3 Ways to Beat Decision Fatigue

Decisions, decisions. Sometimes it feels like our lives are one big set of decisions strung together between meals and sleeping.

Maybe that’s because on average all of us are asked to make more than 100 small to medium decisions every day — just in our personal lives.

If you are a supervisor or manager, then you are likely being asked to make even more — often more important — decisions than that every working day.

It is no wonder therefore that so many of us have decision fatigue. It is characterized by a range of emotions and reactions including indifference and inertia.

Hard to Care

Indifference kicks in when we simply get tired of trying to sort out whose turn it is to do something at work. Why don’t they just figure it out themselves and leave you alone?

Nope, every week you get the same two people standing in front of you wanting to be picked to go first. No wonder you’re indifferent. It’s hard to care about something so trivial.

Inertia is another common reaction that decision fatigue sufferers often complain about. It can happen at any level of an organization but because problems are like gravity — they always sink to the lowest level possible.

That’s why the mailroom supervisor has to be Solomon in order to decide on which of the 17 priority packages he should arrange delivery of first. Inertia kicks in and he either decides to do nothing, which is a decision, or he simply chooses one person at random to please that day.

The third problem that people face when decision fatigue sets in is that they become overwhelmed. There is just too much to do, in too little time, to actually make a decision. So they revert to the very basics, withdraw and refuse to make any decisions at all. When that happens both they and the organization are in big trouble.

A Plan That Works

So how can you overcome decision fatigue? The answer is actually quite simple. You need a plan.

That plan should involve a process to help you quickly analyse situations, determine priorities, and make good decisions. But that plan will only work if you are ready, willing and capable of making that initial triage at the beginning of a day or a work week. And that means that you will need to look after yourself.

What scientists and researchers have found is that we have an almost infinite capacity to make decisions. That is somewhat the nature of being sentient, thinking humans. We think therefore, we can decide.

But making good decisions means that we have to look after ourselves, both mentally and physically. And because most of the decision-making process that we undertake is mental, we absolutely need to get enough sleep to function at our decision-making best.

One person who has done extensive work in this field is Dr. Noelle C. Nelson, a clinical psychologist and author who says that whenever we are too tired we tend to make poor decisions.

She also says that we can’t really stop making decisions — we just have to get better, physically and emotionally in order to make better decisions. In her view there are three basic and easy ways to overcome decision fatigue.

1. Breathe.

Your brain needs oxygen to function properly. Take a moment every hour or so to close your eyes, clear your mind and take a few deep breaths. A few deep breaths can restore not just your regular breathing patterns, but your decision capacity as well.

2. Get More Organized.

Make a realistic to-do list each day, and stick to it. Rank your activities in the order of difficulty and make the easy decisions first.

The more complex ones can wait until you get more information, get more time or even get into a better frame of mind to make the right decision.

3. Tend to Your Physical Needs.

The brain needs glucose as fuel, but too often, we alternately starve and stuff ourselves. Pace your food intake. Drink plenty of water.

Exercise to get more oxygen to your brain. Exercise can simply be getting up from your desk each day to take a quick, brisk walk for 10 minutes.

Get more sleep. We know that lack of sleep not only makes you tired, but it blurs your judgement and reasoning capacity, both crucial when it comes time to make the correct decision.

So take care of yourself physically, get more organized and remember to breathe. Those are three decisions that you will never regret. Who would have thought it would be so easy to overcome decision fatigue?

Do you have any suggestions to help the decision-making process easier? Leave them in the comments!

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of Change the Things You Can (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: Change the Things You Can


  1. Taryn M. on the 20th August

    My advice would be: don’t rush! One of the reasons why I struggle to make decisions is because of the pressure I feel to decide– and decide fast. Knowing how to think on your feet and respond to dynamic situations is important, but it’s often possible to take some time out to think before you decide, as you suggest.

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