How to Avoid Decision Fatigue

Matilda Kahl has worn the same outfit every day for the past three years. The idea came to her after she realized how much time she spent each day agonizing over what to wear to work. Did she have an event that day? Would this blouse be appropriate for a client meeting? As she told Business Insider, “I just wanted to save some time and energy.”

Just like willpower, our ability to make effective decisions requires a great deal of mental energy—and this energy can be sapped much in the same way your body is tired after a long run. The more decisions you have to make in a day, the harder it becomes, and the less capable you are, of making a good one.

There are two simple solutions to combat decision fatigue—limit the number of decisions you make in a day, or delegate certain decisions to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Of course, if you’re a solopreneur or running a small business, it isn’t easy to spread the decision-making around. To make sure you’re in tip top shape for those critical decisions, try a few simple tips.

Tip #1 – Get It Out of the Way
It may seem easier to push off a big decision, but the anxiety and willpower spent avoiding a decision ends up wasting more energy in the end. Get those tough decisions requiring the most focus and energy out of the way early in the day. Not only will you feel more accomplished, other decisions will seem easier and less burdensome.

Tip #2 – Limit Your Options
As Matilda Kahl discovered, eliminating even the smallest of decisions can help conserve energy for the more important decisions down the road. Head off decision fatigue by limiting your options. This can be as small as packing lunches for the week, or as big as limiting yourself to a certain amount of research time for a new vendor. For example, during a recent search for project management tools, I restricted myself to the top three most mentioned tools after an hour of research. This saved me from getting lost in the weeds, evaluating hundreds of tools with features I didn’t need, and instead focused my assessment on the most useful features.

Tip #3 – Rest
Even with careful planning, there will be days when you can’t escape decision fatigue. On those days, your best weapon is recognizing the signs of decision overload and taking time to rest. Are you spending lots of time on minor decisions, or rushing through tasks? Take a walk, go for run, watch a show, nap—choose an activity that allows your brain to shut off and your mental energy to replenish.

Tip #4 – Outsource
You may not be able to delegate the big decisions, but there are many small decisions outside services can take off your plate. For example, have ever been in the middle of making lots of progress on a project, only to have your cell phone buzz? You take a few seconds to glance at the screen, see who it is, and determine if you want to take the call. The process takes less than a minute, but has caused your brain’s focus to shift and used valuable decision-making energy. Hiring a virtual receptionist, like Ruby, can save you time and energy by handling calls for you. Using your call instructions, we can connect the calls you need to take, and offer to take messages or send callers to voicemail for the stuff that can wait. When you’re having to make important decisions about a big project or case, having someone handle your phones takes one smaller decision off your plate.

As they say, the small things add up. Reflect on the number of decisions you make each day and determine where you can cut back. Save important decisions for when you’re at your peak, and rest when you feel yourself becoming fatigued. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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