Battling Decision Fatigue

We’ve all been there. You’re driving home at the end of a long day, and you’re totally spent. Whether it was a challenging day full of long meetings, or an amazing day where you finally scored a verbal “yes” from the prospect, you feel wiped out. Your cup is totally empty.

Decision Fatigue Ice Cream Sundae

You may find yourself mentally cataloging the things you need to do when you get home. Making dinner feels impossible, so you swing into Papa John’s. This, my friend, is a prime example of decision fatigue. While it might seem like no big deal, it can manifest in ways that are detrimental to your career and your life. But it’s easy to combat if you understand it.

Decision Fatigue is the deteriorating quality of decisions made after a long day of decision-making.

I once did a training on the campus of Facebook. All of their locations have free food and drinks all day long. We’re talking Whole Foods-quality items, ranging from the super healthy to the dangerously indulgent.

We took a 2 p.m. break, and I noticed one of the team members came back with a sundae covered in sprinkles. She immediately defended herself by saying, “I’ve done so well all day long, but I’m just so tired and I couldn’t resist!” That’s decision fatigue talking.

If you’ve had a long day of meetings or decision-making, it becomes difficult to make good decisions. You can only make so many decisions each day before you just completely check out.

And everyone makes trade-offs. Maybe you can easily skip the scone at Starbucks on your way to work, but you find that you don’t have the same willpower to not stop at Buffalo Wild Wings on the way home.

Decision fatigue leads your brain to look for shortcuts. The more choices you make, the harder they become to make. So deciding on what to have for that 2 p.m. snack or whether or not to take that last prospecting call becomes harder than any of the decisions you’ve already made that day.

Set Yourself Up for Success

There are ways to make those later-in-the-day decisions less difficult. Let’s say 2 p.m. rolls around, and you’re hungry for a little snack. If you have a little bag of roasted peanuts at your desk, it’s a lot easier to grab those and keep working than it is to walk to the vending machine, where you’re much more likely to make a bad decision and opt for a candy bar. If you make that decision for yourself in advance, you’ll make a smarter one.

If you have a goal set for yourself of 25 prospecting calls, it’s a lot harder to shrug off the last few of the day. Rather than thinking, “I’m tired and I don’t want to make any more calls,” you can simply look at your goal card and say, “I only have to make three more calls to hit my goal for today, and then I’m done!” You already made the decision for yourself earlier in the day, so now you just have to follow the process.

Here are my three favorite tips for eliminating some of the big decisions in your day and staving off decision fatigue.

1. Wear a “Uniform”

I’ve discussed this in detail on the blog before, but Shane and I both undertook a wardrobe overhaul years ago, and it has made a huge difference in our lives. We’re not alone in appreciating the freedom you experience when getting dressed becomes a no-brainer decision every day; Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Einstein have all been known for wearing a “uniform” of sorts.

By removing the decision about what to wear every morning, you can make room for tougher decisions later in the day. Whether this is simplifying your wardrobe or laying out your clothes the night before, do something to make your clothing decisions easier. Remove that first stressful bit of the morning, and you’ll be surprised how much brain space it frees up for the rest of the day!

2. Create an Ideal Week

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Creating and abiding by an ideal week blueprint is so important. By deciding the best day and time of the week to complete a certain task, your ideal week becomes a complete map of your responsibilities.

Once you’ve created this blueprint, all you need to do is stick to it. Instead of sitting around wondering, “What do I need to do today?” every morning, you simply look at your schedule and follow it! No tough decisions need to be made.

I shadowed a client once, and the second we walked through the door, his assistant handed him his schedule. On that sheet of paper was everything he needed to do and everyone he needed to call for the entire day, laid out perfectly for him.

Throughout the day, he crossed off every item as he completed it. At the end of the day, he put the list back on his assistant’s desk. She could see who and what he didn’t get to so she could help him get those things rescheduled or moved. It made his day a total no-brainer.

3. Make Healthy Food Choices Early

You may not think about it often, but how you fuel your body on a daily basis has a huge impact on your productivity and success. Start off by deciding on one or two breakfast choices, and stick with them. Make sure they’re healthy and easy to prepare—something that will give you the energy to last until lunch, so you won’t be tempted by the donut or bagel sitting in the break room.

Once you make a smart breakfast choice, you’re much more likely to make a smart lunch choice because you’re already feeling good about yourself. But if you skip breakfast because you’re in a rush and then have that mid-morning bagel or donut, it’s easier to cave and just have pizza for lunch.

Once you’ve made good choices for breakfast and lunch, dinner should be a breeze. Prepping meals ahead of time and popping them in the freezer can be a big help here. Remove the work—and even the thought—from it, and you won’t fall into the trap of subsisting off junk.

Decision fatigue doesn’t strike just on our “bad” days. Making decision after decision all day long can result in a kind of exhaustion that leads us to cut corners wherever we can. But if you’re aware of the problem, you can thwart it before it rears its ugly head.

Until next time—go sell some stuff!


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