Decision fatigue is a real thing. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision, without paying a biological price, according to an article in the New York Times recently. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually, it looks for shortcuts. Decision fatigue can affect the quality of your decisions.
It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue. You’re not consciously aware of being tired but it depletes your mental energy. This is why you want to be on the operating table first thing in the morning, or writing an exam in the early session, not the late session, or pitching for a business deal earlier rather than later.
The global pandemic has brought decision fatigue into sharp focus. Once upon a time, you sent your children to school and that took care of 100 or more decisions for you. Once upon a time, you went to the office and you didn’t have to think about boiling a kettle for coffee, whether there would be paper in the printer, how to get into the secure network, or how to connect with a colleague. That took care of 100 or more decisions in a day too.
Now add all the worry about getting ill, coping with illness (yourself or that of a family member), or the guilt that you haven’t been sick. And all the decisions you have to consider about social interactions, social distancing and so much more.
Can you see how the space for decision making in your brain is being taken up by so many more things than ever before? It’s little wonder that you are suffering from decision fatigue. Your brain is on a constant treadmill.
It can lead to taking shortcuts and acting impulsively without really thinking through the consequences. Or, we just opt out of making a decision entirely. We avoid having to make a choice. This often creates bigger problems down the line.
Here are some practical ways to avoid decision fatigue:
– Keep your body and your brain hydrated with water
– Eat small, regular snacks throughout the day to keep your glucose levels up
– Take power naps of 20 minutes
– Meditation also frees up the mind and re-energises it
– Get a good night’s sleep
– Make a list of all the major decisions you know you will have to make in the week ahead on a Sunday night (of course there will be many more that come at you all the time – I’m talking big decisions)
– Divide a page in half and write down the decisions on the left-hand side of the page that you are considering, and write down the action on the right-hand side. If you don’t yet know what action needs to be taken or what decision you are going to make, leave it blank.
– The fact that you have written it down opens it up for the answering. You are giving your brain permission to get on with it unconsciously, and surprisingly, when you get back to it consciously, the answer may be obvious without having to expend much energy on it at all.
– Plan to address big decisions first thing in the morning. If you can to get them out of your way, knowing you will make better decisions earlier in the day, the better off you will be.
Big decisions, small decisions: they all add up and take up space and mental energy. How are you handling decision-making fatigue?
TAKEAWAYS FOR WINNING AT WORK
- Become more aware of the concept of decision fatigue and educate your team about it.
- Follow the steps above and see what makes a difference.
- Make this a topic for discussion and monitoring for a month as a team and notice the improvement in your mental and emotional health.
- Remember that avoiding making a choice or decision causes an energy leak.
- Read this related blog: Are you being held to ransom?
TAKEAWAYS FOR WINNING AT HOME AND LIFE
- When do most arguments take place in a relationship? At the end of the day when you are tired.
- When do you make the worst parenting decisions? When you are tired.
- Follow the steps above.
- As parents, you are always looking out for your children. Remember that if you don’t look after yourself (even down to drinking enough water), it will make you emotionally irritable and less able to make good decisions.
- Decision-making fatigue is linked to reacting versus responding – you want to be responding thoughtfully rather than reacting impulsively because little eyes are always watching you.
- You can’t pour from an empty cup.