Decision fatigue: weariness from mental exertion in making too many decisions.
A result of the 35,000 conscious decisions we make every day. Or so says the internet. I had no luck finding the source for this stat, so this number may not be based on any factual evidence. No matter, because it’s pretty safe to say we have to make a lot of decisions every day. And, the more responsibilities we have the more decisions we are required to make.
As working mothers our lives are filled with decisions that need to be made.
Making decision after decision after decision saps us of the mental energy we need to make good decisions. Similar to drinking alcohol, the more decisions we make the more impaired our brains.
Plenty of our decisions are rather inconsequential. Yet, they still require our energy. And, the more small decisions we have to make in our day, the more limited our ability to think through bigger, more significant ones. As a result, we aren’t equipped to make sound decisions. Instead of thinking through the consequences, we act impulsively. Or, we avoid making choices altogether.
It is this very impact that led President Barack Obama to pare down his decisions during his presidency: “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
It’s safe to say that if you’re reading this article you aren’t a head of state of a free nation. But as parents, professionals (and any other role we play in life) there is a lot riding on the decisions we make every day. That’s why it’s so important to reduce the number of decisions we have to make in a given day.
Here are 5 decision hacks that will help you conserve your decision-making energy for the ones that matter most.
Delegate decision making
The best way to reduce decision making is to actually reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a given day. Take stock of your responsibilities at home, at work and elsewhere in your life. As you do, consider which tasks can be transitioned to someone else – your partner, a colleague, a sibling or your child. By shifting the responsibility, you also shift the mental load that comes with it.
Batch your decisions
Many of the decisions we have to make in a given day are the very same ones we made yesterday and we’ll have to make tomorrow. Food decisions are a prime example. In a given day, it’s estimated, we make about 200 food-related decisions. We can’t go a day without eating. And, if you’re anything like me, making choices in the moment usually results in unhealthy options that leaves me starved of the energy I need to get through my day.
The solution? Batch similar decisions to one point in time, preferably on a day when you don’t have to make many other decisions. For example, Saturday mornings I plan out our weekly dinner menu. I do the same for lunches. I have a roster of healthy, taste-tested meals that I rotate through, so within 15 minutes I’ve eliminated at least 10 daily decisions for the week ahead.
Use the power of lists
Many of our decisions can be made easier with a list. Using a list – in whatever fashion suits you (paper, digital, etc) – allows us to eliminate decision-making and focus us on taking action.
A running list is especially powerful. Keeping a running grocery list within arm’s reach in your kitchen can allow you to jot down items you have to pick up the next time you’re at the market. This way, when you’re at the shop you just have to check off the items on the list with very few decision making.
We can achieve the same benefits by creating projects lists or developing a daily schedule to guide the work you’ll do. Before heading home for the day, spend 10 minutes to list out the things you need to work on the next day. Keep your list in a prominent spot, so the next time you’re back at your desk you know exactly what to work on first without having to make a decision.
Limit your options
It’s a frustrating way to start the day by standing in front of your overstuffed closet unsure what to wear to work. It not only chews up your decision-making brain power, it also wastes times. The more choices we have, the more difficult it is to make a choice.
The natural solution, then, is to limit choices. You can streamline your closet to specific pieces, creating a uniform of t-shirts and jeans a la Mark Zuckerberg or colors like President Obama who only wore grey and navy suits. You can create a capsule wardrobe where you limit the number of pieces or outfits in your closet. Or you can limit your shopping to one brand or shop that offers clothing that fits your body and pieces that work well together.
Get bigger bang for your decision-making buck by trying a few of these at the same time.
Set really firm routines.
Another way to simplify the choices in any given decision is to create strict routines or firm habits in your daily life. Doing so will put your brain on autopilot and limit groups of decision at any one time. Many of us already take the same route to work every day. Or we take lunch at the same time each day.
A firm morning or evening routine, for example, can eliminate issues and improve efficiency so you can enjoy these key times of the day with your family. Where else can you create routines to reduce decision making?
When there are too many decisions to be made, we all pay a mental price. These 5 decision hacks will reduce the number of decisions you have to make every day, so you have the mental capacity to make effective decisions when it really matters. Plus, many of these strategies will help you get more productive at work, at home and anywhere in between.
What do you do to avoid decision fatigue? Tell us in the comments below.