You get to work at 9 AM, head to your desk with a cup of coffee, and boot up your computer. Immediately, one of your team members comes up to you and asks you whether the menu for your new client’s website should be red or blue. You mull over the question for a few seconds, and quickly reply “Make it red.” Fast-forward to 5 PM, and you’ve been through team meetings, briefings and several boring emails. Just as you’re about to leave, your colleague comes back to you and asks you the same question. This time, you are overtaken by the faintest urge to slam a keyboard over their heads. You take a deep breath and say “Just pick whatever you want.” If this scenario sounds familiar to you, you have experienced a phenomenon called decision fatigue.
Our minds have a finite capacity to make decisions. That’s right – you have a small tank of decision making fuel. And once it runs out, you’re unable to make good decisions that day. You might think you don’t have too many decisions to make per day, but you do. The average person makes about 100 decisions of varying magnitude every single day. If you think 100 sounds like too big a number, think about the decisions you have to make within the first few minutes of your day.
a) Waking up when your alarm goes off.
b) Deciding whether or not you’re going to go to work.
c) Choosing whether or not you’re going to put in a quick workout.
d) Choosing what you’re going to wear.
e) Picking the right tie, if you wear one to work.
You might make a dozen decisions before you leave for work in the morning. Because they’re all so individually insignificant, we don’t consider them as taxing. But the truth is, there is a limited capacity each of us has to make choices during the day. You may have experienced how easy it is to skip a workout or cheat on a meal late in your day. If you were presented with the same options as soon as you woke up, you would probably choose differently.
If you’re a person who is at a managerial or supervisory post, you might have to make even more decisions every single day. It’s not surprising, therefore, to discover how many of us suffer from decision fatigue. When you exhaust your decision tank for the day, you might experience indifference, anger or even disdain towards the choices you have to make.
Sometimes, you’re just fed up of your subordinates coming up to you and asking the same questions over and over again. Why can’t they just do what you told them the first time? Every week, without fail, someone comes up to you and asks for a solution to a problem you’ve solved a dozen times before. At the lower levels of an organization, decision fatigue can be paralyzing. Imagine a fresh recruit heading to their cubicle and finding 50 new emails in their inbox. Now, this person has to decide which of the emails they’re going to reply to first. If you’re already experiencing some kind of decision fatigue, having to make this kind of choice can be completely overwhelming.
What should I do to overcome this problem and avoid decision fatigue?
Every positive change starts with a plan. If you’re facing decision fatigue, you need a plan that will allow you to quickly analyze, prioritize and make decisions. This plan also relies heavily on your body being able to support your mind. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you can’t expect your mind to function optimally.
Think of your decision making ability like a muscle. Like any other muscle in your body, you need to exercise it. But if you strain the muscle too much, it gets injured and is unable to function. Good decision making ability starts with one very simple decision – vowing to take care of your body – mentally and physically. You need to get enough rest and sleep so your brain can recover. You might have noticed that you don’t make too many good decisions when you are sleep deprived or exhausted.
Let’s take a look at 3 simple things you can do to beat decision fatigue.
Learn to breathe
This might sound like a ridiculous statement, since we all know how to breathe in order to survive. But surviving is not the same as thriving. You might have noticed how your breath quickens when you feel afraid or uncomfortable.
Your breathing plays a large part in influencing your state of mind. Take a couple of minutes away from your desk several times during the day. If you can’t leave your desk, just close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Try to focus on the air entering and exiting your respiratory system. Inhale into your belly, and exhale forcefully. Repeat this a few times, and you will immediately feel better.
Plan your day in advance
Before you begin working, make a to-do list. When you have a realistic schedule of the activities you need to perform during any given day, it reduces the amount of decisions you have to make. Your brain can just follow the sequence of activities you have planned out for the day without having to look for things to do after you’ve finished a particular task. While certain things may rise up out of the blue during any given workday, keeping a list handy is always helpful.
Move, exercise and eat healthy
Our bodies were meant to move around. Even though you might think otherwise, sitting in a chair for a large part of your day is tremendously harmful for you. Every hour or so, get up from your desk and take a quick walk around the office.
When you get back home, make sure you aren’t staying up too late looking at your laptop screen or phone. Your mind needs time to recharge. Organize your schedule to ensure you get at least 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
If you’re too busy to get to a gym, do some pushups or adopt a yoga routine that you can perform in the comfort of your living room. Eat a diet filled with green vegetables and drink lots of water. If you want your body and mind to function like a finely-tuned machine, you have to give it the best fuel.
In summation, decision fatigue is a common problem that can be avoided by adopting a few simple disciplines and strategies. Adopting these strategies will ensure that you remain capable of making excellent decisions throughout your day.