From the moment that we wake up, we are making decisions. Will I hit the snooze button? Neurons start firing off. The more mental energy that you expend on making decisions, the less you have for the tasks remaining throughout the day. This is decision fatigue. Left unmanaged, decision fatigue can impair productivity.
Paring down the number of decisions that you make in your daily life not only reduces the amount of unnecessary decision fatigue that you experience, but can also increase happiness. Contrary to what one might think, having more choices doesn’t increase happiness. More choices lead to more need for decision-making, which not only depletes mental resources but is also likely to increase dissatisfaction.
Where to begin with reducing decision fatigue? Start by looking at aspects of your life where regular decision-making is involved, but spending time deliberating between choices is not necessarily beneficial.
Pare Down Your Wardrobe
The iconic black turtleneck. Few people will ever remember Steve Jobs wearing anything else. Today, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg also exhibit bland, yet distinctive fashion tastes. Tech titans appear to agree that prime decision-making energy should be reserved for things other than sartorial choice.
Unless you work in the fashion industry, wearing similar-looking clothing on a regular basis is unlikely to offend people. Consider committing to a flattering, appropriate look so that you can throw on your clothes in the morning without thinking about it twice. By doing so, you will conserve mental resources for the more consequential parts of your day.
Develop an Eating Routine
Many people in leadership positions prefer not to spend time thinking about what they are going to have for lunch. Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter ate yogurt and an apple every day during his tenure. Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue magazine, is said to eat smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for lunch without fail.
Thinking about what you are going to eat depletes mental energy that can be put to better use. To save decision-making energy, simplify your eating habits by regularly eating a meal that you enjoy. If you commit to a healthy meal, as Justice Souter and Ms. Wintour did, it is likely that you will also gain health benefits.
Schedule in Personal Tasks
Some aspects of life are unavoidable. You will need haircuts. Medical checkups. Exercise. Save the time that you would have spent thinking about these tasks by scheduling them in your digital calendar system on repeat.
Keep standing appointments at your barber shop or hair salon so that you do not have to think about the appearance of your hair in between appointments. Schedule in regular checkups with your doctor and dentist so that you do not have to worry about your health. Work out, do laundry, and clean your house on the same days every week. Take advantage of Amazon’s new function, Subscribe and Save, that allows you to schedule automatic deliveries of the products that you regularly use.
Reducing the number of decisions that you make every day can add up to significant conservation of mental resources. If you save 10 minutes per day not trying on different outfits, 10 minutes per day not thinking about what you are going to have for lunch, and 10 minutes per day not worrying about the various personal tasks you have to complete, you save yourself 30 minutes worth of decision-making per day. That is 182 extra hours worth of decision-making energy per year. Consider how you could use those extra hours productively.
by Christine Arce-Yee