By May 5, 2012 10 Comments Read More →

10 Ways to Defeat Decision Fatigue

decision fatigue

"It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped." — Tony Robbins

Have you ever made so many decisions in a single day that if feels like just one more decision, such as, “What’s for dinner?”, might break you?

As we make decisions throughout the day, we add to our decision fatigue.  

As a leader, you probably feel the burden even more.

According to Wikipedia, decision fatigue can lead to a number of problems.  Here are a few examples:

  1. Reduced ability to make trade-offs
  2. Decision paralysis
  3. Impulse purchasing
  4. Impaired self-regulation

Making Decisions is Stressful!

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."

With our instant communication and constant information overload, we feel decision fatigue now more than ever.

You know it’s gotten bad when deciding whether to "like" something, actually hurts your brain.

10 Ways to Reduce or Defeat Decision Fatigue

Luckily, we can defeat or mitigate decision fatigue using proven practices.  We learn a lot from business executives, air force fighter pilots, fire-fighters, doctors, and intense knowledge work, like software development, because they have to deal with decision fatigue on a regular basis.

Here are 10 ways you can reduce or defeat your decision fatigue:

1. Use checklists for common routines.

This is a lesson we learn from pilots.  Having checklists as reminders helps you spend less mental energy on the little things throughout your day.   Even if it’s something you know how to do, a checklist can help remind you what to do, and reduce your mental burden.  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 I don’t have to think too hard.    See The Power of Checklists.

2. Set time limits.

Put a time-box (a time limit or a time budget) on how long you can take to make a decision.  If you find yourself getting stuck or mired in decisions, then set setting more aggressive time limits.  For example, give yourself five minutes to think it through and then decide.  If five minutes gives you too much time to wallow, then reduce your time limit even further.

3. Limit your choices. 

Throw out bad choices to quickly narrow down to what you think are best bets.  The faster you narrow down your choices, the less time you need to spend on shuffling over unnecessary information.

4. Satisfice to find a good enough fit for now. 

Rather than explore all possible options and get bogged down, look for the first solution that fits the situation.  This is how fire fighters, police offices, and doctors make many split-second decisions under the gun.  See Satisficing to Get Things Done.

5. Just decide. 

Don’t dwell on it.  It’s easy to fall into the habit of over-thinking, or over-engineering, your decisions.   This is especially true if you have a need for accuracy, or you are a perfectionist at heart.   

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 originally thought they were.  You’ll also find that you learn more from taking action and testing your decisions. 

If you build a habit of responding to new information, then you’ll learn to make decisions both faster and more freely, while learning and adapting as you go.

6. 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.  It will also help you spend less energy on decisions that really aren’t that important.  Instead of making mountains out of molehills, learn to make molehills out of mountains.

7. Take a time out to recharge. 

Your working memory burns out as you process information.   Take more breaks.   You can quickly recharge and renew, if you actually take breaks.  Your breaks don’t need to be long.   In fact, ten minute breaks can work wonders. 

Sometimes, the best way to take a break is simply to think about something else.

8. Delegate more often and more frequently. 

Push decisions out to the leaves.  Think of decision making like a tree.   Worry about the trunk and some of the branches, but  stop worrying about all the little leaves.  Start pushing decisions out to the leaves where you can empower the people closest to the problems to do something about them.

9. 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.

10. Let things solve themselves. 

You don’t need to take on every decision.   This is a lesson we learn from executives.  Sometimes things really are better off left alone.  Be sure to ask what the downside is if you were to do nothing.  If you decide to let something 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 you can 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.

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10 Comments on "10 Ways to Defeat Decision Fatigue"

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  1. Alik Levin says:

    ahhhh #10 is beautiful one! I find myself too often jumping on the problem too early only to find i was spending efforts on something that solves itself. I am smarter today, i learn to shut up more often.

  2. Amit Sodha says:

    Hey JD,

    This is an ideal post for someone like me. Because of my attitude, one of the downsides it’s often this kind of fatigue and i’ve just started to realise how important it is to let things go.

  3. JD says:

    @ Alik — There are definitely times when it pays to be proactive.

    Other times, it does help to either let the problem work itself out, or wait until there is enough appetite to solve the problem that your time spent will be valued. Demand generation is often tougher than fulfilling demand … so it can pay to wait until there’s demand.

    @ Amit — Your self-awareness will serve you well.

    One of the ways I found to let things go, is by squeezing them out. I put my focus on the few things that will really make a difference. The left-overs then are easier to let go, because I know I’m focused on my top priorities.

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