Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of our decisions after a long session of making decisions.
Why this is important is that decision fatigue causes us to make unhealthy and unproductive choices in our lives such as impulsive purchases as well as bad mistakes at work.
Decision fatigue is what happens when we are confronted not only by too many decisions but also by too much choice, these choices and decisions don’t have to be difficult there just needs to be a lot of them and for long enough for decision fatigue to happen.
Today we want choice, we want freedom, we want to make our own decisions, but with this is what psychologists call the ‘Decision Paradox’ where;
People who lack choices seem to want them and often will fight for them, whilst at the same time, people find that making many choices can be psychologically aversive.
The noise of modern life brings us a barrage of emails every day, a plethora of choice at the supermarket, and even a queue paralysis at Starbucks when trying to order coffee, modern life adds up to brain frazzle.
A famous example of decision fatigue is from a study of court judges who were shown to make a less favourable decision later in the day when deciding on giving a favourable ruling for parole, this dropped from 65% to less than 10 % by the end of the day.
But it’s not just judges in court, decision fatigue happens to all of us, ask yourself when was the last time you ever felt indecisive, or made a rush decision because you were tired, I spend my working day making countless important decisions, yet when I get home I can’t even decide on what to have for tea.
Avoiding Decision Fatigue.
Lets start with the hypothesis that there are only so many decisions you can make in a day.
With this in mind you won’t be surprised just how much small daily decisions impact the willpower you have for important choices, so where possible free yourself up by delegating the small stuff to free yourself up for what you really need to do; I like to quote Peter Drucker who advised;
“Don’t do well what doesn’t need to be done at all”.
Additionally if you are tired, fatigued, hungry or thirsty decision fatigue happens far quicker, if you doubt this just think of the impulse buys you made last time you went to a supermarket hungry after a hard day at work.
If there are only so many decisions you can make in a day before you get fatigued it makes sense to make the important decisions earlier in the day or after a break, Stephen Covey’s advice of ‘doing first things first’ is therefore priceless because earlier in the day our concentration, and self control is at its highest.
To avoid decision fatigue self awareness is essential, if you can identify when you are struggling or when your energy levels are low you can avoid making important decisions at the wrong time, when you’re tired do your mundane tasks, and when you a fully motivated tackle the important things.
In a perfect world a siesta would be a fine thing, there’s little chance of this in my job, but there needs to be awareness of when you need a break, likewise you also need to be aware of your physiological needs, and eat, hydrate and take a break to avoid fatigue.
I also find it makes sense to plan decisions, or to clearly identify important tasks the night before.
Getting back to the original hypothesis for us to save ourselves for the important decisions at work you may need to simplify the rest of your life, remember the last time you arrived at work stressed and had a terrible day, this was probably all down to the fact that your morning routine was disrupted by something minor that made your day a little more complicated.
Try automating your day the best you can, this will reduce the amount of decisions you will need to make, to do this you need to schedule jobs and set daily routines. By setting routine and making it stick, you are relying on habit and not willpower to get things done, the fact is will power is finite and is easily depleted by multiple decisions, in contrast habits are almost effortless and are completed without a thought.
The last bit of advice I can give is to learn how to switch off your mind to what is not important, and if a flow state of effortless doing is something you can zone into at work that’s great, but for most of us especially those with jobs littered by multiple distractions and disruption the only thing we can do is to learn how to become more mindful allowing us become detached from the melee of modern life and the worries of our own mind, perhaps then mindful meditation is the key.
Avoid or delegate when you can.
Simplify your life.
Rely on schedule and routine.
Create positive habits.
Have self awareness.
Tackle the big things earlier in the day.
The next time your brain is numb from decisions, the next time you feel frazzled at work, the next time you make an impulse buy, or even if you just take the decision of indecision and miss your junction when trying to drive home after a long day at the office, perhaps decision fatigue is the problem and the advice in this article will be priceless.