I had two clients break down into tears this last month over how overwhelmed they’re feeling. Mile long to do lists that seem never ending. Too many responsibilities with no ability to delegate or even defer much. Feeling on the edge of not just burnout, but a breakdown. In trying to figure out tools that could help, something hit me: decision fatigue is one of the factors adding to stress, overwhelm, and tears.
Decision fatigue, my dear, is real. It stems from having so many decisions to make that the brain becomes lethargic. It’s exacerbated by our society’s addiction to busyness and perfection. Your brain gets so tired of deciding, that it just begs you to take the easy way out. This is why it’s hard to stick to a diet when you’re tired. This is why it’s hard to devote time and energy to your dreams when you have a lot on your plate.
Decision fatigue is more pronounced when you’re dealing with stress or life changes. Even good life changes – like a new job, completing that book of yours, or falling in love – can exhaust that brain of yours.
One of the most powerful things you can do for yourself and your life is to decide that you desire more and are going to make it happen. Unfortunately, if you’re so overwhelmed with the sheer volume of decisions you are making to survive the day, it’s hard to put any energy towards making the decisions that propel your life forward.
Please don’t roll your eyes or mutter the words about it being a “first world problem”. First of all, let’s be clear here: so called first world problems are still causing stress and anxiety to the person experiencing them. Trying to shame someone into a belief that their problems aren’t big or real compared to others is crap. Comparative suffering eases no one’s pain. And yes, I am a fan of perspective. It’s always helpful to get perspective on anything happening in our life. No matter how much perspective you get, though, the body and mind reacts to stress no matter how someone else might judge the stressor.
But let’s not digress. I really want to be clear with you: decision fatigue is real and it can derail you from loving your life. Since I’m all about helping you create a life you love, let’s explore ways to deal with it. Because dealing with decision fatigue is one of the ways you can improve your devotion to goals, reduce your feelings of overwhelm, increase your productivity, and love your life.
I’ve long been a proponent of getting off the busy train, choosing ways to be more efficient and productive instead of simply busier. Finding ways to combat decision fatigue in your life will help all of this. And more.
Here are Nine Ways to DEAL with Decision Fatigue:
One – Begin with Awareness
Also consider if this is a temporary period like a crunch time and once you reach a deadline, goal, or date, things will naturally ease up. This is where big life events like moving, a job change, or a wedding coming in. This is also where work events – graduation and end of year stuff for teachers and counselors, tax season for CPAs, book deadlines for writers, or big conferences to prepare for – are ways to bring awareness that though you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, you just have to get to the other side of whatever big event is happening so you can take a breath.
Awareness around what’s happening in your life allows you to set aside tasks for a later date, after the crunch. Awareness also allows you to gain that perspective you may need to defer things until later in the year.
Two – Streamline Your Wardrobe
When you read about the habits of powerful and successful people, it’s not uncommon to learn that they either wear the same thing every day – ala Steve Jobs with his turtle necks and jeans. Choreographer Twyla Tharp shares that she wears the same workout clothes and leg warmers every day because it saves her mental energy for honing her craft. The idea behind their limited wardrobe was simple: With so many important decisions throughout the day, why start with deciding what to wear?
I well remember those days of trying on two or three things before trying to get to the office each morning! What a waste of mental energy, to use up so much brain power on what I’m going to wear, right? You may not want to wear the same thing every day, so here are some real solutions to dealing with what to wear and reducing your decision fatigue.
- Choose a uniform. This can be as simple as a blouse with slacks, a sheath dress paired with a jacket or scarf, or uniform of a flattering skirt with a cute top. Or, you can do the Steve Jobs thing and wear the same kind of top and bottom every day.
- Choose a color scheme. Sticking to a basic color scheme for your wardrobe means that everything mixes and matches without too much brain drain. It doesn’t have to be boring, either. You can do black and white with accents of hot pink, for example. I have begun doing this when I travel to help reduce the number of shoes and accessories I need to pack.
- Clean your closet. It’s upsetting to put on a skirt and realize it doesn’t button or is way too big. Clearing what doesn’t fit, is out of style, or worn out reduces decision fatigue and frustration. Then, when you go to get dressed every morning, no matter what you put on will fit.
- Plan what you’re going to wear. By deciding what you’re going to wear all week, putting the outfits together, and then just grabbing them when you’re trying to get out the door sounds overly simplified. However, it will help you combat decision fatigue. You can plan a week or two at a time and line them up in your closet. Be sure and add any accessories. This also allows you some flexibility, the choice to skip the skirt on a rainy day and grab the pants and sweater you selected instead.
Three – What’s for Dinner?
After dealing with traffic, work, and constant demands on your brain all day, the last thing you want to do is go home and deal with the dreaded and inevitable “what’s for dinner?” question. Meal planning, my dear, is your friend. Not only does meal planning reduce decision fatigue, it lessens the whole family’s stress levels.
This can be as simple as choosing to eat the same thing every day, which a lot of folks do. You can mix it up more than that if it sounds boring. You can do rotating meal plans, where you plan two to four weeks of meals and then rotate the menus. Or, you can create a meal template to ease decision making: Crock Pot Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc.
Four – Embrace Daily Routines to Reduce Decision Fatigue
The point of creating routines is that they build habits. When you choose to create powerful routines, this habit allows you to sail from one task to the next without needing to make a decision. Routines are also about energy management. I have three routines: mornings to help me begin the day well, evening routines to better manage winding down as well as setting myself up for a smoother tomorrow, and a 2 PM slump routine, to deal with that later afternoon period when my energy lags.
As an example, my non-client morning routines look like this: I wake, make JB’s lunch, and when he heads to work I have coffee while I write in my journal. Then, I work out, shower, eat, and head to my desk. I don’t have to decide if I’m going to work out or when, it’s a part of my routine. I don’t have slip into checking Facebook or Email because I don’t go down to my office until other stuff is done.
Creating routines not just helps you with creating habits, they allow you to be more productive and efficient. Routines reduce decision fatigue because you’ve already made decisions on how to wide swaths of your time.
Five – Prioritize the Hard Stuff for the Morning
Speaking of morning routines, better managing your mornings is crucial for educing decision fatigue. When you embrace the concept of doing the hardest stuff on your to do list early in the day, it allows you to make better decisions and be more productive. Because, honestly, the further into the day we get, the more interruptions we face, the more unexpected tasks can derail our plans, and the further into the day we go, the more drained we become.
In order to set yourself up for being more efficient in the mornings and tackling those harder tasks, set your priorities the day before. (Yes, write them down.)When you choose one to three “must dos” on the top of the list, you can dive into the day with these priorities ready to dive into. Tackling those earlier in the day allows other, smaller tasks – or the mindless ones – to fill in the other parts of your day.
This also reduces decision fatigue because you’ve already made the decision to tackle X, Y, and Z before lunch.
Six – Choose to Build Momentum
Decision fatigue makes us feel not just overwhelmed, it can feel as if our life is out of control. Science can help when you take advantage of the Zeigarnick Effect. In the late 1920’s, Bluma Zeigarnik’s research found that once we start a task, our brain becomes obsessed with finishing it. This is why cliffhangers in television shows make us so ready to watch the next episode.
You can channel this in your life to not only be more productive, but reduce decision fatigue. Why? Because it allows you to create momentum around the tasks you need to complete. I’m the first to admit that getting started is sometimes the hardest part, so when you bulk like tasks together, this chain creates momentum to get more done. The decision to (a) bulk like tasks and (b) decide only when to begin a single task allow you to do more. It helps decision fatigue because you don’t have to make the decision to start additional tasks.
Don’t use this tip just for work, use it around the house as well. Meal prep by chopping vegetables for multiple days at one time. The momentum on tasks like that carry over to future days, giving you back some time.
Seven – Create If-Then Rules for Yourself
Another way to reduce decision fatigue, build new habits, and take advantage of the concept of momentum is to create if-then rules for yourself. Like creating standards for your life, if-then rules help you channel your energy towards your bigger goals. You’re more likely to follow through on good intentions if you if you say: when X happens, then I will do Y. You decide on your course of action in advance. Before your tired, swamped, or stressed.
If-then rules help me work on my goals without having to make even more decisions. If I pour a cup of coffee, I then pour a glass of water. If I wake up between 4:30 and 5 AM, I then go ahead and get up and workout before making coffee. If I have a client-free day, then I will spend an extra hour writing.
Eight – Delegate Tasks to Help with Decision Fatigue
So, a confession: I’ve started taking advantage of the online ordering at one of my grocery stores. Thanks to my frequent shoppers card, their website knows what I buy, so all I have to do is add items to my virtual shopping cart, submit my order, and then pick up my groceries at a designated time. Now, I love grocery shopping. However, most weeks I visit not just one grocery store, but two or three. I know which stores have the best prices for commonly used items in our house. And which stores only carry the particular yogurt JB likes.
I’m still shopping at my favorite locally owned grocery store to pick up meat, deli items, local eggs, and dairy. But for the staples? I’m letting the big box store help me out. As I was driving away from my last pick up, though, I realized delegating this task to the in-store shopper means that I don’t use my brain power for deciding which bell pepper looks best, what size bottle of Tide to buy, and keeps me from getting distracted by new items.
Sometimes, we just need some help. Delegating tasks – even ones you enjoy doing – will help reduce your stress, increase your productivity, and mean that there is more time for yourself and the decisions that are really important.
Nine – Limit Your Options
Though we may think we want limitless options, too many options are almost worse than not having enough choices. Most of us are happier and more productive when we consider fewer possibilities. My foray into ClickList grocery shopping is an example of this: by limiting my options, simply buying the same things I’ve purchased before, I’m reducing my own decision fatigue. No walking into the store with thousands of potential items, I’m only buying what I’ve purchased before.
I also use this concept when it comes to buying clothes online, choosing to look only at the dresses by a particular designer or lingerie made by a specific brand. Limiting your options gives you a win and saves your brain power.
I know it sounds simplistic and kind of un-sexy to reduce the number of decisions you have to make. You may feel that it could limit you and your potential. What you are choosing to do, though, is not just combat decision fatigue, but take control of the way you manage your own life.
Now that’s choosing sovereignty. And sovereignty is how you create a life you love.
Creating a vision can help also reduce decision fatigue.
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