Managing Decision Fatigue

August 20, 2019
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Do you ever find yourself faced with so many decisions that your brain turns to mush? Maybe you start cleaning the house, scroll aimlessly through your Facebook feed or start binge-watching a Netflix series–all in an effort NOT to make the big decisions that are looming overhead?

As a business owner, I’ve learned that it’s all about momentum, consistency and confidence… and decision fatigue will happily sneak in and thwart any and all productivity!

What is Decision Fatigue and Why Does it Happen?

Decision fatigue, put simply, is the deterioration of our ability to make decisions after a long session of decision making.

Picture this:

You’re a small business owner and parent to 2 kids. You’re up at 5am and you’ve already made the following decisions by 9am:

  • Exercise, yes or no, where and what
  • Do we have what we need for dinner? Is there prep involved?
  • Lunches for the kids–what will it be?
  • What will you wear?
  • What can you assign to your remote staff to begin working on for the day?
  • OMG, there’s soccer tonight and jerseys aren’t clean!
  • It’s ‘crazy hair day’ for the kids–what’s the plan?
  • Clothe, feed, manage kids, get them out the door
  • Time for work…?

It’s quite possible that you’ve cashed out your mental capacity to make informed, smart decisions before the day has even begun.

So why does our ability to make decisions and stay motivated have the tendency to decrease as the day wears on? How can we manage this mental burnout?

As it turns out, no matter how amazing, sensible and strong-willed a person is, no single person is capable of making decision after decision without paying some sort of mental price. Decision fatigue can hit when we least expect it and at the most inopportune times.

So How Can We Manage Decision Fatigue?

The first step is to recognize that you’re human and you can only do so much in a single day 🙂 It’s important to know your limits and when it’s time to take your foot off the gas pedal–if even for just an hour.

But if you run a business or take care of other humans, taking a break isn’t always an option. The following are a few tips that may help you to manage stay sane, stay focused and keep the momentum going:

1. Simply the Everyday as Much as Possible

Consider the small decisions and think about how you can set a routine or automate as much as possible. For instance, meals: I often get frustrated at the end of the day if I’m faced with having to figure out a dinner plan. If I took the time to plan and shop for the week, those decisions have already been made.

simplify wardrobe

Other examples might include: simplifying your wardrobe (Steve Jobs was famous for wearing only turtlenecks and bluejeans), working from the same place every day, following a morning routine that you don’t have to think about every single day.

In other words, do whatever you can to avoid reinventing the wheel!

2. Eat a Frog or 2 (or 5!) Every Morning


Frogs can be delicious, I promise! What do I mean by ‘frog’? Let me answer that question with a question: what are your most important/difficult/potentially unpleasant tasks? Make a master list. Before going to bed each night, pull 2-5 items from that list and tackle them in the morning, without exception. This way you are forced to prioritize, focus your energy and give your full attention to these tasks first thing. Then you can reward yourself with the easier tasks later in the day.

3. The Zeigarnick Effect: Getting in the Zone

The basic concept behind the Zeigarnick effect is this: once we begin a task and really immerse ourselves (as opposed to multitasking!) our brain becomes obsessed with finishing what we started. If we spend too much time obsessing over getting started, that obsession turns to dread and that dread turns to fatigue–which means we’re exhausted before we even begin!

The solution? Take your bigger projects and break them into bite-sized, manageable chunks. Even if the steps are small, progress is getting made. Celebrate the small wins and just KEEP GOING!

4. Decision Making: Pay Attention to When Your Brain is Most Alert

I’ve found that I’m WAY less effective in the evening. In fact, I’m pretty much useless after 6pm. I’ve recognized that in addition to eating some frogs, I also need to make my biggest, most pressing decisions first thing in the morning. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a second wind in the afternoon, but it’s not always something I can count on.Whether an early riser or a night owl, it’s important to note when your energy levels are at their highest. Then you can schedule your day efficiently and do a more effective job of avoiding the dreaded decision fatigue.

5. Delegate and Empower

My final, most powerful tip? Don’t make that decision at all! If you own a business and have a team at the ready, it’s very important to empower those who are capable of stepping up and leading the charge. As a small business owner, I often feel like I have to make…Every. Single. Damn. Decision. But it just isn’t true! Sure, many final decisions are mine to make, but I have a kickass team who is capable of running research, communicating with clients and making smaller choices on behalf of my company.

In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with the following quote:

“People don’t make decisions based on what’s the most important, but based on what’s the easiest to evaluate.”

— Barry Schwartz, psychology professor

As a marketer, I can’t help but think about the importance that decision fatigue has on our potential clients and customers as well. Keeping our messages clear, simple, and consistent will always help our businesses and brands to rise above the rest.

Now go eat some frogs!

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