Leaders everywhere have experienced that feeling. You reach the end of a long day at work and feel completely drained mentally and physically. It’s difficult to express a complete thought, and trying to decide what to have for dinner feels like running the last mile of a marathon. Every day we make thousands of decisions, both consciously and unconsciously. We make decisions about what we wear, what we eat, which route to take to the office, what to work on first, or whether to email or call someone. By bedtime, the average person has made 35,000 decisions.
Every decision requires the use of energy, and as the day goes on, it puts a strain on you mentally and causes your brain to look for shortcuts that can lead to irrational or impulsive decision-making. In recent months the pressure had increased as new decisions must be made each day. Is it safe to go to the grocery store? What is the best type of mask to wear? Can we send our children to school? It can be challenging to manage these new considerations on top of our already stressful lives. However, there are some things we can do to help protect our mental energy and make the best decisions possible.
- Make fewer decisions by establishing routines. One of the best ways to reduce decision fatigue is to eliminate some of the small choices we make each day. Plan meals ahead of time and prep as much as you can. Pick out your outfit the night before. Keep a regular workout schedule on the same days each week. Keep a running grocery list, so you don’t have to decide what you need at the store. The more you can routinize each day, the less mental energy you will spend on small decisions. Famously, Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day, so he never had to think about it.
- Delegate decisions. Make sure you are sharing the responsibility of decision-making, both big and small. At home, family members can take turns both deciding what to eat and preparing the meals. Let the GPS decide the best route to the meeting across town. Managers can delegate some decisions to employees and avoid micro-managing. It may seem odd to delegate a decision that “just takes a minute” at first. However, the cumulative effect of smaller decisions could cost you hours of productivity. If it is not appropriate to entirely delegate a decision, you can task employees with narrowing down choices and compiling the most pertinent information to make the final decision.
- Make critical decisions in the morning. Studies have shown that Judges are more likely to award parole before lunch than afterward. Likewise, researchers have found that chess players make more accurate and deliberative plays in the morning, and are more likely to make faster and riskier moves in the evening, even if they considered themselves to be a “night-owl.” Because you are unlikely to suffer decision fatigue early in the day, it is the best time for making important or complex decisions.
- Practice mindfulness and self-care. Healthy habits like journaling, meditation, and a proper diet can help boost physical and mental energy to help you make the best decisions. Journaling each day can help organize your thoughts, improving the mind’s ability to process and retain information. It can also help keep priorities clear and track daily progress towards your goals. Meditation can reduce stress, increase attention spans, and improve our ability to focus. In addition, studies show that nutrition can affect brain function. Incorporating “brain foods” like fish high in Omega 3s, leafy green vegetables, and dark chocolate may help your brain function at its best. And everyone can do with a little more dark chocolate.