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It doesn’t matter what industry you work in – decision fatigue can strike anyone. And if you don’t know how to recognize and deal with it, it can totally cripple you.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: over the past few weeks, you’ve noticed yourself growing more irritable. You’ve stopped caring as much about the choices you’re supposed to make, and struggle to complete even minor tasks. Worse still, you’re starting to make choices without putting any thought into them whatsoever.
There’s a good chance you’re suffering from decision fatigue. If you don’t learn how to recognize its signs and start down the road to recovery, it could give way to full-blown burnout. We’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen.
What Is Decision Fatigue, Exactly?
The average adult must make approximately 35,000 decisions a day. Some of these are relatively trivial, like what to wear to work or whether or not you should have a cup of coffee in the morning. Others are a little less so, like whether or not you should invite a particular guest speaker to a conference you’re running.
But each and every one of these choices, no matter how small, takes its toll.
See, willpower is essentially a muscle. Like all muscles, it gets tired and needs rest. Like all muscles, if you overwork it, it becomes unable to do its job.
“As decision after decision depletes your willpower, you’ll eventually do one of two things,” writes Fast Company’s Drake Baer. “[You’ll either] act impulsively, since you have no energy to think about decisions, [or] do nothing, since you have no energy to agonize.”
In short, your productivity will hit the floor. You’ll grow gradually more exhausted. The list of things you want to do but can’t will get progressively longer.
And eventually, you’ll burn out. The key to preventing that from happening lies in recognizing those signs before they become an issue. If you know you’re in the early stages of decision fatigue, it’ll be much easier to quash it than if you realize after a year of dealing with it.
How Do I Know I Have It?
There are a few major red flags that you’re struggling with decision fatigue.
Sign Number One: You’re Paralyzed By Simple Choices
Do you find yourself staring dumbly at a computer screen trying to figure out a calculation you can ordinarily do in a few seconds? Do you agonize for an hour over what to wear for a dinner date, or spend way too long pondering the menu at a restaurant?
If these are all things you could handle with ease in the past, you’re fatigued.
Sign Number Two: You’ve Gotten More Impulsive
Let me be clear that impulsiveness is itself not a bad thing. Acting on impulse every now and then never hurt anyone. The point at which it becomes problematic is when you make snap decisions that can potentially cause you harm.
This could be just about anything. Maybe you’re buying stuff you don’t have the money for. Maybe you’re binge eating. Maybe you’re making plans or cancelling them at the drop of a hat.
Regardless, if you’ve noticed yourself growing more impulsive, it might be time to rein things in.
Sign Number Three: You Procrastinate Relentlessly
Procrastination is probably one of the surest signs that you’ve an issue with making decisions. It’s also one of the most destructive. When you procrastinate, you miss deadlines. You sacrifice sleep and wellness for work you should have finished hours ago. You lose clients and run your reputation into the ground.
How Can I Recover?
Make a conscious, active effort to reduce the number of small decisions you need to make in a day. Don’t bother worrying about what to wear in a day, or what to eat for breakfast – instead, focus on the bigger picture.
Here are a few ways to achieve this:
- Instead of keeping track of things like haircuts, doctor’s appointments, or grocery trips, set recurring reminders on your phone (or whatever other scheduling software you use). By removing low-value details like this from your head, you’re freeing yourself up to focus on major stuff.
- Eliminate unnecessary choices from your life – this could involve anything from simplifying your wardrobe to eating the same meal for breakfast every day to having the same daily morning routine. Basically, throw aside the stuff you consider necessary evils – the decisions you’d rather not make.
- Follow an essentialist mindset. For each choice, determine if it’s consistent with your core values, identify the likely outcome and worst-case scenario, and determine how a decision will impact your resources. In other words, perform a cost/risk/benefit analysis of your choices – and avoid the ones that carry too high a cost or too much risk.
- Instead of using a to-do list, put stuff on a calendar that you want to get done – set a conscious deadline for your tasks.
- Avoid back to back meetings – even a single meeting can be exhausting.
- Remember that you don’t always need to complete your tasks to perfection – sometimes it’s enough to simply get something done on time.
- Follow-through with the decisions you make.
- Schedule your days to be top-heavy – complete your most important tasks and make your most important decisions in the morning.
Decision fatigue can cripple the best of us. But by learning to recognize the warning signs, establishing a decision-making framework, and cutting unnecessary choices out of your day, you can tackle it. And in so doing, you can ensure you’re more productive, more efficient, and more stress-free.
About the Author:
Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.