Decisions are everywhere in life and in business. And sometimes it seems there are just too many decisions to make at once. The feeling of overwhelm we feel with the multitude of decisions we make each day is called “decision fatigue,” and it’s relatable. I encountered decision fatigue last year as I juggled the details of moving to a new home with running my business. Learning how to overcome decision fatigue was important to help me move forward.
Decision fatigue is the idea that after making many decisions, your ability to make more and more decisions over the course of a day becomes worse.
Having a definition of what decision fatigue is has helped me to understand what I’m feeling so that I can move forward in business and in life. In short, decision fatigue means our ability to make decisions worsens the more decisions we make in a day. But there are ways to cope once we recognize the symptoms.
Symptoms of Decision Fatigue
In scientific terms, decision fatigue is a lack of self-control caused by a tired prefrontal cortex, or the decision-making part of our brain. Social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister coined the term to describe the complex mix of mental and physical symptoms caused by our brain when it is exhausted from – you guessed it – making decisions. And we each make a lot of them. The average person reportedly makes around 35,000 decisions a day. For us entrepreneurs, the number is probably even higher!
I recognized some of the symptoms of decision fatigue in my own life last year as I was selling my apartment while simultaneously trying to stay on top of things at work. Perhaps you have also recognized some of these symptoms in your own search for how to overcome decision fatigue.
Here are three of the most common symptoms that we entrepreneurs may notice:
Decreased Attention to Detail At Work. Rushing through a project checklist, or becoming apathetic about small matters like minor edits can signal decision fatigue.
Procrastination. Putting off an assignment until tomorrow or the next day is fine if you are prioritizing your work. But stopping work on a project because you feel overwhelmed might mean that you need new ways to cope.
Feeling Overworked. Entrepreneurs are busy people who usually work long hours and long weeks. It is not unusual, however, for us to dismiss feelings of being overworked and try to push through. When we do that, we may also be overlooking signs of decision fatigue.
My own experience with these symptoms led me to some helpful tips on how to overcome decision fatigue that I feel can help other entrepreneurs in their overwhelm. Below you will find five ways that help me to reduce my overwhelm before I hit a wall of indecision – allowing me to get back on schedule.
Five Tips on How To Overcome Decision Fatigue
Finding out how to overcome decision fatigue doesn’t have to further complicate our thought processes. There are a few very simple yet effective tips we entrepreneurs can use to release the hold that decisions have on our minds so we can think more freely.
Something that seems as easy as choosing what to wear out with friends or what to eat for dinner can be overwhelming when we’ve already made 34,998 decisions that day. It can help to reduce the number of everyday decisions that add to our decision fatigue.
Reducing your wardrobe to a capsule wardrobe that covers each day of the workweek is one way to minimize decision-making. Former President Barack Obama used this technique while he was in the White House, saying: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Weekly meal prepping – making all your weekly lunches on Sunday, for example – is another answer to how to overcome decision fatigue. It will be a lot easier to pull lunch out of the fridge at work than decide where you want to eat (and when to schedule it) if you’re in the middle of something else.
Decluttering your space to clear your environment and your head is another tip that I put into practice daily. Packing up items I no longer need, or want, and donating them to others helps me to simplify my life by simplifying my decision-making.
Take A Digital Pause – In the same way that I declutter my place, I limit my email by unsubscribing or bypassing my email inbox, so that only the most important emails appear in my inbox. The distractions of email, social media and our phone’s notifications can leave us feeling scattered and unfocused. And if you don’t have your to-do list in front of you, it’s easy to find yourself looking at your phone as a default. It can give a false sense that you are getting things done. Try putting your phone on grayscale. You would be surprised and how it will put you off your phone!
Build a Routine
Part of my own routine is to create an action item list first thing in the morning. I like to apply the “Rule of 3” to my to-do list. What are the 3 most important things I must get done today? If I am having trouble with one item, I schedule it in my calendar with a reminder or tell someone I am doing something to help myself stay accountable.
I also use the batch technique – like a maker vs. manager schedule that blocks off certain days for production and other days for planning – to stay on schedule and reduce the chances of decision fatigue. It’s a simple routine that keeps decision-making in check and increases productivity in the process.
Create Small Actionable Steps
If I am having trouble making decisions, I try to break them down into smaller actionable steps with dates to achieve each step. Breaking down large decisions makes them easier to manage.
Step 1: Clarify your goal.
Step 2: Ask yourself: Can I break it down into small steps?
Step 3: Set a deadline for each step.
Take a Productivity Break
Taking a break is easier said than done for most of us as entrepreneurs. Stopping in the middle of a task to take a walk or enjoy a cup of tea can seem like a waste. But giving our brain a rest is important if we want to overcome decision fatigue.
According to Baumeister, the brain is like a muscle that needs to rest when it is overworked. Once it is exhausted, the brain will make decisions impulsively in an effort to save energy. The more we force it to make decisions, the worse those decisions will be. Stepping away from the task at hand frees up our “thinking brain” so we can get back to the work that matters.
Have a Healthy Snack
Baumeister’s research also indicates that the more decisions we make, the more our blood glucose – a major source of energy for the human body – decreases. The takeaway? Our brain uses a lot of energy.
In fact, researchers have found that the brain uses 20 percent of the body’s energy just to help us make decisions each day. Some of us use more energy than others, depending on the task at hand. Keeping a piece of fruit or a granola bar on hand may be the answer to how to overcome decision fatigue for a busy entrepreneur who feels themself tiring out during another busy day.
It is natural to feel overwhelmed and even unproductive at times as entrepreneurs. I have been there and I know many other entrepreneurs who have been there, too. We don’t always realize that our innate drive to work harder can cause decision fatigue by exhausting our minds and our bodies. But it can – and does.
Recognizing the signs of decision fatigue when it starts to interfere with my work and my life has allowed me to put the tips in this blog post into action and reduce my overwhelm. The answer to how to overcome decision fatigue as an entrepreneur is sometimes as simple as creating better work and home routines, taking a productivity break, and making sure that we are giving our brains food for thought. Each of us is different, but the goal is the same – to succeed at work and in life.
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