There’s a term in psychology called decision fatigue and it’s a powerful notion. It applies both to your work and your personal life and basically describes how your willpower works like a muscle, or a battery.
It’s a pretty simple concept: You only have a certain amount of decisions you can make every day and each of them drains your willpower, i.e. your capacity to make decisions and commitments. Sleep, sports and rest recharge your “decision battery” to some extent but generally the fewer decision you make, the more decisive you can be when making the really important calls in your life.
HOW IT CONCERNS YOU AND ME
Decision fatigue is directly connected to your overall energy. Every time you’re forced to make a decision, it takes some of your willpower, so your energy levels drop. The quicker you make decision, the more mental and physical energy you preserve.
Then, when later that day you’re forced to be creative, make an important presentation, or even decide where to spend you holidays, you’ll be better at each of those things.
What’s bad is that decision fatigue accumulates in your brain and body. Each day you’ve drained your battery to the maximum makes you start from a lower standpoint the next day. That’s to say that you’ll be able to make fewer decision of sufficient quality tomorrow and your will will be weaker, giving you reasons to quit important commitments you made to yourself (eating healthy, doing exercise, being more self-confident, starting your business).
HOW TO GET RID OF DECISION FATIGUE
Do you know what the quickest way in the universe to deal with ANY task is? You’ve probably guessed – not to do it.
I don’t mean going in extremities, of course. But think about it. Do you decide to brush your teeth every day? Do you sit down and plan drinking water and eating? These options are defaults for us, so they don’t drain our willpower.
Remember, each decision, no matter how small or stupid, drains our battery. So we better spend as little time as possible on unimportant decisions. And the trick is to have as many defaults as possible. This makes unimportant things automatic and leaves plenty of energy and creativity to make important decisions.
WHAT OBAMA CAN TEACH US
Do you know one thing a lot of millionaires and world leaders have in common? They don’t waste time making those tiny calls. They have a default for each of them.
Barak Obama says
“I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Obama has a dedicated suit for every day of the week. Monday – dark grey. Tuesday – navy blue, etc. No time wasted worrying what to wear to work. Then comes breakfast – every day, the same thing, at the same time. Exercise 45 minutes after work, every day. Dinner with his family every night, no exceptions.
Warren Buffet, on the other hand, has the ritual to spend most of his day (up to 80%) reading. No questioning if he’s going to do some reading today. When he first met him in 1991, Bill Gates recalls he was impressed how empty his schedule was. To free up time, Buffet had made the default decision that he will decline every request to meet anyone, unless it was something massively important.
WHAT HELPS ME
My last month has been a big time fail, as you might have read. I’m still looking for the reasons to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Apart from being too self-centered, I think accumulating decision fatigue was another crucial problem. Every day, I’ve been making thousands of tiny decisions that have drained my energy and productivity.
Here’s what I aim to do, that has always helped before:
- Decide what I’m going to eat for breakfast all week
- Decide which days I’m going out to meet friends
- Decide which days I will work out, no buts
- Limit choosing what to wear to the first thing I see – 10 seconds tops (keeping a great, lean wardrobe makes sure anything you pick will look good on you)
- Decide how I will process requests to meet, instead of choosing ad hoc every time
- Plan my day from the previous night and try to stick to it
- Start with the most important things. Make my important decisions early in the day. The quality of our decisions (and our work) highly depends on the time of the day, as decision fatigue grows with it. Read more about this in James Clear’s article.
I still make those decisions but only once and then stick to them as defaults.
Your willpower is like a battery. It gets weaker the more you use it. You want to keep it fresh for the “heavy lifting”. Therefore, make small and unimportant decisions quickly (what to wear, what to eat, when to exercise, when to go to bed) or better yet, set defaults for them and you’ll be a lot more decisive on important things.