than email and phone calls, I scheduled time to work on current projects. Not only did I get more done by the end of the week, my energy level stayed high through the day.
Decision fatigue: is it affecting you?
Are you making too many decisions? If you feel guilty because you think you’re lazy, you may simply have too much to decide.
Try streamlining as much as you can. You may be surprised that not only do you have more energy, you’re getting more done and are enjoying life a lot more.
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