Have you ever been to a potluck or buffet where you start out with a strong resolve to “eat healthily”? Over the course of the afternoon, facing a table full of dishes, your willpower starts to wane, and you eventually dig into Aunt Melissa’s chocolate pie. You also probably will “give in” after being offered yet another cookie. Have you had paint samples taped to your wall for months with plans to discuss with your spouse after a busy week at work? Research shows that the average person is faced with as many as 35,000 choices throughout the day. Each of those pile up and eventually wears us down. All these decisions, though maybe minor, can contribute to a condition called “decision fatigue.” 

This fatigue is experienced when someone is forced to make so many choices that they become mentally exhausted. What they may not realize is that this can affect their ability to decide on important matters. Many people who work in business and (or) highly stressful careers understanding this feeling. 

This core issue in decision fatigue is willpower. Willpower is a finite energy that can (and will) run out. Therefore, it is important to conserve your energy for important decisions. Decision fatigue can severely hamstring your productivity and leave you tired and burned out. However, there are a few ways to alleviate the stress of this condition: 

  1. Identify what is important to you

First, you need to figure out what your priorities are. According to investor and tech entrepreneur Dave Asprey, you need to identify your goals and future vision and then have the willpower to say “no” to things that don’t align with this vision. If you focus solely on decisions that relate to you and your future, you will avoid wasting valuable time and energy on tasks that are not important. Having the strength to be selfish in these situations is vital to avoiding decision fatigue because it reduces the amount of large and small choices you must make during the day. 

  1. Simplify your choices

One useful strategy to avoid the fatigue of making choices through the day, is to eliminate everyday decisions with careful planning. According to Asprey, “humans make 34,997 unconscious and conscious decisions in an average day.” To reduce this number, simplify your decisions by developing routines. This could mean meal prepping your food so you don’t have to debate whether you should spend money to buy food or make a separate lunch each day. Planning your work outfits before the week is another easy way to eliminate any indecision. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, wears the same outfit every day to avoid making decisions. Try instituting a strict morning routine where you get up, shower, brush your teeth, etc. at the same time. This will also make your mornings less stressful. 

  1. Make the hardest decisions when your energy level is the highest

This may seem obvious but being well-rested and well-fed is vital to keeping your energy high. Making decisions when you are tired or hungry makes you more likely to make a mistake. For most people, mornings are the best times to make important decisions. Typically, you have less energy as the day wears on, so it is important to face your biggest challenges early and deal with smaller decisions later when your energy is lower.

This also is the case when you are asking someone else to make an important decision. If you get to them early, they are more likely to say “yes” as the day goes on they may just defer the decision to another day or say “no” just to make it easy.

So don’t let the chocolate pie get to you and go ahead and make that paint color decision early Saturday morning. 


Mary Louise VanNatta, APR, CAE is the CEO of VanNatta Public Relations, a PR, event planning and consulting firm in Salem, Oregon. www.PRSALEM.com

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