Every day we make a bunch of choices. It starts in the morning with hitting the snooze button (or not) and continues from there. What should I eat? When should I leave for work? When should I have lunch? Should I speak up at the team meeting? Should I go to the gym? Etc.
The funny thing with decisions is that when you make them, you actually expend mental energy. If you make too many decisions in too short a time frame, you significantly reduce your decision-making ability.
This is known as decision fatigue.
Steve Jobs famously wore the same black turtleneck, blue jeans and New Balance sneakers every day. It quickly became his trademark look. When you think about the co-founder and (former) CEO of the most valuable company in the world wearing the same outfit every day, it’s pretty clear that Steve understood he had a finite capacity to make excellent decisions.
It really comes down to this — was it more important for him to choose a t-shirt for the day or how interactions would work on the next version of the iPhone? When put in such a simple example, it makes sense that he would wear the same outfit every day — it was one more decision he could put towards making Apple’s products legendary.
People in leadership roles are notorious for making a bunch of important decisions and not realizing their decision-making ability is deteriorating. I’ve done it and most CEOs, founders and leaders I know have, too. There’s only a certain number of hours in the day, right? You’ve gotta make decisions or sh*t just won’t get done.
We all have to make multiple important decisions every day, so how can we reserve our decision-making capabilities for the things that really matter? Quite simply, automate the mundane decisions so you never have to think about them.
Here are some things you can do to avoid decision fatigue:
- Don’t fill your wardrobe will hundreds of different items. Like Steve did, find a few t-shirts, sweaters, jeans, dresses, etc you like and buy multiple quantities of them. Ditto with shoes. Then essentially wear the same thing every day.
- Make the majority of your meals the same every day. I eat 8 meals a day and for 7 of them I already know what they will be. I have the ingredients in the fridge/pantry and they each take 2 minutes to make. I know the PCF (Protein/Carbs/Fat) and calories in each meal and never have to think about what I’m putting in to my body.
- Do your grocery shopping online at the same time every week and use a pre-populated shopping list for 90%+ of the items. Why waste time deciding which brand of ketchup you’ll buy this week?
- Schedule exercise in your calendar as a recurring event every day. Stop thinking about when to exercise and let your calendar tell you.
- If you run a company, delegate the first-pass of most decisions to your leadership team and then meet with them to review their decisions and bounce ideas around.
Truth be told you can probably automate, delegate or eliminate about 80% of the decisions you make every day. You just have to be consciously aware of decision fatigue and remember to make fewer, higher quality decisions.
So how do you know when you’re experiencing decision fatigue?
- You start to avoid making decisions all together
- You can’t weight-up the trade-offs between decisions
- You lose self-control over things you’d normally refrain from, like drinking alcohol and eating whatever’s in front of you
If you’re saying to yourself “Well I don’t make that many decisions every day” then try this out for fun — during a 24 hour period, write down every decision you make. Big and small.
You’ll end up with a few dozen if not a few hundred decisions written down. Look for decisions you made that had the biggest impact on your progress, then as I mentioned above, automate, delegate or eliminate the rest.
You’ll make fewer decisions but man will they be better.
Photo Credit: Mitchell Harper