“It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” — Tony Robbins
Have you ever made so many decisions in a day that just one more decision, like what’s for dinner, breaks you? Our decision making throughout the day adds up, leading to decision fatigue. If you’re a leader, you probably especially feel the burden.
According to Wikipedia, decision fatigue can lead to a reduced ability to make trade-offs, decision paralysis, impulse purchasing, and impaired self-regulation. I was reading Motley Fool Stock Advisor, by David and Tom Gardner, and they had this to say about decision fatigue: “It turns out that making decisions is actually very stressful. As we make hundreds of decisions each day on matters big and small, the cumulative stress adds up. It’s called decision fatigue, and it can often lead us to shut down and do nothing.”
We probably feel decision fatigue now more than ever with instant communication and information overload. You know it’s bad when deciding whether to “like” something, hurts your brain.
Luckily, we can defeat or mitigate decision fatigue with proven practices. We can learn from business executives, air force fighter pilots, fire-fighters, doctors, and intense knowledge work, like software development.
10 Ways to Reduce or Defeat Decision Fatigue
Here are 10 ways to reduce or defeat decision fatigue:
- Use checklists for common routines. This is a lesson we learn from pilots. Having checklists as reminders can help you spend less mental energy on little things throughout your day. Even if it’s something you know how to do, the checklist can help take some of the burden off. I use checklists to help me remember key things during my projects. I also write down procedures in the form of little steps. This way, I can just follow the steps, and not have to think too hard. See The Power of Checklists.
- Set time limits. Timebox or put a time budget on how long you have to make a decision. If you find yourself getting stuck or mired in decisions, start setting time limits. Give yourself five minutes to think it through and then decide. If five minutes gives you too much time to wallow, then shorten it further.
- Limit your choices. Throw out bad choices quickly and narrow down to the ones you think are best bets. The fast you narrow down your choices, the less time you need to spend shuffling over unnecessary information.
- Satisfice to find a good enough fit for now. This is a lesson we learn from fire fighters, police offices, and doctors who have to make many split-second decisions under the gun. Rather than explore all possible options and get bogged down, they look for the first solution that fits the situation. See Satisficing to Get Things Done.
- Just decide. Don’t dwell on it. It’s easy to fall into the habit of over-thinking ti or over-engineering your decisions. This is especially true if you have a need for accuracy or feel a need to do all your homework. You can start to build momentum by making faster decisions, and acting on them. You’ll find that many of your decisions may not be as important as you thought they were, or that you learn more from actually taking action and testing your decisions. If you build a habit of responding to new information, then you can make decisions faster and more freely, while learning and adapting as you go.
- Right-size your decision making effort. Don’t spend $20 on a $5 problem. If you keep this strategy in mind, then it will be a lot easier to speed up your decision making, or help you spend less energy on decisions that don’t matter as much. Instead of making mountains out of molehills, learn to make molehills out of mountains.
- Take a time out to recharge. Your working memory burns out as you process information. Take more breaks or take a time out. You can quickly recharge, if you really give yourself a break. It doesn’t need to be long. Ten minute breaks can work wonders. Sometimes, you just need to think about something else to do the trick.
- Delegate more often and more frequently. Push decisions out to the leaves. If this were a tree, stop worrying about all the branches and leaves. Start pushing decisions out to the leaves and branches where you can empower the people closest to the problems to do something about them.
- Make it a group thing. Pair up on decisions or share the decision-making process with a group. This can help share the load, as well as add new perspective.
- Let things solve themselves. This is a lesson we learn from executives. You don’t need to take on every decision. Sometimes things really are better off left alone. Be sure to ask, what’s the downside if you do nothing. If you let it go, then really let it go. If you can’t let it go, then admit it, then decide and move on.
If you can reduce your decision fatigue, then you can save more energy for more important decisions, and put your best thinking where it counts. Find a few ways from above that you can use today, and put them into practice. Test them out. The beauty is you can get better at reducing your decision fatigue with practice over time.