Five simple tips for overcoming decision fatigue

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

We’ve all experienced this: you get home after a long day – or leave your home office after a day of remote work – and you must make the dreaded decision of what to do for dinner.

I’ve done this a million times. I get home, knowing that I should cook a healthy meal, and then I just…don’t. It’s easier to order pizza than it is to spend time prepping and cooking ingredients, and I go with the easy path, even though I know it’s not good for my wallet or my waistline.

Sound familiar? There’s a name for this: decision fatigue.

When we’ve had to make choices all day long, our willpower muscles for decision-making get worn out. Even though we have good intentions, like cooking a healthy dinner or exercising after work, we end up doing the easiest thing. So how can you avoid or overcome this fatigue and preserve your decision-making power? With these tips, you can reduce that mid-morning sluggishness and end-of-day fatigue, giving yourself the power to make good decisions in both your work and your personal life.

1. Simplify your wardrobe decisions with a 'uniform'

My partner eats the same thing for breakfast every single day – oatmeal and a cup of coffee –and has designated outfits for each day of the workweek. If it’s Monday, he’s wearing his Monday clothes. This might sound boring, but it cuts down on the number of decisions he must make every day, meaning his decision-making power can be directed at more important things, like how to tackle his current projects.

2. Make commitments, not decisions

When we decide to change something in our lives, be it in our work, health, or relationships, the mere act of deciding cues the brain and nervous system to change our reflexive thoughts and actions.

Unfortunately, simply deciding is the easy part. Making scheduled time for things is how you actually get stuff done. Scheduling time for specific tasks – ie work on your blog from 9 to 10 a.m. on Tuesdays – eliminates the pressure to decide to do it when you wake up on Tuesday morning and hope that you have enough willpower to make it happen. If it is pre-booked and committed to, you are much more likely to just do it. Focus Bubbles are useful for committing blocks of time to certain tasks, with the bonus of being accountable to others for your time.

3. Eat a healthy meal before making important decisions

You know how everyone says you shouldn’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach? Being hungry can affect your decision-making skills in places other than the supermarket. According to this study published in 2010, judges are far more likely to grant parole to an inmate if the case is heard in the morning. In the morning, judges gave favorable rulings 65 per cent of the time, but these favorable rulings dropped significantly as the morning wore on and the judges heard more cases – and had to make more decisions. Notably, after lunch, favourable rulings jumped right back to 65 per cent again. The type or severity of the crime and the inmate’s behaviour didn’t affect the ruling; the judge’s hunger and decision fatigue did.

Meal-prepping can be a useful tool for people like me who struggle to cook after a long day. Not only can this reduce decision fatigue, but it can also help with eating healthier and saving money.

4. Make the most of the morning

Just like the judges in the study, use the focus and willpower that you have in the morning to tackle your most important tasks whenever possible. Prioritizing and committing to these tasks first thing in the morning means you’ll give them your best attention and decision-making. More complex or weighty decisions wear out your willpower muscle faster, so be aware of that when you plan your agenda for the day.

Taking breaks can also help preserve your decision-making and prevent burnout if you must make several important choices over the course of the day.

5. Use the Ivy Lee Method

Ivy Lee, sometimes called the father of modern public relations, had a five-step method for increasing productivity, which is as follows:

1. At the end of the workday, Lee recommends writing down the six – only six! – most important tasks for the following day. We actually prefer it to be only 3 - 5, but that comes from personal experience vs. any fancy scientific study.

2. Prioritize those tasks according to their importance.

3. The next morning, start with the first task. Work until that task is finished before you move on to the second task.

4. Continue working through the list in order. At the end of the day, roll any unfinished items over to the list for the next day.

5. Rinse and repeat every workday.

This process forces you to monotask, which increases your focus and productivity by reducing attention residue. So simple in theory. A little harder in reality. But if you have a morning Focus Bubble as part of your routine, it will make this process much easier.


Emilie Charette

I’m a full-time university student, part-time Focus Bubbles host, and part-time D&D dungeon master. When I’m not making decisions, I love meeting new people, hearing their stories, and getting new perspectives on life. I love Focus Bubbles because they help me protect my time and do deep work. I can’t wait to see you in a Bubble!

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