Are You Suffering From Decision Fatigue?

By Chelsea Orcutt

Does this sound anything like your morning? Wake up, hit snooze, scramble to shower. Pick an outfit, check the weather to find that your outfit isn’t ideal for a 75-degree sunny day; pick a new one. Decide what to eat for breakfast (or maybe skip it?); ponder if you have time to stop for coffee. By the time you’re on your way, you’ve expended a lot of mental energy in making a series of tiny decisions. In fact, the average adult makes 35,000 decisions each day.

According to a Cornell University study, 200 of those are just about food.

At work, you may not have the right mindset to tackle big projects and solve problems, leading to more stress. It is a vicious cycle, and it has a name: Decision Fatigue. The more decisions you make each day, their quality will deteriorate as the day goes on.

The author of a recent Fast Company article explains decision fatigue as “the mental equivalent of hanger, that dreaded combination of hunger and anger.” When we’re “hangry”, we’re more likely to act impulsively. When we’re low on mental energy, it’s more difficult to think critically and solve problems.

A few simple adjustments to planning your day can reduce decision fatigue and improve productivity. Here’s how you can save energy and creativity when it matters most.

1. Consider a work uniform

If you dread picking an outfit every day, a “work uniform” might be the solution. Take it from Matilda Kahl, who wrote for Harper’s Bazaar about crafting her perfect work uniform. She realized how many hours she was spending on choosing an outfit, so she simplified the process by buying 15 silk white blouses and a few pairs of black pants. Not only is she saving time and making one less decision each morning, she’s also saving money on new clothes. Another successful person with a work uniform? Mark Zuckerberg. His famous gray t-shirt and jeans outfit was the subject of an April Fools’ Day joke this year.

2. Embrace the magic of batch cooking.

Cooking three meals a day can be time-consuming, and eating out gets expensive. Plus, none of us want to worry about cooking after getting home at 10 p.m. By that point, our decision-making skills are depleted, and all we want to do is order take-out. This is where batch cooking comes in handy. Planning and prepping meals each Sunday takes the guesswork out of what to eat for the week and consolidates your decision-making into one afternoon. If you want to give this a try, check out BuzzFeed’s guide for a week of healthy lunches and Pepperplate: a meal-planning tool, recipe book and shopping list all in one.

3. Build a schedule at work

When we’re juggling projects, breaking up our day can help optimize our mental energy to the tasks that require it. That might mean powering through emails from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and then focusing on a major task from 10 a.m. to noon. Planning to tackle difficult tasks early in the day when our minds are fresh is another strategy to consider.

4. Treat your downtime and relaxation as a non-negotiable.

To perform our best at work, we need time to refresh our minds and bodies. As Bridget Thoreson noted in her recent Aloud post, finding an anti-stressor and committing to it will help us reset. An easy way to avoid decision fatigue? Put your morning yoga class on your calendar, or schedule whatever other activity you need to reset.

By cutting down on the more basic decisions in our lives, like what to eat and what to wear, we can apply our mental energy in the smartest way. When we face the day with a clear mind, it shows in our work and attitude and increases our energy for what really matters.

Chelsea Orcutt
Strategy & Operations Lead at Thirty Madison

Chelsea Orcutt isa Strategy & Operations Lead at Thirty Madison, a digital health company. In addition to her role on the NYWICI Board of Directors, Chelsea also serves as a producer on the Coffee Break w/ NYWICI podcast, volunteers with NYWICI's mentorship program, and is a two-time NYWICI scholarship recipient. She is a Buffalo, NY native and a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.


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