How to Beat Decision Fatigue

February 2022 |

On a typical day, the average adult makes 35,000 decisions. How to make them better.

Running a veterinary practice means there is an almost limitless list of decisions to be made, from the seemingly straightforward to the difficult and complex.

If making these choices wears you out, you are not alone. Researchers even have a name for it: decision fatigue. Cognitively there is a finite number of good decisions you can make daily. When your mental reserves are low, your blood sugar may drop, and you may make poor decisions, says Douglas E. Noll, who writes and teaches about conflict resolution and emotional intelligence. This is why you may choose unhealthy food, or be irritable or less focused.

If you can reduce the number of decisions you make daily, the ones you do make may be easier and better, Noll says. Try these six ways to reduce decision fatigue in your life:

1. Create routine. “The more you can make a decision autonomous, unemotional and effortless, the more efficient that decision will be,” Noll says. “The more you encounter something that requires conscious thinking, the more painful it will be.” He suggests moving as many choices as possible from the first category to the second, such as what you eat for lunch. Eliminating the brain tax on routine tasks means you’ll have more mental energy for bigger choices. This is why, for example, the late Steve Jobs always wore blue jeans and a black turtleneck.

2. Delegate. Empower your team to make decisions. If the chain of command is clear, staff members won’t feel they need to come to you for every little thing, which will free up your brain space.

3. Start early. “We are not at our best, metabolically, at the end of the day, and that is when decisions get challenging,” Noll says. The key is to arrange your day so that you are making the hardest decisions when you are best able.

4. Let your brain recharge. If you’re going through a process that requires learning new information, such as a new software system, Noll suggests setting up time to “give your brain a break.” Instead of sitting down for 30 minutes, break up the session into three 10-minute increments, with 5 to 10 minutes in between.

5. Wait. If you’re feeling exhausted, it can seem simpler to just make the easiest choice and cross it off your list. But if your gut tells you that may not be the best choice, sleep on it and make the decision when your brain is fresh.

6. Don’t wait too long. Continuing to agonize about a hard choice is like making the decision over and over again in your mind, further escalating the fatigue spiral. Instead, make a decision and stick with it.

Less Is More

In his book, The Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz makes the argument that having more options for blue jeans or salad dressings doesn’t make us happier in the ones we choose. In fact, he says, the fewer decisions we have to make, the better. Watch his TED talk.