What is decision fatigue?
The average adult makes around 35,000 decisions every day.1 Each one of those decisions – whether big or small – involves weighing up a number of possible courses of action. That’s a lot of data that needs processing and the result of this daily process can leave you wired towards the latter part of your day. This leads to decision fatigue and it is defined as an inability to make balanced decisions, or even an inability to make any decisions at all.
Why is it a problem?
We all know what it’s like to make a decision that we later come to regret. It might be a small thing: ordering a food delivery when our social diary is full of evenings out, meaning our fresh food goes to waste. Or it could be a big decision, one that impacts your own livelihood or the working lives of those around you. When you’ve got decision fatigue, the likelihood of making these bad decisions – big and small – increases.
How does it work?
Decision fatigue can cause decision-making skills to decline. This may lead to poor choices or procrastination. It may be in our nature but choosing to procrastinate doesn’t count as a decision. The issue will still be there tomorrow, adding to the next day’s decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue also causes mental stress, and research shows that 57% of employees who feel stressed also feel disengaged and less productive.2
According to psychologist Lee Chambers, the impact of poor decision-making “is even more prevalent should those decisions be challenging and, to put it in simple terms, a day of constant decision-making will leave us depleted and more likely to make poor choices or not make a choice at all.”3
What can be done to avoid decision fatigue?
The first step is identifying it. If you’re excessively hasty making a decision, or actively avoiding it, there’s a good chance your decision making faculties are temporarily impaired.
Plan Ahead: If you plan for tomorrow, it will take less cognitive power to execute that plan when the time comes, reserving your mental capacity for other, bigger decisions.
Prioritize Decision: Writing down a list of decisions ensures you tackle your biggest decisions first.
Create Routines: Routines can lower the amount of mundane decisions you need to make every day.
Remove any distractions: “Having to move from task to task uses the same part of the brain as decision-making, so remove distractions and keep your attention on what you are doing - you will have more capacity for making productive decisions,” says Chambers.3
Don't make decisions on an empty stomach: “Don't make decisions when your blood sugar is low,” Chambers adds. “We make more impulsive decisions when our hunger hormones kick in, and these are often poor decisions we regret.”3
Make self-care a focus: Finally, look after yourself. Being a good decision maker relies on you having time away from the decision-making treadmill, so give yourself proper rest and time away from work.
1. PBS North Carolina, How Many Decisions Do We Make In One Day? https://www.pbsnc.org/blogs/science/how-many-decisions-do-we-make-in-one-day/ Last Updated August 31, 2021.
2. Mindful Leader, What is Decision Fatigue and How Can You Outsmart It at Work?, https://www.mindfulleader.org/blog/26094-what-is-decision-fatigue-and-how-can-you#:~:text=%20What%20is%20Decision%20Fatigue%20and%20How%20Can,think%20you%20make%20the%20best%20decisions...%20More%20 Published May 7, 2019.
3. Harper’s Bazaar, Decision fatigue is real and this is what you can do about it, https://www.harpersbazaar.com/uk/beauty/mind-body/a37605756/decision-fatigue/ Published September 16, 2021.
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