6 Tips to Help You Manage Decision Fatigue
How to Manage Decision Fatigue
You may not realize that you make thousands of decisions daily: Should I park here or there? Mustard or mayo? The blue tie or the red one? End my marriage or give it another try? Your cognitive resources start depleting the moment you get out of bed each day. Decision fatigue describes the state in which your cognitive resources become drained after making too many decisions. Manage decision fatigue by implementing practices that reduce mental drain, becoming better at making decisions, and maintaining your willpower.
Reducing Mental Drain
Adopt a minimalist lifestyle.One of the best ways to hold on to your cognitive resources is to reduce the amount of decisions you have to make in the first place. In other words, simplify. You can do this by embracing minimalism.
- Avoid decision fatigue by choosing simpler clothing items. For instance, you might drastically cut down your wardrobe to a basic uniform. Maybe you could wear a t-shirt and jeans on most days. Or, black slacks and a plain blouse to work each day.
- You can also use a minimalist technique for other parts of your home, like reducing your books and movies to include only your favorite choices.
Prepare ahead.Cut out the choices you have to make on a daily basis by doing things in advance. In general, you might make tons of decisions daily, but if you group many of them to specific times, you remove fatigue from other days.
- For instance, you might prepare your meals for the week on Sunday, do your grocery shopping on Saturday morning, and deep-clean on Saturday afternoon. By prepping ahead and isolating certain choices to less hectic days you won’t have to worry about fitting them in during more taxing days.
- Make sure to write down your plans for the week as well to help keep yourself on schedule. This way you will not need to decide anything. You will just have to keep to your schedule.
Streamline and automate what you can.Find services that decipher your shopping or decision-making habits and start making them for you. All it takes is a bit of time on the front end. Define your routine and preferences with various available services that can be tailored to your life.
- Clothing selection sites like Stitch Fix, grocery ordering and meal planning apps, and entertainment services like Netflix and Pandora all monitor your typical decisions and then save your preferences to expand on in the future.
- You won’t have to decide on a TV show because Netflix will present one that is similar to those you’ve watched in the past. You won’t have to spend an afternoon trolling around malls when you set your style preferences and receive carefully curated outfits in the mail.
- You can also group your errands together into one trip to help reduce your need to plan on a route. For example, you could plan to stop at different places on your way home from work in the order that you pass them.
Shop at stores with fewer, higher-quality options.Many stores are starting to understand the overwhelm and fatigue shoppers experience from too many choices. Having too many selections causes analysis paralysis, taking up too much of your time and depleting your willpower.
- To minimize analysis paralysis, look for retailers that focus on providing high-quality but limited choices. Suggestions include grocers like Trader Joes or specialty shops that feature quality products with fewer choices.
- You can also research what products you want to buy before going to the store. This way, you will not need to make these comparisons while you are shopping.
Adopting Better Decision-Making Skills
Prioritize decisions, and make them early in the day.Many people celebrate the time-saving benefits of making a daily to-do list each night before bed. Take this concept further by ranking your decisions from important to not-so-important. Then, prioritize the most important ones for the next morning.
- Decision fatigue builds and self-control declines as the day goes on. Make sure you tackle the most significant decisions first.
Limit your choices.If you’re struggling with making a decision, try narrowing down your options a bit. You’re more likely to become fatigued—and put the decision off—when you have a seemingly infinite list of options. Skip choice overload and narrow yours down to three top picks. Then, choose from there.
- For example, if you include every possible country and city in your list of vacation options, you’ll have trouble deciding. Instead, select three destinations you’re most interested in. Then, narrow it down further from those three options until you pick a winner.
Enforce a time-limit on decisions.The more time you have to make a decision, the more time it may take you to make it. Setting a time limit on your decision-making may help to make it easier for you to make the decision. Like deadlines that motivate you to get a task done, set a time-frame for your decision-making window. This minimizes the amount of time and energy you spend in analysis paralysis.
- Depending on how big the decision is, give yourself a suitable window (e.g. eight hours, a day, or a week).
Create “if-then” rules.Another useful decision-making habit is the “if-then” scenario. By establishing what you’ll do when a certain circumstance occurs, you reduce the need to decide. This can be especially helpful when you are forced to make decisions under pressure, when frustrated, or when tired.
- For instance, you might say, “If I have completed 75% of my homework, I will go out with friends.” If the conditions aren’t met, you don’t do it. This will help to make you feel more in control.
Don’t look back after making a choice.Another cause of decision fatigue is second-guessing a decision once it’s been made. Doing so drains you of mental energy, and can even result in anxiety. As a rule-of-thumb, once you’ve made a decision, take down the rearview mirror and proceed with confidence, no matter what.
- One exception to this rule: engage in a period of reflection after a bad mistake. Although you shouldn't dwell, spend some time figuring out where you went wrong and how you can avoid a similar bad decision in the future.
Holding on to Your Willpower
Take breaks.It is important to make decisions while you are in the right mindset. A simple fix for a drained supply of willpower is to hit the pause button. Rather than pushing yourself to make tough decisions or complete challenging tasks when you’re short on willpower, take a moment of respite to replenish your stores.
- Go for a walk around the block. Close your eyes and turn on some soft music. Listen to a meditation video or guided imagery exercise on YouTube.
- If you are upset or flustered, don’t make a decision in this state. Wait until you are calm and rational to make the decision.
Go to sleep.Rest up, literally, and you’ll experience a boost in self-control and fend off decision fatigue. That’s why so many people say they’ll “sleep on it” when making a difficult decision. When you have less willpower, you become easily fatigued by decisions and have a harder time resisting desires. When you get a good night’s sleep of at least 8 hours each day, you’ll feel more equipped to make decisions.
Remove distractions that threaten self-control.Avoiding temptations uses up cognitive resources just as decision-making does. Reduce the temptations and you’ll have more willpower left over to make important decisions.
- For instance, if you’re trying to eat clean, don’t bring junk food into your home. Place the unhealthy snacks in bottom cabinets and shelves and stock healthy options at eye-level in clear containers.
- Similarly, if you’re itching to skip work and play a video game or binge-watch Netflix, it may not be the best idea to work from home that day. Go to a local library or coffee shop that doesn’t feature such irresistible temptations.
- Try to avoid multi-tasking as much as possible. It can increase your stress levels and cause you to feel distracted, which is not a good mindset for making decisions.Turn off your phone, TV, or computer when you have to make decision.
Video: Fighting Decision Fatigue
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