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Overcome Decision Fatigue In 3 Simple Steps

11/25/2015 12:43 EST | Updated 11/25/2016 05:12 EST
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Did you know that the President of the United States only wears blue or grey suits? President Obama pares down the number of small decisions that he has to make each day so that his focus, and energy, can stay on the major decisions that come with running a country.

You don't need to be in charge of a nation to take advantage of this lesson though. We are all forced to make countless decisions every single day. Some days, we can handle a large number of choices quite easily and effortlessly. Other days, not so much.

Without limiting your day-to-day decisions, you can easily burnout on the decision-making process, which leads to poor choices and the potential for error. This phenomenon is otherwise known as decision fatigue.

In an article posted on Lifehacker, Trent Hamm describes decision fatigue as the following: decision fatigue refers to the idea that people tend to make worse decisions after having made a lot of decisions. Much like muscle fatigue, if you flex your "decision" muscle too much, it will fail you.

Decision fatigue affects many of us but we often aren't aware of it nor do we realize the impact that it has on us on a day-to-day basis.

Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney wrote a book called, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength and in that book they wrote:

The problem of decision fatigue affects everything from the careers of CEOs to the prison sentences of felons appearing before weary judges.

It influences the behaviour of everyone, executive and non-executive, every day. Yet few people are even aware of it... They don't realize that decision fatigue helps explain why ordinary sensible people get angry at their colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket, and can't resist the car dealer's offer to rustproof their new sedan.

As you can see, decision fatigue can permeate every area of our life and lead to poor decision-making. While you can't avoid decision fatigue completely, there are a few strategies that you can implement to stave off the negative side effects that come with a long period of decision-making.

Avoid Making Important Decisions at the End of the Day

One of the best ways to avoid the decision fatigue trap is to make all of your most important decisions at the beginning of the day.

Use those first few hours to take a look at anything you've been avoiding and clear out the mental clutter. The rest of your day will feel much more relaxed and you'll be able to focus on what needs to happen without feeling burnt out or unsure about your choices.

Further to lining up your day, front load your day with a to-do list that is realistic, achievable and actionable.

All too often, we load up our to-do lists with every single thing we may want to accomplish in the next six months. However, getting through all of that is impossible and looking at the list can be overwhelming -- leading to further decision fatigue around where to start. Instead, start your day with a small to-do list and accomplish the things on that list before adding more.

Limit the Number of Choices You Need to Make in Any Given Day

If your day is often filled with decision-making, follow in President Obama's footsteps and eliminate the option for choice wherever possible. This may look like automating your decisions or eliminating them altogether.

Automating your decisions could look like automatic bill payments, wearing the same thing to work or eating the same thing every meal. Eliminating decisions is simply doing away with anything that isn't absolutely, fundamentally necessary to your day-to-day life.

For example, every single morning I wake up and follow the same morning routine. My daughter has the same type of cereal and she eats it in the same place and is allowed to watch a show on the iPad while she has her breakfast. I make her lunch in the same lunchbox and, often, with the same food choices. I eliminate the need to think about the things that don't need to be thought about. I set myself on auto-pilot and I move through the motions knowing that I need to preserve that energy for later.

Extrapolating this out further, I try to eliminate choice wherever possible. I do my groceries in the same location, I follow the same pattern while I'm there, I purchase the same foods (although I do enjoy being creative and deviating sometimes, too!) and I rarely wander around the store in a meaningless way. I no longer need a list because I've boiled it down to a science but when I first started this journey, I was in and out with a list so I could stay focused.

Ask for Help

If paring down your choices and making your decisions early in the day aren't possible or useful, you can always turn to another tried and true method: asking for help. While we often want to be our own superheroes, leaning on other people to make some of the decisions for you can be a really useful tool.

The challenge for some? Letting go of control.

Asking for help in making decisions will mean relinquishing some of the control around the outcome of that choice. You need to go into it being okay with whatever the person decides and trust that you've asked the right person.

Eliminate Decisions, Increase Your Energy

Making too many decisions depletes our mental resources and leads us to a place where we are unable to self-regulate, as this study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows. When we can not self-regulate our decision-making, we are more apt to buy the rustproofing we don't need, junk food we shouldn't eat and impulse buy the clothes we won't wear.

Conserving your energy around decision-making will allow you to make better choices and self-regulate when it matters, thus avoiding future feelings of guilt and resentment.

Take a look at your own life to see where you may be expending energy on meaningless decisions that could be redirected into major progress. You'll feel much better and have more energy to focus on what truly matters.