Estimates show that adults make about 35,000 decisions every day. If you account for sleep, that works out to approximately 2,000 decisions per hour or one decision every two seconds. These decisions range from major (should I start a business?) to minor (what pair of shoes should I wear?) to inconsequential (should I have a sip of coffee right now?) Regardless of whether your decisions are big or small, they use your precious brainpower. (Source)
What is decision fatigue?
Decision fatigue refers to your deteriorating ability to make good decisions after a long session of decision making. In other words, the more decisions you need to make, the worse you’re going to be at considering your options and making an educated, research-backed choice. Understanding decision fatigue – and how not to squander your valuable decision-making power on unimportant decisions — can help you make better decisions in your business and personal life.
Too much choice results in few decisions
I have needed to replace my laptop for several months. Every time I looked at computers, I got completely overwhelmed. Is an ASUS ROG gaming desktop with an Intel Core i7-12700F worth double the price of an HP Pavilion Desktop with AMD Ryzen 7? The number of choices and technical terms made my head hurt. Finally I got to the point that I needed to make a decision. Costco was having a sale and I chose a desktop that was in my price range. I hope I made a good choice.
It turns out that I am not alone in my decision-making challenges. If we are tired or faced with too many choices, the easiest path is to just not make a decision. This was demonstrated in the famous Jam Study, conducted by psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper. Shoppers were offered either 24 choices of jam or six choices of jam. What they discovered is that consumers were 10 times more likely to purchase jam when there were only six choices. Faced with too many choices, shoppers chose to walk away and not make a decision. (Source)
Parole and Decision Fatigue
A study conducted in Israel examined more than 1,100 parole hearing decisions made by judges in Israel. What they discovered was that the main factor on whether someone was granted parole wasn’t their crime or background – it was what time of day the case was heard. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time. And those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time. Why is this? It’s because parole requires a lot more effort and decision making than just sending someone to jail. (Source)
Ten Ways to Reduce Decision Fatigue
You can structure your time in a way that reduces decision fatigue and supports good decision making. Here are ten ways:
- Be prepared. If you understand that every decision you make gives you less willpower in future decisions, it only makes sense to pre-make as many decisions as possible. For instance, set your alarm for 7 AM and go to bed at 11 AM. Always have Cheerios and skim milk for breakfast. Shower after breakfast and brush your teeth using Crest whitening toothpaste. You’ve already saved yourself from making decisions about went to wake up, what to have for breakfast, and when to shower.
- Make decisions early in the day. Make your important decisions early in the day before decision fatigue takes over.
- Rest and refresh. You can reset your decision-making ability by taking a break. Make sure that you schedule rest breaks throughout the day. Refresh yourself with a short walk, nutritious snack, or power nap.
- Embrace boring. Repeating what works for you will reduce your decision making. Have the same breakfast and lunch every day. Shop at the same grocery store. Buy the same brand of laundry detergent. Stick with the same brand of vehicle or appliance when you’re ready to make a purchase.
- Develop routines. I start my day with breakfast, coffee, and walking my dog. I do the same thing every morning (unless the weather is terrible) without conscious decision-making. Even my dog is used to the routine and knows when it’s time for her walk.
- Streamline your wardrobe. Steve Jobs and Barack Obama made deliberate choices to wear the same clothing items each day to reduce decision fatigue. I’ve embraced this in my own life. In the summer, I wear slub V-neck T-shirts from Old Navy paired with black shorts. My winter wardrobe consists of knit, Henley shirts from Walmart and black bottoms. These are comfortable and I can mix-and-match my tops and bottoms.
- Set appointments and alarms. Decide what you’re going to do and follow through. Set an alarm for 3:00 PM and leave for the gym. Do not debate about whether you want to work out.
- Manage your blood sugar. I experience an afternoon slump at 3:00 PM. This is because our brains use a lot of glucose and fatigue is a sign that you need to refuel. Choose fruit or some other kind of healthy snack to boost your blood sugar and energy level.
- Don’t make decisions when you’re tired. Accept that you may not make good decisions when you are tired. Plan to revisit these difficult decisions the next morning.
- Pre-make or defer decisions. The upcoming midterm elections are a great example of how you can minimize decision-making. You can reduce your mental energy by making decisions early – for example, you decide to vote entirely for Democrats or Republicans — and stick with your decision. Alternatively, you can defer your decision until November 1 and then take a good look at each candidate right before you vote.