What is decision fatigue?

Jun 14, 2022

Table of contents:

  1. What is decision fatigue?
  2. What are some examples of decision fatigue?
  3. What are the signs of decision fatigue?
  4. Why is decision fatigue dangerous?
  5. What can you do to help with decision fatigue?

We are inundated with information from the moment we wake up, to the moment we go to sleep. We are constantly making decisions, but over the course of a day, your ability to make decisions significantly decreases.

Your capacity to make decisions is a finite resource that is drained as your energy is depleted. This phenomenon is known as decision fatigue.

In this article we’re going to be looking at what is decision fatigue, the causes, signs, impacts, and what proceses you can put in place if you feel like you are suffering from decision fatigue too.

What is decision fatigue?

We are living in the information age, but that means we’re inundated with choices to be made all day, everything day. Things that can have very little impact on our lives can drain your energy and affect much bigger decisions.

Stuff like choosing what to wear, or what to eat can seem like very inconsequential decisions in isolation, but when you are required to make a lot of decisions for an extended period of time, it can make complicated decisions that have a longer term, or possibly negative consequences can be affected.

When your energy is drained, or you’re feeling tired, or stressed, making a decision on something can feel like a burden. You have less perseverance to make good decisions. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of going with whatever feels like the easiest option. But this can mean you make hasty or ill informed decisions because you haven’t taken the time to think through the consequences of your decisions.

What are some examples of decision fatigue?

There are lots of really good examples of decision fatigue from day-to-day life. If you’re reading this at the end of a long day, you’ve probably experienced some of these yourself.

For example, if you’ve just arrived home from an exhausting day at work, it can be difficult to decide what to make, let alone go to the effort of preparing something healthy. That’s why so many of us take the easy option and get a take-away instead.

Mindlessly scrolling through social media, and bouncing between apps is another sign you’re suffering from decision fatigue because you’ve ran out of energy to decide to work on something productive.

Finally, any time you’re specifically choosing simple routine tasks, and avoiding the more difficult tasks, particularly those that involve decisions, but will move you closer to your long term goals can be seen as a negative consequence of decision fatigue.

What are the signs of decision fatigue?

So we’ve seen some examples, but let’s now look at the specific signs that you might be suffering from decision fatigue.

The first is brain fog, where it feels like you are unable to make a decision based on the information you have in front of you. This often translates to spending a long time look at your task lists without actually taking any action or completing any tasks.

The second sign is procrastination, which is either putting off things you should be doing, or doing things that you know aren’t very important but offer little resistance. Avoiding tackling those important, and impactful tasks may be right in certain circumstances if you’re feeling tired or drained, but if you are repeatedly falling into this rut, it’s going to have a major long-term impact on your productivity.

And the final sign is when you’re making impulsive, or rash decisions, typically choosing the easiest option. This could mean you choose things that feel like they will be resolved quicker with less effort on your part, but it could mean you feel the negative impact of those decisions for a long time.

Why is decision fatigue dangerous?

Decision fatigue can feel like one of those innocuous things that everyone suffers with to some extent, but the effects of it can be very detrimental. For example, common side effects of decision fatigue are anxiety, depression, and problems that affect your physical health.

However, even if you aren’t suffering from these problems, you may be feeling the negative effects of not making progress towards your longer-term goals. You might feel like you’re stuck in a rut, and you are unable to escape the context that you’ve found yourself in. And finally, it might make you irritable and difficult to work with, which could mean you’re missing out on opportunities you otherwise would have earned.

What can you do to help with decision fatigue?

The first important thing you should do to help with decision fatigue is take the time to rest, and don’t overcommit to work. Decision fatigue is a warning sign that you are working too much, and you need to take the time to recover.

If you feel like you are suffering from the effects of decision fatigue, a good first step is to put a system in place to try to remove some of the inconsequential day-to-day decisions you face. This will leave more room and energy to focus your efforts on decisions that really do matter.

For example, you might prepare all of your meals in one go so you have got ready, healthy prepared meals ready to go when you finish work after a long day. Another example is Steve Jobs. He famously always wore the same outfit so he didn’t have to make the decision on what to wear each day.

Next, it’s good to have a methodology for choosing what to work on next. Choosing the right tasks for your current energy level or mental state will make a huge difference in the output of your productivity.

Having a productivity methodology, or simply a routine will likely be a good first step if you’re suffering from decision fatigue. For example, chaining tasks together is a very simple way to ensure you complete tasks that you might avoid if you are required to make a decision. An example of this could be always going for a run as soon as you finish work, rather than sitting on the settee and trying to decide if you should go for a run, go the gym, or perhaps go for a swim instead.

Even if you don’t manage to follow any of these principles, if you can be conscious of why you’re choosing certain tasks over other more important tasks, this can be a step in the right direction.

Everyone will feel like they can’t face certain tasks from time-to-time, it’s only natural. The problem occurs when you are always choosing that low hanging fruit to the detriment of everything else.

Philip Brown


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