Decision Fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. It seems that just as our physical strength has its limit, so too does our mental fortitude.
We have a finite amount of willpower from which to make sound decisions in any given day, and as the day progresses, and more and more decisions are made, that willpower is depleted.
It’s the reason why when we wait until the end of the day to go for that run, it often gets pushed until tomorrow. Or why we break down and cheat on our diet when we’re tired, stressed, or at the end of a long day of work.
Decision fatigue is different than physical fatigue, which can have a similar effect on our brains in that it’s not always apparent. You may not be lacking in physical energy. You may not notice your brain is tired because you’re not tired.
One way to tell if you’re in this deteriorated mental state is to watch for two separate shortcuts your brain will inevitably attempt to employ.
The first is that it will simply begin making rash decisions, become impulsive, reckless and fail to think things through appropriately. The second is avoidance. You will attempt to stop making decisions altogether.
No one is immune to this psychological phenomenon, and as the world moves faster and faster and we’re forced to make more decisions per day, we must accept the fact that decision fatigue is affecting our productivity, our employees and our organizations.
Decision fatigue affects all decisions in life, and that includes those made in the workplace. Fortunately, once we’re aware of it there are a few ways we can practice avoiding it, or at least negating its negative impact on our lives and our work.
First, we can plan decisions ahead of time, either by planning them the night before or by adopting habits that remove the need for a decision to be made in the first place. Either way, you can effectively reduce the overall number of decisions made in your daily life and reserve your mental faculties for more important things.
This is the mentality behind the strict routines of many creative geniuses, such as artists and dancers. The more you put on autopilot, the more mind space you create for conjuring creativity. We often don’t realize just how many decisions we’re making in our daily lives, from what to wear to what to have for lunch.
Steve Jobs famously wore a black turtleneck every day. President Obama only chooses between grey or blue suites. Ask yourself where in life you can remove some decisions.
Another way to lessen the negative impacts of decision fatigue would be to make the most impactful and important decisions first, or as early in the day as possible.
The longer we wait to do the important things, the less chance we leave for getting them done. The longer we wait to contemplate all sides in important decisions, the less chance we have of actually doing so. Consider creating a morning routine that incorporates your top priorities first.
And finally, adopting a mentality of Essentialism, or as author Greg McKeown defines it, the disciplined pursuit of less. We’re all guilty of trying to do too many things at once. And as we’re spread thinner and thinner, what we actually get done becomes less impactful. If we can focus on what’s truly important and let go of the unessential tasks, we’ll have fewer decisions to make and less decision fatigue as a result.
Decision fatigue can deeply impact your work, because it affects every aspect of our lives and it’s difficult to escape. The first step to avoiding the negative consequences is to acknowledge it as reality. The second is to attempt to reduce our exposure by reducing decisions in your life, in any way possible.
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