Should I go into the office or work from home? Do I have enough time to sleep for five more minutes? What should I wear today? Which strategy should we decide to go with for the client? What should I eat for lunch? Should I workout or go to happy hour?
These are a few of the many questions we are faced with on a daily basis. Without realizing it, we start making decisions the moment we wake up and these decisions pile on top of one another until we finally go to sleep at night. Oftentimes, this seemingly never-ending string of choices to make leaves us feeling mentally exhausted by the end of the day. This mysterious exhaustion has a name: decision fatigue.
Just as your muscles get tired after an intense workout, your brain can also become tired from heavy use. Ego depletion describes the concept that mental resources are finite, which limits one’s ability to have the willpower to make good decisions. Social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister coined the term “decision fatigue” to describe how a series of decisions in a row will lead us to eventually make impaired decisions due to depleted levels of willpower, energy, and self-control — which usually occurs at the end of the day.
Decision fatigue explains the desire to look for shortcuts to expedite decisions when we are feeling low on energy. For instance, feeling drained from making too many decisions can make you want to order Uber Eats rather than going grocery shopping after work. A longer, calculated decision would highlight the benefits of cooking at home vs. ordering in as a healthier, more cost-efficient option, but decision fatigue wipes your self-control, beckoning the fast, delicious pizza that can be delivered to your door.
Experiencing this emotion can silently fuel our reckless decisions all due to waning willpower from ego depletion. It doesn’t discriminate no matter how “responsible” you pride yourself to be — you have limited amounts of energy in a day, and if continued to not to be taken care of, can potentially result to burn out. If this all sounds a little too familiar, see below on how you can prevent decision fatigue from taking over your lives, ruining your budgets, and health.
Tips for Preventing the Fatigue
Make Harder Decisions First
We usually start the day with our highest energy levels, where we have the optimal mental capacity to make smart, calculated decisions before the decision fatigue hits. Greater energy levels enable us to be able to tackle harder tasks first. A good exercise is to prioritize your list of tasks for the day and seek to complete the most mentally taxing ones first. While it is a common habit to start the day by checking email, this task is essentially mindless and can monopolize one’s energy. To better match harder tasks to higher energy levels, try using the first hour of your workday (or when you feel most energized) to accomplish a more intellectually challenging task and then check emails after you can successfully cross this task off your to-do list. Plus, when you’ve completed the hardest task first, you can easily breeze through the rest of your workday, without having to worry about that impending task you’re avoiding to complete.
Opt for Shortcuts Where it Counts Less
Try thinking about all the things you try to do that you deem as low importance and see how you can expedite the process to free up mental capacity. For instance, sometimes it makes sense to have your groceries delivered to your home to save you the time and energy that’s required to go to the store. If you always seem to forget to pay your bills because you have too much on your plate, set up your accounts for your money to be automatically withdrawn when the bill is due. There are similar shortcuts like this that can be applied to various components of your life to minimize these low-end decisions that are unnecessarily eating away at our willpower, so you can utilize that extra time you gain on taking care of yourself.
Try to Focus on a Singular Task
The average user switches between tasks about 300 times during a singular work day. This sort of context-switching hinders our focus while slowly depleting our willpower. Multitasking not only silently eats away at our energy, but also has been shown to decrease productivity by up to 40 percent. Being more productive means that you are using less time and energy for that given task, allowing you to have a greater amount of willpower leftover for other decisions. As omnipresent as multitasking has seemed to become, it is really not efficient and will drain you. So try being more focused on one given task at a time to optimize your productivity and energy. Your mind and body will thank you later.
Build Momentum Where Possible
Referred to as the Zeigarnik Effect by psychologists, we tend to remember incomplete tasks better than completed tasks. Once our brain begins doing something, we can’t stop thinking about it, where we create a sort of obsessive thought stream around the pending activity. While it is often hardest to start a new task, we can leverage this momentum around incomplete tasks by grouping together similar activities. By doing tasks in groups, you can overcome the friction of getting started because your brain will categorize the chain of tasks as one single activity. For instance, stringing errands together such as apartment cleaning and laundry can enable you to ride the momentum of organizing to be more productive while using less willpower.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, you want to produce the best work possible without feeling drained and not yourself. Remember to focus on a single task, know the best time you work, and please, please, please, take a break! Most of us do our best work when we take care of ourselves and take breaks throughout the day. You can’t complete everything you need to accomplish if you’re not feeling 100 percent.
Featured Image via Vanessa Granda