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If you’re like me, you’ve agonised over what to have for lunch, all the while putting off much more important decisions, that will have a far greater impact on your life and happiness. I like to call this sort of decision a typical first-world problem.
But, joking aside, does the fact so many of us do this sort of thing, hint at a deeper problem that could be affecting our lives, and not just our work and productivity? Enter decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is the term used to describe the mental and emotional strain we feel when we’ve had to make too many choices in too short a span of time.
Later, I’ll share some superb tips for planning your week well and beginning to conquer decision fatigue, and opening the door to becoming more productive. First, though, let’s explore the phenomenon a bit more.
What is decision fatigue?
Every day, we face hundreds of decisions from simple ones like what to have for lunch to more complicated ones that will have a greater impact on our emotional, financial, and physical wellbeing. Decision fatigue refers to the mental and emotional depletion we experience when we’ve had to make too many choices. The resulting mental depletion can affect our subsequent choices. A study by D. Vohs, Baumeister, and others, found evidence that if we are experiencing decision fatigue, we are more likely to make self-indulgent choices and lose a degree of self-control. This, in turn, can have a detrimental effect on our productivity. We have a tendency, in other words, to do what is easiest, and to give in more readily to our basic desires.
To further illustrate the point, let’s take interviewing people for a position in your company as an example.
- Loads of qualified candidates apply for the job, and you struggle to whittle it down to a more manageable number.
- After a day of intensive interviewing, your ability to think straight is all but gone. So, you end up choosing between the last three candidates you saw, or choosing the one you remember because they struck you as friendly.
- Thus, the decision you eventually make may also mean that you inadvertently missed out on some of the best talent available.
I’m willing to bet that sounds familiar to most of you. Well, it may have been decision fatigue in action.
It’s not easy to recognise when you have decision fatigue, so before I get onto a way to begin overcoming it, I’ll list the commonest signs and symptoms.
So, what might you do, when experiencing decision fatigue?
Indecision. Whenever you’re unsure about something, you might say no almost reflexively.
Avoidance. When you avoid taking on new tasks because you feel overwhelmed.
Impulsivity. When you start making hasty, unplanned decisions or going for the easy option.
Procrastination. When you start to put things off until later.
It should be noted that, even if you exhibit these signs, it doesn’t always mean that you definitely have decision fatigue. But if you find you’re practicing all four behaviours at once, it’s worth seriously considering if you have decision fatigue. After all, not taking steps to address decision fatigue at an early stage, can lead to burnout.
Next, I’ll talk about one fantastic way you can start to tackle decision fatigue if you suspect it has you in its grip.
What is one of the best ways? I hear you ask.
The answer is boring, but it’s true. It’s to plan your week. By doing so, you can take a few simple decisions off your plate before the new working week even starts and conquer decision fatigue.
For the rest of this article, I’ll take a leaf — or five — out of Ryder Carroll’s book, The Bullet Journal Method: Track Your Past, Order Your Present, Plan Your Future. The creator of bullet journaling also has some wise things to say about how to plan your week effectively.
Here’s my interpretation of those tips.
5 tips you can use to boss planning your week
Regardless of what productivity system you employ, be it using a bullet journal or something else, it should always work for you, and help more than it hinders. Bearing that in mind, let’s dive in.
Tip 1: Take an inventory of your mind
- Make a note of anything you know you want to get done in the upcoming week, whatever it is. No filter required.
- You’ll probably find you’ve got a lot more that you hope to accomplish than you first thought.
- You’ve taken the first step to combating potential decision fatigue.
- By getting everything down on paper to give your brain space to think, without having to deal with all the internal chatter.
- Your brain will be better able to evaluate what’s really important.
- Look at each task you wrote down. For each one, ask yourself two questions.
- How important is it? Is it vital or necessary? Answering those questions will help you find out which tasks you can cross off as unimportant, freeing up time you can spend working on things that really matter.
If you work Monday to Friday, it may be a good idea to do this on a Friday afternoon or evening, so that you’ll be ready and raring to go by the time the new week begins.
Tip 2: Block your time
- Set aside a certain amount of time to devote to a task.
- You can write time into your to-do list. For example:
- 9am -10am. Outline article.
- 10am – 11am. Edit the draft essay from yesterday.
- 11:30 am -12:30 pm. Work out an agenda for the 3pm meeting and distribute.
- Time blocking helps you stop procrastinating by adding urgency and structure to your routine.
This is good practice in any situation but really comes into its own if you’ve got a larger task to do and feel overwhelmed by it, or are just not sure when you’ll have the chance to work on a project. By blocking your time, you’ve made sure you know when you’ll have an opportunity to work on it.
Tip 3: Morning reflection
- Don’t worry if you’re short on time, your morning reflection can take as little as 5 minutes or as long as 15 if you prefer.
- Go over the tasks you’ve set yourself for the day and consider why you’re doing each one of them.
- Imagine yourself completing each task. This can give you a little extra motivation.
By including a little morning routine in your day, even if it’s as little as 5 minutes, you can set yourself off to a good start and rev yourself up for the day ahead.
Tip 4: Evening reflection
- Think about each task you finished during the day.
- Ask yourself these questions.
- Why is it important?
- Why am I doing this?
- Why is this a priority?
- By reflecting each evening, you can clarify your priorities so that you can adjust your plans accordingly.
- This bookends your day nicely and gives you the chance to tick off all the tasks you completed, which feels splendid.
- You can move uncompleted tasks to another day, too. That’s what makes you feel like your day is finished, as opposed to feeling like you’ve got a never-ending to-do list.
The practice of reflection can help you make better decisions along the road because it helps you work out what is really important to you, and thus helps you redefine and reshape your goals as you move through life. In the short term, it helps you disconnect mentally from work and de-clutter your brain.
Tip 5: Reward yourself
- Each time you cross something off your list, give yourself a thumbs-up, shuffle around in a sitting ‘dance,’ or (my personal favourite) have a KitKat.
- If you’ve managed to complete a bigger task, then you can take out all the stops. Do something crazy to celebrate, like call a friend or take the day off early. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you properly celebrate your achievements. Doing this regularly will help you find the joy in small things, so that you can enjoy even more celebrations in the future.
Every time we laugh at something or find something interesting, we get a little hit of dopamine. It makes us feel great, so don’t forget to give yourself due credit.
I know I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. Whichever productivity or organisational system you use, it must work for you. Any system that bogs you down, stops you from working on your tasks, or becomes too complicated is no good.
Therefore, I’d advise you to take whichever tips you like best and try them out to see if they fit well into the system you’re currently using. Abandon anything that causes more friction and adds more frustration to your life. After all, there’s no real value in a system that doesn’t actually help you become more productive.
Knowing that, go forth and start using these tips to help conquer decision fatigue, make your productivity system more effective and your life much easier!