Dealing with Decision Fatigue

Have you heard of decision fatigue? I feel like it’s something that I struggle with from time to time. If you’ve never heard of it, you can read more about it here, but the basic gist is that as we have to make lots of decisions throughout our day/life, we get tired, and then we start to make poor decisions or just generally feel really stressed. I usually hear it talked about in connection with individuals who might run a large organization, own their own business, or manage a large team. But I also think it could apply to anyone who has to make a lot of decisions throughout their day. I can tell it’s something that many of my friends with young children go through. It seems to me that parenting a young child (or two, or three) can quickly double or triple the number of decisions you make throughout a day as being a parent puts you in the driver’s seat of not only your own life, but your kid’s, too.

I know I feel decision fatigue from running my business and trying to manage our team as best I can. We are by no means a large company, but I still make a LOT of decisions every day and it’s one thing that others on our team rely on me for. And I absolutely love my job and love working with our team. So it’s important to me to minimize decision fatigue because it can lead to making bad decisions. I also think, for me, I sometimes feel like I use all my decision brain power at work and then I feel stressed by decisions I need to make in my personal life (even fun ones!). And since I know other people struggle with this as well, I’ve been trying to notice how leaders strategize to minimize decision fatigue in their lives, and I’ve been trying to implement some of those same strategies in my own. Here are three—and I’d LOVE to hear any additional strategies you might know as well.

Make Decisions in Bulk or Eliminate Unnecessary Decisions

Here are a couple of examples. So one area that can be surprisingly time consuming (or even stressful) is getting dressed in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, I love fashion and styling but there are plenty of days when it just feels like another task to complete. I love how Elsie has incorporated many aspects of a capsule wardrobe into her clothing choices, making it easier and faster for her to get ready in the morning, but still look super cute, IMO. So she can save some decision power for her career and also the fun task of dressing her (3-year-old) daughter. I also LOVE all the jumpsuits she wears (mostly from Big Bud) as they are not only super cute on her, but they are very functional for mom/work life, as well as being a complete outfit in themselves. Very cool! Another example is my business mentor actually wears the same thing to work every day and just has 2-3 pairs so he can wash them as needed. He owns his own business and goes from working in a food-based factory, to meetings, to sometimes speaking in front of groups. And he has found a “uniform,” as he calls it, that works for all of these tasks and he simply wears that ALL the time, eliminating the need to make this decision in the morning.

Another example is meal prepping. There are many ways to do it (including using a service like Prep Dish or Sweet Peas Meals so they do all the decision making for you), but I like to prep things for breakfast and lunch for Monday through Friday during the weekend before. I’ve found that those are the meals that can stress me out during the week because even though I LOVE to cook I usually am working during those times too, and I like to have something healthy and already ready on hand, so I don’t have to make any decisions about breakfast or lunch.

Rely on Experts or Professionals

I think this is a good strategy for those areas of your life that you care about, but you are not an expert in and maybe don’t ever plan to be. Ha. I’ll give you an example from my life to help illustrate this. One big goal in my personal life is to be healthy. Of course, there are many aspects to health, and one area I try to work on is staying active and (at least somewhat) physically fit. I don’t really have an interest in becoming an expert in this area, as I am definitely not a personal trainer or really even all that athletic. So I’ve found that one of the best options for me is to utilize the group fitness classes available at my gym. I do a class called Body Pump at the YMCA (5 minutes from my home) 2-3 times a week, unless I am traveling. What time do I work out? The classes have a fixed schedule so my only decision there is to show up. What do we do in the class? Well, it’s weightlifting to music, but all you need to know is just do exactly what the instructor tells you! No decisions needed. There are so many days when I feel absolutely spent mentally from work (in a good way, but still) and I love that I can just show up, follow along, and get a good workout. I don’t have to really think much at all. I rely on other’s expertise to help me achieve my goals in that area of my life.

Create Habits and Routines that Serve You

Personally, I love routines, I feel much more grounded in life when I have a to-do list I can stick to or a daily routine that keeps me on track. But that’s not to say I don’t love surprises and spontaneous moments in life too, especially when I am on vacation. 🙂 But here is one more big benefit from having awesome habits or routines: You can almost click into autopilot mentally and still stay on track for any goals you may have. Here’s a hypothetical situation: Say you have a goal that you want to read more fiction. You love reading but in the last few years you just haven’t made time for it. Now it’s the end of a long day—maybe work or parenting was especially challenging this day. And you’re feel really, really tired, but you have about an hour before you need to go to bed. If you don’t already have a plan or routine you might just sit down in front of the TV and watch something you don’t even really care about, or sit down on the couch and just scroll your phone for a while, not even really enjoying the activity. BUT if you’ve started to make it a habit to read for a little bit before bed every night instead, you won’t need to make a decision about sitting in front of the TV or pulling out your phone. You can just go into autopilot and head to your bedroom with your book. And over time you’ll be reading more and you’ll probably be really happy about it. Habits and routines are useful tools, especially for those times we’re too tired to make decisions and we may end up making a poor choice simply because we are feeling so fatigued.

I guess this is kind of a random topic, but it’s something that’s been on my mind lately, so thanks for letting me share! And seriously, if you all have any additional thoughts, strategies, or ideas about this subject, I’d love to hear them! xo. Emma

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photo: Darling Juliet.
  • I agree with this completely! I have been trying to develop a capsule wardrobe but it can be so hard since my days change so much. I also love the idea of the routines that serve you- but how long exactly are your routines that you put in place? I keep trying to create a great morning routine that sets me and my bloggy business off on the right foot, but I always seem to create so many tasks on it that my list turns into an all-day to-do list that doesn’t accommodate for all my kids and any “extra” So basically, how LONG is your morning routine? Also, how many clothing items EXACTLY are in a capsule wardrobe?

    • My morning routine currently involves a 20-30 walk outside while I either meditate or listen to an uplifting audio book. Then I get ready (15-20 minutes). Then I make coffee for myself and my husband. And then start my day. I work from home so I have no commute. I am positive my morning routine will change as my life does, like when I one day have children to get ready in the morning in addition to myself. You have to make it work for you and your life.

      Same with capsule or any “uniform” you plan to implement. It has to work for you. If you’re day includes both work and chasing kiddos, it must for that lifestyle. If your days involve board meetings and long flights, you’ll need a capsule that works for that. The exact number of items doesn’t matter, what matters is it fits your life / budget / time / style and it helps you. It’s a tool you can cater to your needs, not a one size fits all rule.

      Hope that helps!

    • OK, you might think I’m crazy, but let me tell you about my morning routine. I kept getting bogged down and having too many steps. I get up early and I have three kids to get ready for their days. I work from home also, and some days my hubby is home and some days not. It’s confusing. So, I created a few shorter routines that have a limited number of items on them and I just work through the ones that are right for that day: one before the kids get up–done, one if I’m solo getting them fed and ready for school–done, etc. Having short routines with a limited number of items keeps me focused and feeling successful, and switching out whichever work on a given day makes sure everything gets done. I have four total, but I generally only complete two or three in a morning. 🙂

  • I really like these advice posts from your heart, Emma! They are so genuine and helpful. Thank you for sharing!

  • Great tips! I’ve also read that our decision making abilities (and will power) diminish as the week goes on – so Mondays are actually the optimal time to slog through something you’ve been putting off.

    (Also, went to my first Body Pump class yesterday and HOLY MOLY was that hard! Its my new goal to get through one of those classes without tuckering out during the sets!)

  • My husband always says to me “if you write the grocery list, I’ll go to the store” like figuring out the meals and what you need to make them isn’t the hard part! I made a list of 12 meals we like and that are easy to make, and now we rotate through those on a two-week basis (as we typically eat out one night a week). If I see a new recipe I want to try, it’s easy to see which meal we’re bored with and sub it in. It’s made getting the grocery list together a hundred times easier.

      • yes! we do this too. monday is kitchen sink risotto, taco tuesday (with lots of spanish rice); Wednesday is stir fried rice made with leftover spanish rice; Thursday is some kind of soup (coconut curry; pumpkin, bean, etc.; Sunday is jambalaya or paella. I also layout/dinner prep first thing in the morning, so I never stress about whats for dinner. My job requires hard core decision making all day long, I cant stress about food or clothing choices. I have found that as I get older, my band width for decision making has decreased some (maybe because I have so MANY more decisions to make then when I was 20), so it is great to create good mental habits early!

  • When I notice decision fatigue the most is trying to decide what to have for dinner. I have contemplated going to a meal subscription program just so I don’t have to pick out what to eat. I am not much of a foodie so I am not particular about what I eat. I have tried meal planning for an extended amount of time before but my husband fights it if “thats not what he’s in the mood for”. Lately I have just been making him choose dinner otherwise I won’t cook. LOL

  • I totally get decision fatigue as a working mom of 2 little ones. I have already jumped on board the capsule wardrobe and we use sweet peas meals. We definitely use routines too. I have been thinking of other ways to help and your post reminded me I’m thinking of trying a personal trainer. Save some mental energy. I once spent 20 minutes googling kids toothpaste in the store before picking one…sheesh.

    • Ha! Yes, exactly. Although I haven’t googled kids toothpaste I have for sure stood in the aisles trying try research certain ingredients or things listed on the label. I do like to do this when I have time, but some days it’s just not ideal if you’ve already made 50 decisions and you’re just trying to get home after a long day.

  • I have read that you almost have a ‘bank’ of decisions each day. So if you waste time in the mornings, say on unimportant emails, you waste your good decision making abilities for that day. So do the more important things first before you get fatigued.

  • Because I (like everyone else) has to make a gazillion decisions every day, about one day a month I have a do-nothing-whatsoever day. I have to plan for it ahead of time (oh, the irony) and then I literally do nothing. I might do something, if the mood strikes, but mostly I sleep and veg. Somehow that helps me recharge for the next month of decision making 😉

  • Thank you so much for sharing this Emma! I’m kind of going through this right now. It’s gotten so bad that I find myself shutting down when it comes time to make a decision. This scares me a little. So, I end up making no decision which is a decision in itself. I had no idea there was a name for this. Glad I stopped by!

    ~Laurali Star
    https://www.girlynaturelovers.com/

  • I am incredibly indecisive! I was recently thinking “Why do I let myself waste so much time on decisions?” The conclusion I had come to was: it is the allure of making the perfect decision….I LOVE that! I love when I nail a choice (“I’m SO glad I bought this one over that one!”) – that is such a victorious feeling for me. Although, maybe it’s just subconscious validation that I was justified to think about it in the store for 25 minutes…

    I’ve been trying to get better. Just hitting send on a text without overthinking the emoji (sad, right?). Or just making a choice and moving on. But just today I was thinking about a pair of earrings I bought over the weekend, wishing I had picked “the other ones”. 1st world problems much?

    You touched on routines/habits – and that’s really where I need help. I did recently complete the start of a habit (1 month of working out 3x/week)…but there’s no routine to it. I’m starting to feel like I literally don’t have to willpower to stick to a routine. I’m completely stuck in my get to work late/leave late/eat late/go to bed late/squeeze everything else in around that schedule. I’m going to search your blog to see if you girls have any previous posts on making habits. I’m realizing that, aside from decision making, I waste a LOT of brain power on thinking about how my life “could” be, or all the things I “should” do differently.

    Thank you for sharing! (PS – you wouldn’t believe how much time went into rearranging & editing this comment…oh the irony.)

  • Great post Emma! I do the same thing with exercise classes and try to do the same with breakfast. This is a good push that I should look at what works well (exercising in a group class 3x a week, eating the same breakfast 5 days a week, reading during my morning commute) and try to use those successes to improve the areas I could make easier (getting dressed, flossing :/).

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Love your example of reading before bed! I find it true that when I don’t incorporate the right routines, I tend to waste time trying to decide what to do. Sometimes I feel like half my brain is the delegator and half my brain is the get-it-done mechanism. They usually work best when I separate them. 😂

  • I have definitely been considering coming up with a uniform to wear because thinking about what to wear can be stressful!

  • I’ve been single for a very long time and at times I get a serious decision fatigue. Every damn thing in my life I have to deal with on my own and decide what’s the best solution. Sometimes it gets the best of me, even for little things like what color am I going to paint my bedroom, but also the bigger decisions: do I stay in my appartment or do I buy a little house with a garden?
    The only thing I never ever have the fatigue for though is where to go on a holiday 🙂

  • Thanks for this great post! I’m self employed with 2 employees who rely a lot on me making decisions. Sometimes I can’t even decide what to eat in the evening! Your tips come in really handy and include some things I have tried, too.

  • It’s crazy how much I needed this post right now. My friends and I have been talking a lot lately about how exhausted we are by all the decisions we have to make all the time… in times of stress, it can truly be debilitating. I’ll definitely be trying some of these suggestions.

  • Dear Emma,
    Thanks for such a revealing post!
    It made me realise why I love my uniform su much.
    I really liked the idea of making decisions in bulk. I am not very interested in fashion but in fitness and planning to take part in an Ultra this Southern Hemisphere summer. I manage a relatively large number of staff in Latin America and some days I can’t deal with planning my trainning routine for the day. I reckon, in line with the bulk decision and using professionals for that, I am definitively going to get a trainning plan and just follow it. I wish I could join some kind of club to make it even easier, but I my location makes it impossible.
    Thanks again! You guys rock!

  • Hi. First time here and i love your tips. I started some crazy routines:
    1. Select 5 colora to dress in a year.
    2. Menu for 2 weeks and if we change our mind will eat bread and cheese
    3. One hairatyle for a month
    4. Business goals once a week.
    I dont have to decide everything and i have less stress now .

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