How to Combat Decision Fatigue

We make hundreds of decisions every day, some easy, some less so. What time do you want to wake up? What will you have for breakfast? What will you wear? Will you have coffee at home or on the way to work? There are also some things you don’t think about every day. Do I want to quit my job? Should I start cycling everywhere? Are those grey plates I got from John Lewis really the ones that define me best? The reasoning behind whittling down everyday decisions is the idea that sometimes, too much freedom can be a bad thing. The “Jam Study” experiment shows that too much choice can sometimes result in “analysis paralysis” – the feeling that we might regret our choices after we’ve made them. When presented with fewer options, this feeling goes down, and it’s easier to make a choice and stick with it. In fact, it could be argued that this is strongly linked to the success of the iPhone – Apple knows its customers want sleek, elegant, simple, and not-too-many-decisions.


The essence of decision fatigue is that you become worse at making decisions the more you have to make. Judges have been shown to be more lenient when hearing cases early in the morning, for example. Making decisions is mentally exhausting, and I’ve found it’s important to think about ways you can streamline your days if you want to actually get on with them, as opposed to spending the entire time planning. There are ways of dealing with this – certain high-profile figures (Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg) have for example whittled down their clothing to one outfit for everyday wear, and many people find that towards the end of the day they outsource their decisions (such as what to have for dinner).


I’ve found that working from home and essentially freelancing over the past year has made this come up more and more in my everyday life. Since I plan my entire day, from start to finish, it can paradoxically be difficult to get anything done at all. I experience “analysis paralysis” all the time, and often freak out over what the optimal order to do things is, rather than actually getting on with it. So, I’ve compiled a list of little things you can do to reduce the number of decisions you have to make every morning on a daily basis.


1) Lay out your clothes the night before. SUCH a time-saver. You do not want to start off your day deliberating over what “look” you want to go for, or whether you still fit into that shirt, or by finding out you have no clean jackets. Pick something the night before and stick with it. Also, added bonus: if you’re working from home, this will ensure you actually wear clothes (this can be difficult for some – see my Productivity post if you want to know why it’s impossible to get anything done in a bathrobe).


2) Have a designated spot for everything you need to take with you. Start with a few basics: keys, phone chargers, headphones, etc. Things you use every day. Make sure they always go back to the same spot, so that you’re not left rummaging around the house on your way out in the morning.

I’d say the most tiring thing about tidying up in general is the decision fatigue that comes with it – trying to decide where every little item is going to go, or which drawer to shove it in. If you don’t believe me, just think about the easiest things to tidy (putting clothes in laundry baskets, filling the dishwasher, throwing things away). SO much easier if everything has a spot. The tidier your house is in general, the fewer decisions you have to make. Check out my post on the Marie Kondo method if you’re interested in learning more about this!


3) Sign up for a meal plan service. I’ve recently signed up with Gousto, and, as well as working out at around £3-4 per serving, it’s SO much easier to make dinner when all the decisions have been made for you and everything’s already been delivered. I can HIGHLY recommend. There are so many services out there now as well – HelloFresh, Sun Basket, Green Chef – the list goes on. I also personally prefer a home-cooked meal to ordering in, it’s just that if left to my own devices I often end up making the same thing again and again to avoid having to go through the process of looking up recipes, picking something that looks like it might be good, deciding whether it’s worth the hassle, etc. This is a fabulous way to try new things while minimising decision fatigue. (Incidentally, if you do sign up for Gousto, use this link to get 60% off your first box and 30% off your first month, and in exchange I’ll get a small amount of credit and everyone is a winner yay!)


4) Make fixed decisions. Decide, for example, that from now on, every time you buy something and they ask “would you like a receipt?”, you will ALWAYS say no. You probably already do this with many things in life (Do I give money to those charity people on the street?) but next time you notice yourself spending an unreasonable amount of time trying to make up your mind on something minor, cut it out. Perhaps you know your favourite ice cream or pizza flavour, and you could make a habit of ordering that as a default unless something else jumps out at you. I tend to only ever order Eggs Royale for brunch, for examples (unless I’m on holiday and there are so few decisions to make that my brunch choice could easily be the highlight of my day).


4) Plan your day the night before. This goes for both work days and holidays. Decide where to have lunch, whether or not you want to shower (and if so whether to wash your hair), whether to go for yoga, which route you’d like to take, etc. Decide exactly which tasks you’d like to accomplish. That way, you can wake up and get on with it.


I know what you’re thinking: won’t this take just as long to figure out the night before than on the day itself? Remarkably, no, it doesn’t. There’s something psychologically different about planning ahead – if you’re trying to plan the morning of doing something, you have the added pressure of “should I really be planning this? I’m wasting time right now!” which can just make everything take twice as long. Trust me, there’s something distant about “tomorrow” that makes planning things the night before much easier. It can be done with a clearer mind, and in a calmer state. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think – and if you have any more suggestions let me know in the comments!



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