How to Simplify Your Life to Avoid Decision Fatigue

By Carrie Kirby on 22 February 2018 0 comments

I'm having some remodeling done at my house, and you'd think the hardest part of that would be the volume of the hammering and drilling. But in fact, the worst part is the volume of the decisions I'm called upon to make — from the contractor stopping by to ask where I want the plumbing for the future sink, to the designer emailing me about tile choices. It feels like, if I'm interrupted enough times with these small decisions, I have no energy left for work or budgeting or for my family.

I'm not alone. Decision fatigue is a very real phenomenon. The theory is that the brain only has so much decision-making juice each day, and once we've used it up, we're less able to make good choices.

For me and my project, one way to avoid decision fatigue has been to outsource as many of the choices as possible to a designer. Whenever she presents me with a few choices, if one doesn't stand out immediately, I ask her, "What do you think?" Being a designer with an eye for that kind of thing, she usually has an answer and I feel confident that the new bathroom will look great.

There are other ways to simplify your life to fight decision fatigue. Let's look at some tactics.

1. Wear a uniform

Steve Jobs did it with his famous closet full of black mock turtlenecks. To an extent, so did President Barack Obama; he told Vanity Fair that he only wore blue or gray suits, saying, "I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make."

Sure, a uniform works for an iconic leader, but will it work in an ordinary office, where the same people see you day in and day out? Many workers are saying yes; wearing the same thing — or a variation on the same outfit — every day is becoming a trend. (See also: Everyday Habits of Wealthy People)

2. Preplan your menu

How many times have you dropped by a co-worker's desk to ask if they wanted to go to lunch, and ended up wasting 20 minutes discussing where to go? Or stood in front of the refrigerator 30 minutes before dinner trying to figure out what to make?

Whether you're a takeout person or a home cook who packs every lunch, planning meals in advance can make the day easier. During a difficult stretch when my three kids were small and my husband had to move to California ahead of the rest of the family, I instituted a rotating schedule that called for Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Whole Wheat Wednesday, Thoughtless Thursday, and Frozen Pizza Friday. Having a rough idea of what I'd be cooking each evening saved my mental energy for the decision-heavy online househunting I did each night after the kids were in bed. (See also: Save Money and Eat Better With These 6 Online Meal Planners)

3. Set investments on autopilot

How to invest retirement savings is one of the most irksome decisions many of us face. There are a few ways to avoid having to make constant decisions on this, such as putting your account in the hands of a professional adviser, using one of the newer robo investing services, or putting your money into target date mutual funds. I met with an hourly financial adviser who recommended the last solution, and it suits me fine, since rebalancing and choosing investments with the appropriate level of risk for my timeline are done for me.

4. Put staples on automatic delivery

I used to be a coupon lady, spending hours each week hunting for the absolute cheapest price for laundry detergent or cereal. Although I still enjoy a deal — as funds have become less tight but time has gotten scarcer for me — I have shifted a lot of my regular purchases to Amazon Subscribe and Save. This is an especially powerful brain saver for products that we might regret forgetting, such as flea drops for the pets, and toilet paper.

5. Delegate decisions

Whether at work or at home, it's tempting to reign supreme over your domain. Let it go. Not only will you be more effective and less drained if you bestow some decision making power on assistants, children, and husbands, but you'll be helping them develop their own skills and abilities.

The most important thing when delegating, in my experience, is to accept the outcome, even if it isn't what you would have chosen. For instance, if you let your spouse plan the vacation because you're too busy, you don't get to complain that you're visiting too many art museums once you get there.

6. Do less

It may seem counterintuitive in the scope of productivity, but some of the little tasks and decisions that sap our brainpower aren't all that important. Skip joining that task force at work, don't schedule a getaway for every single three-day weekend, and reduce shopping trips. Having fewer tasks and activities naturally leads to having fewer decisions to make.

7. Have a go-to gift

Your kid has two birthday parties coming up this weekend, and you're in the toy store discussing with your child whether they'd rather give their friends a Lego set or a board game. Or, you need a hostess present for a dinner party you're going to, but you have no time to even think about what to bring. While it's lovely to give gifts that show how well you know the recipient, a high quality gift that works for almost everyone, such as a little-known-but-fun game for all your kid's friends, or a gourmet food item from your region for adults, can be a godsend. (See also: 10 Affordable Kids' Gifts That Won't Rot Their Brains)

8. Make a schedule

I work from home, and this means I sometimes find myself wandering from task to task, from laundry to bookkeeping to writing to making a grocery list, without finishing anything. I haven't mastered this myself, but organized people who sit down and sketch out their workday and/or personal time say it helps them feel calmer, get more done, and avoid shirking things they're tempted to skip, such as exercising or cleaning out their inbox. (See also: Organize 8 Key Areas of Your Life With These 17 Smart Apps)

9. Take public transit

Have you ever thought of how many little decisions you have to make while driving, especially if traffic is heavy? If you change lanes, will you be able to get around the slow truck a few cars up? Should you take the toll road or the country road? Can you make it to your destination without gassing up? Where will you park?

Riding the bus or train might be less comfortable than sitting in your own car, but it can offer a wonderful lack of responsibility as you get on, sit down, and put on your headphones, knowing that the trip is now out of your hands.

10. Cut yourself some slack

Let yourself read a good novel on your lunch break, put off answering those last few emails, or even cave in and get the jelly doughnut you're trying not to think about. Decision fatigue can also be seen as self control fatigue, as we only have so many mental resources to constantly make those good choices. And if you let yourself make a "less good" choice once in awhile when it comes to having fun or indulging yourself, maybe you'll still have enough brainpower left after work to stick to your grocery budget or pay the bills on time.

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