3 Ways to Deal With Decision Fatigue

Have you heard of “decision fatigue?”

Decision fatigue refers to “a state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions.” (AMA) The basic idea is that, the more decisions a person makes throughout the day, the harder it becomes to make decisions, or to make good decisions.

It’s a real thing, and it’s something that comes up a lot with my clients, most of whom are professional women in high levels of leadership (entrepreneurs, small business owners, executives) who also run busy households (i.e. they have children at home). These women have to make all of the decisions for themselves at work and at home, plus the decisions that impact others—employees, colleagues, and the children and other adults who live in their home.

As I’ve coached my clients (and myself!) to deal with decision fatigue, I’ve identified three key areas to focus on: creating systems and maintaining routines, delegating decisions to others, and editing your life to reduce the number of decisions you have to make. I thought I’d share a bit about what each of these might look like in hopes that it might be helpful to you as well!

First, reduce decision fatigue by creating systems and letting those systems make many of the daily decisions for you.

Over the years, I’ve played around and created systems for my household for everything from meal planning and grocery shopping (Taco Tuesday, anyone?), to household contributions (you might call them chores), to scheduling, to gifts for the (many) birthday parties my kids get invited to (I buy a bunch of craft kits and my kids can pick one from the gift closet when it’s time to go to a birthday party).

But one of my favorite systems has to do with getting dressed in the morning.

If you are someone who has a lot of responsibilities at work and at home, sometimes the last thing you think about is what to wear. So, you grab whatever and throw it on, then realize later in the day you feel, as one client put it, “like a schlump.” Unfortunately, this affects your confidence, because everything is connected. As Image Consultant Kim Peterson writes, “Research reveals that dressing your truth and authentic style builds up your resilience. Even though you may be still working from home, there is tremendous power and value in getting dressed and showin’ up – even if it’s just for yourself.” What we wear matters!

We need a system for simplifying getting dressed without compromising style.

In 2014, I became a mother through foster care. In one day, I went from no children to two children, ages five years old and five months old. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming number of decisions to make! The best advice I got came from entrepreneur Cara Veale Coniglio, Owner/Designer at Time and the Bell and mother of two, when she said, “You need a uniform.” What she meant was, you need an outfit that you don’t need to give a second thought to—you put it on because it’s your uniform. Your uniform should be functional for the season of life and work you’re in, but also something you feel confident in.

I have carried this concept through the last eight years, from the stylish cotton tunics and leggings of my midnight feeding days, which went from night to day (and sometimes back to night again 😬), to the jeans, graphic tees, and blazers I’m into right now. And I borrow the “Geranimals” concept: I can mix and match tops and bottoms without much thought. Easy peasy.

From a professional standpoint, this also ties in with personal branding. By having a “uniform,” you have a very simple built-in plan for dressing confidently and communicating something about who you are, which, whether we like it or not, is part of how we attract new clients.

The second area to focus on when seeking to reduce decision fatigue is delegating decisions to others. It’s vital that we develop the mindset and skills to delegate effectively, both at work and at home. Always be looking for who within your sphere could do a task that naturally defaults to you.

Because I work four days a week, I cannot possibly carry the full responsibility of doing everything that needs to happen in order for our household to function. I can manage it, but I can’t do it all. At home, our kids have morning and evening checklists to help them remember what they need to do before leaving the house and before going to bed. We have a chart showing which parent is reading to which child each night (the chart decides for us). We also have a very long list of household tasks that need to be done on a daily or semi-daily basis. Everyone is expected to contribute, and we have a record of who does what, because everyone initials next to the job they’ve done. We discuss the contributions, and how folks are doing with helping out, at our weekly family meeting. I also delegate meal planning to my kids once a week or so—yes, even my seven-year-old takes a turn planning dinner. With some coaching and guidance (which I wrote about here), they plan what we’ll have. It’s empowering for them, and takes one more decision off my plate. All I have to do is add their ingredients to my shopping list.

At work, delegating tasks is a wonderful way to identify and empower leaders in your company, whether you are a small business or in the C-suite of a major corporation, and it’s a great way to reduce the number of decisions that fall to you. One of the best questions a boss can ask an employee is, “What do you think we should do?” Usually, they have been thinking about it and already have good ideas for how to handle something. Take time to ask yourself, “Do I need to be the one doing this? Is this something I could delegate?” If the answers are “no” and “yes” respectively, delegate.

The last recommendation I make to clients who suffer from decision fatigue is to edit your life and reduce the number of decisions you need to make!

I borrowed the term “edit your life” from Gary McKeown’s phenomenal book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (here is a great summary of the book on Medium). The concept is simple: editing is “the strict elimination of the trivial, unimportant, or irrelevant.” Successfully editing your life involves cutting out options and knowing when to say “no.” In fact, McKeown devotes a section of this book to ways to artfully and gracefully say, “no.” I have found it such a helpful concept and saying “no” is now something I love to do, because I know it means I’m saying, “yes” to something better. As my friend and mentor Sean Callahan of Strategic Impact UK often says, “By saying yes to that, what are you saying no to?” This is such an important concept, and it is a vital component of reducing decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue is a common challenge for professional women managing a busy company and busy household. By identifying and addressing the ways we can reduce it, we can create more margin for ourselves, lower our stress, and flourish at work and at home.

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