Decision fatigue could be holding you back

July 25th, 2021

The more choices we are forced to make, the more the quality of our decisions deteriorates.

—Greg McKeown.

You want to make the most of your free time outside of work or after a day of looking after the kids. The time arrives, you're finally free, but you're exhausted and don't want to do anything mentally taxing. The cause of this mental exhaustion, is likely to be decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue refers to the limited energy we have available to make decisions in a day. Mental trade-offs you make when deciding what to buy at the supermarket, what to cook or even what to wear can actually lead to a huge struggle when trying to make a simple decision later in the day.

Making decisions, even small ones can wear us down over time. Apparently by the time the average human goes to bed, they have made around 35,000 decisions! Every decision uses up a bit of time and energy and uses up our willpower.

You might not be aware of it because it doesn't feel the same as physical fatigue. Picture the tired feeling you might have at the end of a day, perhaps just from a seemingly normal day at work. You're low on mental energy and feel like doing something that doesn't use your brain power. The willpower to pick up something you think you want to do or should do is low and you scold yourself for not being more productive in the evening. Slowly you end up in a routine of surviving the working day and coming home to your personal work (whether it's chores, admin or personal projects) with nothing left to give. This is decision fatigue.

The more choices you make in a day the more work you create for you brain.

It can end up leading to reckless choices or impulsive decisions that haven't been well thought through. Or the desire to do nothing, in a tired and lethargic way rather than a refreshing and recharging way.

Decision fatigue crushes willpower.

- Robyn Conely Downs

There are some helpful things we can do to help reduce decision fatigue and keep up the willpower. These strategies increase our chances of being productive during a decision heavy day.

Here are a few to get you started...

To-Do Lists

Making useful lists can help to reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a day, which is the key to combating decision fatigue.

Writing up your tasks for the day can really help offload some of the fatigue. You've decided upfront what you're going to do and that's a few big decisions already made. Research shows that the best decisions are made in the morning, even if you're not a morning person. So deciding how you're going to allocate your time is a good use of that mental energy. Chances are, you make task lists for work. Don't forget to do it for yourself too.

Morning Pages

Morning pages is the process of conscious journalling in the morning. The idea is to make a habit of writing 3 pages of any thoughts that come to mind first thing in the morning. Here, you let your brain free and spill everything out onto the page. Many of these things could be decisions in disguise. Let it all out. You may find that you end up reducing the number of decisions you need to make in a day.

Meal planner

Setting up a meal planner in your bullet journal or a spreadsheet can significantly reduce the number of decisions you need to make. Apparently, we make around 226 decisions per day about food! Something that has helped me is breaking up the week by type of cuisine. E.g. Monday is indian night, Tuesday clean food night, Wednesday Italian. I then made a full list of the things I like to cook (or even order) within that cuisine. Like 5 different curries I can make on Indian night. Then at the beginning of the week or when you're buying groceries, make all of the specific decisions upfront. Decide on what you'll eat each day, whether you're cooking or eating out.

Clothes Rotation

My friend Livie, doesn't need to choose what to wear to work everyday, she know's exactly what she wears to work Monday - Friday for 2 weeks. A different outfit for each day is planned once, and at the end of the 2 weeks she starts again with the first outfit. She changes the wardrobe items by season, so within a season there are no clothing decisions to make - genius!

It also helps to have a minimal wardrobe. Don't have things that you don't wear in your wardrobe, remove them from sight. They will add to your fatigue just by being there! I like to have a few options to choose from and lot's of empty space in my wardrobe between clothes.

Favourite places to go

Sometimes meeting an indecisive friend can trigger decision fatigue. After finally agreeing a date you're asked the big question: where shall we go? You're then left with this burden to decide from all the places you could possibly go, while trying to figure out what would work for you and them.

Start listing your favourite places to go. London is a huge place, so I have a small list of restaurants and bars for every area I like to go out in.

If you have decisive friends or family who send you a message saying "Want to come here on this date?" Take a moment to appreciate them and how they actually help save you from decision fatigue!

Lists for repeatable events

In my August bullet journal setup I wrote up a packing list for weekend camping trips. This includes every single item I will need to pack for me, by category. Doing this upfront means I can pack freely without overthinking. I can glance at my list which will remind me of anything I may have forgotten and I don't need to be plagued by decisions and choices all week while thinking about what I'm packing. Writing the list is a one time effort, and you can use it for every weekend away.

Process for making decisions

Having a strategy for making decisions can significantly reduce the mental requirements of a decision. A standard pros and cons list always helps when weighing up options. Shopping online can be a big mental strain because of all the options your brain has to process. Pros and cons lists can help here.

I also like the one problem, 10 ideas method when facing a challenging decision. Write down the problem and list 10 potential solutions. This helps you see all of your options upfront, which reduces fatigue and helps you come to a conclusion swiftly.

These are just a few options, to give you an idea of how to reduce the number of decisions you make in a day. It's worth taking the time to think about how you can use your journals to help reduce decision fatigue. Achieving this can work wonders for your productivity and leave you feeling refreshed and energised at the end of every day.

For more insights like this, you can sign up to my weekly newsletter here and subscribe to my YouTube Channel. You can also find me on instagram here.

With love,