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Want to make better decisions? Kick Decision Fatigue

I heard a report recently on how physician decision making quality has been shown to decline after several hours on the clock –a phenomenon known as decision fatigue.  After making a mental note to always schedule doctors’ appointments in the morning, I started thinking about how decision fatigue must affect all of us and about strategies we can use to minimize its effect on our decision making.  Here are 5 tips based on insights from behavioral economics:

  • Reduce your decision load. Have you ever wondered why Steve Jobs always wore black?  Rumor has it that creating a uniform for himself was a strategy he used to reduce his decision load.  Not having to decide what to wear every morning is one less decision to make each day. In fact, many highly successful people claim to use similar techniques.  If you think of your brain as a muscle, and decision making as pumping iron, it’s easy to see how your brain might get tired after having to make repeated decisions, even seemingly trivial (light weight) ones.


  • Stick to a routine. When you fall into a routine, you avoid having to make decisions about what to do next, because you already know what to do next.  Research has demonstrated that you actually start using a different part of your brain to through a routine, essentially giving the decision-making part of your brain a rest. You probably have experienced this sensation if you’ve ever found yourself driving on autopilot, when you automatically start driving somewhere familiar without even having to think about it. It can be a little terrifying to be deep in thought and realize you don’t even remember driving to your destination.


  • Automate. One of the most powerful ways to save is to automate your savings withdrawals. There are several reasons for this phenomenon, one of them being that you don’t need to actively make the decision to save each month and then take action on it. Setting aside savings is one of those things that you need to do regularly, so why not decide on it once, and then not have to think about it again. Look for other ways to automate –figure out how long it takes you to get through regularly used household items like toothpaste, paper towels etc., find the brands you like, and set up automatic orders for those items.  Put bills on autopay. So many ways to automate and reduce the amount of trivial decision making you have to do each month.


  • Make important decisions early in the day. Your brain ‘muscle’ will feel stronger and more powerful early in the day, and better able to process more complicated thought processes than it will be after it’s been ‘working out’ all day.


  • Plan ahead. Setting aside time to plan ahead some of the decisions you’ll have to make over the week is another good way to reduce your daily decision load. Meal planning is one of my favorite plan ahead strategies. It’s so easy to resort to poor choices when you’re tired and hungry at the end of the day, so having a plan in place for what you’re going to prepare and or eat makes everything so much easier.

Have you found clever ways to reduce decision fatigue by automating or planning ahead?  Let us know here.  And if you haven’t yet, be sure to sign up for newsletter below.