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Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue?
December 1, 2018
Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue?

Don’t Let Insignificant Decisions Get the Best of You!

It’s 6 am. Your alarm sounds. It’s time to wake up! Your brain barely turns on as you are making decisions on your next move.

Get up or snooze button? Slippers or no slippers? Shower first or shower later? Coffee or water? Oatmeal or toast? Floss or skip it? Straight or curly? Dress pants or khakis? Button up or sweater? Watch or bracelet? Heels or flats?

The day continues with more and more question. Some are part of an unconscious routine, but others are calculated daily.

Though we don’t realize it, there is a constant, driving challenge to make decisions. We rarely consider how many decisions we make in a day. We consider even less as to how the numerous, seemingly-insignificant decisions can affect us.

Making decisions impacts our emotional and physical state. We become exhausted, overwhelmed and inefficient at producing well thought out choices. Mahil (2016) explains this concept as “Decision Fatigue”.

What is Decision Fatigue?
Decision fatigue is this idea of mental exhaustion. It is defined as losing the willpower to make crucial decisions because we become mentally exhausted from making too many decisions. The more decisions we tend to have in a day, the more exhausted we become and the harder it is to formulate a sound decision.

Why is Understanding Decision Fatigue Important?
Each employee makes many important decisions within the course of a day and each decision has to be in the best interest the organization and those around them. These decisions need to be good, well-informed decisions which can become exhausting to the mind.

For example, a multi-tasking Manager who requests to have final authorization on many aspects of a business operation could find that this policy creates an overload of decision processing. As a consequence, a Manager may make an ill-informed decision which could potentially have great cost to the company. This Manager needs to be focused on the growth of a company and should leave less relevant decisions to other parties. By doing so a Manager will reduce the number of decisions they will need to make within a day creating less fatigue.

Practical Research on Decision Fatigue

A case study was completed on the judicial system and the determining decisions of whether a criminal will remain in prison or be released and put on parole. Clear (2013) found that when a judge had a hearing in the morning they were 65% more likely to favour ruling and put prisoners on parole. However, as the morning continued the judge was 0% likely to offer parole. Interestingly, the judge was then given a lunch break and the favourable rulings had jumped back up to 65%. By the end of the workday, the favourable rulings had gone back down to 0%.

Clear (2013) found that the judge had become drained from having to make more and more decisions. It was easier for the judge to say no, than to debate whether or not the prisoner deserved parole. Being overloaded with decisions causes our brains to become overworked, tardy and tired, leading to mental exhaustion. Therefore, we see how decision fatigue of a judge creates negative outcomes for a potential parolee.

What can you do to manage Decision Fatigue?
It is important to manage decision fatigue to avoid reaching the point of mental exhaustion. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are examples of individuals who recognized this concept and aimed to manage decision fatigue. In the effort to reduce the number of decisions they needed to make in a day they simply wore the same coloured shirt every day. They understood that the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies they had crucial decisions to make and eliminating simple decisions by implementing a personal uniform left more capacity for these larger decisions.

By formulating a habit or routine every morning, you have one less decision to make each day.

Tips for Reducing Decision Fatigue:

  • Plan decisions the night before. Reduce the stress of your frantic morning.
    • Pick out your clothes the night before and put them aside.
    • Have a morning breakfast routine.
    • Plan out and assemble yours or your family’s lunches the evening before.
  • Do the most important things first.
    • Tackle difficult tasks in the morning when your mind is sharp and focused! While saving the easier tasks for later on in the day, when you are potentially less alert.
    • Trying to start a new healthy habit like exercise, meditation or consistently taking your vitamins! Do this first thing in the morning! You will as a result feel more productive and accomplished.
  • Make commitments by scheduling activities ahead of time.
    • ​​Schedule in the gym, podcasts and social commitments a week in advance. By making commitments each week instead of deciding the day-by-day of what you will do with your time you are more likely to stick to your schedule to accomplish everything you want to. Start each week confident and less anxious knowing the plan.
  • Take breaks in the effort to rejuvenate to make better decisions throughout the day.
    • Grab that latte as a mid-day pick me up and let your brain decompress for a few moments!
    • Make sure to take your lunch break and savour a snack or lunch to rejuvenate. Allow your heart rate to calm down, and your brain to focus on the present. This will allow you to relax and come back to your senses.
    • Utilize micro breaks for meditation. There are some great apps that provide simple mindfulness exercises for small moments such as: Calm, Headspace, & The Mindfulness App.
    • Meditation not your speed? Some other great break apps are “Stand Up! The Work Break Time” and “Time Out”.
  • Simplify your small decisions
    • ​​Allow yourself two choices. This means giving yourself the option between a blue shirt or a grey shirt, oatmeal or cereal, coffee or tea, expensive or cheap, takeout or eat-in, drive or bus, etc.​

Barack Obama has talked about his personal uniform of two suit options: a blue suit or a grey suit. With the many other decisions he must make in a day, simplifying less significant choices increased focus for other issues.

These simple acts can increase your willpower and ability to make better decisions. It can reduce decision fatigue allowing you to make room for those decisions that have the greatest affect.

It is what you choose to do each day that sets you up for failure or success. Minimizing the irrelevant decisions in life can help lead to this success whether a student, a business owner, or the fantastic individual that you are aiming to simply get the most out of your day.


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