Ever had that feeling at the end of the day that everything’s too hard? That you can’t make any more decisions and that you’re done for the day? And it’s only 3pm? Welcome to decision fatigue. How do I know? I’ve been there. This is my journey from fatigue to decision powerhouse!
The New York Times wrote a story in 2011 about an analysis of the decisions made by the Israeli parole board at different times of the day. The big takeaway is that decisions made in the afternoon are warped by all the decisions made earlier in the day – in this case, big decisions about people’s lives made right there in front of the person.
As you go through your day making decision after decision, you are draining your mental energy tank. This starts at breakfast, “What should I have for breakfast?” “What shirt should I wear?” Every one of these seemingly small decisions drains your mental ‘think tank’. This means at the end of the day, when your spouse comes to you with a holiday idea, you’re more likely to recoil and instinctively say no, because your mental energy is depleted (note: this happened to me today!).
Before I started to reduce my decisions to avoid decision fatigue, 4pm would arrive and I’d be totally drained. This meant that I would make bad choices consistently from around 4pm to bedtime at 9pm. Should I have another beer? Definitely. My gorgeous wife says, how about another cookie my love? Well I wouldn’t want to offend her by refusing her cooking now, would I? Yes please! How about we buy that couch we’ve been looking at? Let’s do it!
I read the New York Times article and another by James Clear, and discovered that these bad decisions were not because I was a bad person with no willpower, but simply because my decision tank was drained by insignificant decisions like what to have for breakfast and what to wear.
So as busy people with many decisions to make, how can we combat decision fatigue? One way is to cut out the small decisions, the seemingly insignificant, “Do I wear black or blue today?” Cutting out these small decisions has made a big impact in my life, and it can in yours too.
The fastest path to reducing decision fatigue is by automating parts of your life. You can pre-make decisions, set rules, and automate choices for a less draining life.
Start with pre-making decisions about what to have for breakfast. Deciding between toast and cereal isn’t a worthwhile decision – will you really feel any better having one over the other? Ditch that decision and have the same thing every day. As part of modifying what I eat to the the slow carb diet in my life, I’ve pre-made the decision on what to have for breakfast – every day it’s 100g of spinach, 3 eggs, and 1/2 a can of lentils. Ah, eggs lentils and spinach, keeps me full for hours! Plus a high protein breakfast tops off your energy tank for the day.
Another way you can remove the silly decisions from your life is to set rules for what you’ll wear each day. For example, I have a mental algorithm, a set of questions that have if/then answers, for what to wear every day:
- Will the peak temperature be less than 25c? Yes – jeans. No – shorts.
- Will the overnight low be less than 10c? Yes – jumper. No – light jacket.
- No matter what the temp, always an undershirt, tshirt, socks and shoes.
Reducing decision fatigue can be a simple as that, just setting rules for yourself and not having to decide. Bonus feature – you spend less time getting dressed or making breakfast because you’re not standing around trying to decide what you feel like wearing or eating.
Do the most important thing first
This is an easy one. What is your number one goal right now? If it’s picking a goal, choose that! Your best energy is available when you first wake up (if you’re getting your 8 hours, but that’s another post altogether). Check out James Clear’s articles about about the importance of morning routines and time management for more information on this vitally important topic.
My ‘most important thing’ is easy. When my alarm goes off at 4am I’m straight up, into the kitchen and the kettle goes on to make a coffee. While I’m standing there waiting for the kettle, I open my laptop and start writing on a topic I’ve chosen the night before. Yep, it’s 4:24am and I’m nearly finished this article. Reaching Franchisee Nation via the written word is the most important thing in my day.
Eliminate the wants
To get things done in your life, eliminate the ‘want’ statements.
I want to grow sales by 10%
I want to get out of the store more
I want to get to the gym every day
Instead of hoping you’ll have the willpower and mental bandwidth to do your ‘wants’, schedule them in. For example, I schedule in my workouts on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning (for those interested, I’m doing Occam’s Protocol 15-minute workouts from The 4-Hour Body.) This way, you don’t have to decide to go to the gym – it’s already locked in.
Chunk your time
The most productive people chunk their time so that for an entire day they do the same activity. John Lee Dumas from Entrepreneur on Fire, one of my podcast heroes, chunks his time all week. For example, on Tuesdays he does a ‘studio day’ where he’ll do 8 interviews back-to-back – now that’s productivity! No more deciding what to do next – the decision is already made.
Decision fatigue and willpower are inversely related – as decision fatigue rises, willpower falls. You can combat decision fatigue by automating the small decisions that don’t matter and setting rules and algorithms for yourself. By doing the important things first you will automatically eliminate the wants from your life, and by chunking your time you’ll ensure you have mental bandwidth for the best part of your day – dinner and, story time and bedtime with your family.
Rock on Franchisee Nation! Tweet at me or join the Facebook group and let me know the ways you’ve reduced decision fatigue in your life!
This post is part of my experiment with longer-form content. I’m trying to get away from the 300-word ‘5 ways to 10x your life’ and ’10-steps to getting Courtney Kardashian’s butt’ type of articles that I started with (OK, not quite that bad but you get me – just look at the archives!)
Let me know what you think! –Michael