What is decision fatigue and how you can manage it

Making decisions - even small ones - can wear us down over time. Every day we must decide how to spend every waking minute, what we eat, wear, 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 can result in 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.

Here are some ways to reduce decision fatigue and make your life simpler: 

Reduce your decisions

The best way to minimise decision fatigue is to reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a given day. Look for ways to streamline your choices including:

  • Creating to-do lists to keep on track including shopping lists which help us avoid walking up and down grocery aisles trying to decide what to buy

  • Meal prep or plan your meals - use Sunday as a prep day so you don’t need to think about lunches or dinners during the week

  • Pick out your clothes ahead of time. (Do a Steve Jobs - who was known for his black turtlenecks and jeans - and wear the same things or have set outfits)

  • Find ways to automate certain decisions, such as signing up for automatic bill pay

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.

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.


Design your work day

Researchers have found that time of day impacts our judgment and our ability to make the best decisions. For most of us, the best time of day is in the morning -- that’s when we make accurate and thoughtful decisions. Therefore we should plan meetings for the morning or just after lunch when our mental acuity is high. By afternoon, most people hit a plateau, and in the evening, we start making riskier snap decisions.


Set appointments and alarms in your calendar

Set alarms in your calendar for the mundane things - like going to the gym. Instead of pondering whether you should go or not, if you book the classes and plan your workout schedule, there’s no longer a decision to be made, as you’ve decided ahead of time to show up.


Take a break to recharge

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by too many decisions, take a time-out. Put down the phone, or step away from your computer and do something simple like take a short walk. Give yourself time away so you can come back to your decision-making process rejuvenated.