How to overcome decision fatigue

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”

Tony Robbins

Are you actually making choices or decisions that matter the most to you? One of the paradoxes of life is that our big decisions are often less calculated than some of our small ones. Sometimes, we make decisions in imperfect conditions that prevent us from thinking things through and we end up making unhealthy and unproductive choices. Our life be it our personal or professional depends on the quality of the decisions we make. Every waking minute of our day, we make countless decisions, big or small starting from what to eat in lunch, what to wear, which projects or tasks to work on, whom to hire, how much to spend, what to do with our spare time so on and so forth. Every decision requires time and energy and our small daily decisions impact the will power we have. This is the reason the days you take many decisions, you feel drained and experience low mental energy.

Even though there are no telltale symptoms of when that mental energy is low, but you experience everything more intensely, react impulsively, or become more irritable than usual because of decision fatigue and happens when you are making too many decisions in a day, important or unimportant.

We all like to decide and take decisions. We like long menu of options to choose from be it at a restaurant or from an online store, which channel or website for latest information and so on. Also, we have this habit of switching between the tasks quite frequently in a day from checking our messages, mails, social media websites to professional or personal work. Not only does this affect our focus and concentration to do deep work, but each of those decisions to switch between the tasks also eats into your will power. No matter how rational or intelligent you are, you cannot make decision after decision without getting mentally fatigued. And unlike physical fatigue which we are consciously aware of, decision fatigue often happens without us knowing and depletes our cognitive resources which are essential to learn, think and grow. By understanding decision fatigue, you can patch these cognitive leaks and use the resources in most optimal and productive ways.

Understanding decision fatigue..

It refers to the idea that your will power or ability to make good choices deteriorates in quality after an extended period of decision-making. In other words, the more decisions you need to make, the worse will be your ability to weigh all the options in making a well-informed and research-backed choice. Decision fatigue doesn’t just come from too many choices. It involves a phenomenon called ‘ego depletion’ – a term coined by Social Psychologist – Roy F. Baumeister. It is based on the idea that you have finite store of will power for exerting self-control and when you use it up you will end up making poor choices.

Ego depletion is more prominent in acts involving your will power and self-control in comparison to much less strenuous tasks. Working for an extended period of time making multiple complex decisions or avoiding a temptation or resisting your desires for an extended period of time in a day saps your will power and other limited cognitive resources like focus, self-control, concentration and other problem-solving skills.

How decision fatigue impacts your productivity

When decision fatigue sets in, you take shortcuts and tend to favour short-term gains and become inclined to take easier options. As the fear of giving up options increases, it gets difficult to come to any resolution or agreements. The busyness of our daily habits can make us restless, to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. In order to avoid agonising over decisions and to ease the mental strain, we resist any change or risky moves.

Researchers provided the results from a number of their studies and experiments that suggest that our ability to make good choices degrades after long periods of thoughtful decision-making. In a research study, psychologists examined the factors that impact whether or not a judge approves a criminal for parole. The researchers examined more than thousand judicial rulings over a ten-month period. What they discovered was that the most influential factor that drove their decision-making wasn’t their crime, background, or sentences. But what time their case was heard. Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole 70% of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10% of the times, as the morning wore on and the judge became drained from making more and more decisions, the likelihood of a criminal getting a favorable ruling steadily dropped to zero.

When decision fatigue happens, either we stop making decisions completely because we are mentally depleted or we make poor decisions. Also, we are more likely to yield to any kind of temptation, indulge in unhealthy habits, anxious behaviour, frustration or confusion and act impulsively instead of thinking things through. Whenever you get involved in a day long set of meetings that had goals of taking number of critical decisions, you feel overwhelmed and try to look for shortcuts or may decide to give up on many of the other important tasks.

How to overcome decision fatigue

And while decision fatigue is something that we all deal with in our personal and professional endeavours, there are few ways that you can organize your life and design your day to master your willpower. Here are some such ways to counteract all the factors that lead you to decision fatigue.

Give yourself fewer choices

We feel overwhelmed when we have too many choices. The fewer the choices, the faster will be our decisions as our brains don’t need to mentally step into each new option and stretch out inside them, picture or evaluate them while you step into the next option. For most of us, when we have to make decisions from more options, we start second-guessing as having too many choices puts lot of pressure to make right choice. We worry of making a wrong choice and keep going back and pondering our choices to see if something else is a better choice. We wonder what the repercussions of the decision might be down the line, how it might hurt our lives and work.

Try paring down your options so you have limited choices. Setting daily routines simplifies your choices and frees you from feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Stick to the essentials when small and not so important decisions have to be made.

Cutdown decisions

The best way to reduce decision fatigue is to reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a given day. Avoid random decision-making by using lists through out the day. To-do lists keep you on track of getting things done. Having said that there will always be decisions that pop up each day that you cannot plan for. That’s okay. But most often, the decisions that drain us are the ones that we make over and over again. You can cut down on decisions you make on a daily basis by deciding on which ones can you automate, regulate, effectuate and debate.

Automate your bill payments, frequently purchased grocery items or refills, or your monthly requirements to free up your time for other more important decisions. Effectuate getting things done that are high in importance. There is no decision to make, just do those things that are high in importance. Regulate your tasks like checking mail, managing your schedule or doing chores. If it’s high in time and low in importance, you regulate them by set times and windows and follow them instead of painfully doing one or two a day. Debate the decisions that are high in importance or high-time decisions. These can be regarding your long-term professional goals or personal goals like moving or changing your career so on and so forth. Debate the pros and cons, weigh your options in order to avoid making bad choices.

Avoid shiny object syndrome

Constant need to make decisions can leave you feeling depleted. Being creative makes you a person of many ideas. But if you decide to start your tasks based on ideas without properly assessing them can make your decision-making more complex. This is like the tendency where a child chases after shiny objects and after reaching the object and seeing what it is, quickly loses interest and goes after something else. Be wary of your shiny object syndrome of starting projects or tasks that seem interesting without assessing their feasibility and sustainability. If you are tempted to start a new project because it seems fun and interesting, set long-term and short-term goals for you and your work. Pick what decisions you want to focus your energy towards and simplify the rest to save yourself from decision fatigue.

Focus on what is important

If you put too much on your plate for the fear of missing out, it gets very difficult to prioritise your most important decisions. Eisenhower decision-Matrix can help clear up confusion when you have to consider several options. It helps you analyse your tasks or choices by listing the factors you need to consider and then weighing each option based on importance and urgency.

You can prioritise your decisions based on the four quadrants of the matrix. First quadrant is for decisions that are both urgent and important. Decisions you couldn’t have anticipated, and those that you have left until the last minute. Decide to just do such tasks by planning ahead and avoiding unnecessary procrastination.

Second quadrant is for important but not urgent decisions that help you to achieve your long-term personal and professional goals and complete tasks you perceive most important in life.

Third quadrant is for urgent but not important decisions. Consider whether you can reschedule the urgent tasks or delegate them to someone else.

Fourth quadrant is for decisions that are not so important and not urgent. This is about tasks that are just a distraction and must be avoided whenever possible. Identify and eliminate your fourth quadrant tasks so you free up your time to decide on your second quadrant tasks.

Be smarter with your choices & to-do lists

Avoiding decision fatigue starts with being smart about how you choose to plan your day. Because if you sit and hope that you will be able to make the right decisions each day, then you will certainly fall victim to decision fatigue and lack of will power. You need to decide to do things but more than that you need to schedule them into your routines.

Create a morning routine that includes planning your important tasks for the day a priority habit whether that’s working on a personal project, getting a hard task done, or dealing with something you’ve been putting off. Build different types of work into your schedule so you can avoid making decisions for hours in a row. Limit your to-do lists to five or six with few complex tasks in top three and less important ones filling out the rest of the day. Process your big decisions early in the day when you are mentally active and productive. Be intentional about tasks that are most important to you and developing routines that energise you instead of drain to help fight the decision fatigue.

To Conclude,

So, How often do you suffer from decision fatigue?

Are you using your cognitive resources optimally?

How much time are you spending making decisions every day? And which ones are important?

Are there decisions you can delegate to someone else?

Which decisions can you automate so you never think about them?

What can you regulate so you do it in set rules?

What can you effectuate as something you simply just do? And which decisions can you debate?

Asking yourself the above questions can make you aware of what drains your mental energy and what conserves. While it is not possible to maximise your will power for every moment of every day, it is possible to make few changes to your day and your routine so that you simplify the process of your decision-making and can save yourself from decision fatigue.

By using the above strategies, you will have the resources to make better choices and can improve your effectiveness and productivity in chunking out your decisions. Now this may not be perfect all the time. Sometimes small decisions will leak out and become big deals in your head. But that’s okay, the goal is to understand the concept of decision fatigue so you can save your cognitive resources like will power and focus for making the most important decisions.

How to improve your resourcefulness

“A resourceful person will always makes opportunity fit his or her needs.”

Napoleon Hill

Have you ever been stuck in a problem in your goal-striving for so long that you begin to doubt your ability to solve it for good? There are wide range of characteristics like self-belief, discipline, dedication, hard-work, confidence and so on that are important in your goal-striving endeavours, but when it comes to achieving some of your important professional or personal goals, solving certain problems or in overcoming difficult challenges, your resourcefulness becomes an important resource. When you lack resourceful mindset, you get stuck or lack consistency while pursuing many of your goals thereby creating lot of stress and victimhood. Some people have endless reasons why they haven’t committed to pursuing what they are passionate about doing with their lives and use lack of resources as their excuse for not pursuing their goals. Then again there are many who achieve their goals where they started with little and no resources. The distinction is the difference between resources verses resourcefulness. Resources are what we use to fulfil a task, whereas resourcefulness is about how we adjust ourselves to fulfil a task, be it vision, purpose, or goal and so on.

Having resourceful mindset is especially important when the goals you have set are difficult to achieve. Problems are inevitable while pursuing goals. While certain problems can be managed quite effectively, there are some problems that we are not familiar with and might lead to anguish and uncertainty. In order to find solutions to such problems, you need to become more resourceful and dig deeper into your available resources.

An attitude of resourcefulness inspires out-of-the-box thinking, new possibilities, ideas and the ability to find a solution to achieve what you desire to achieve. Our resourcefulness  is directly proportional to our ability to achieve high quality results within our lives. For this reason, we must understand what it means to be resourceful and implement strategies into our daily routine that will enable us to utilise the power of our resourcefulness.

So, What does it means to be resourceful?

To become resourceful is to have the ability to use creative methods of thinking to make the most of the resources you have in order to solve the problem at hand or to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficult challenges. In other words, it is the ability to get the most from every situation you find yourself in and in achieving your goals. It is taking initiative in difficult situations and involves inventing, creating, imagining, evaIuating, classifying, observing and analysing solutions to overcome problems.

It is however possible that you won’t always have access to all the external resources you need to solve a problem. These can be your external resources like tools, people, possessions, or technology and so on which are valuable as long as you have access to them and diminish over time, because they are scarce or taken away or lost. In such instances, acquiring and tapping into your inner resources like your attributes, traits, strengths, and skills you have at your disposal and knowledge can help you solve the problems successfully. To do this, you will need to develop some problem-solving strategies to see things from a different perspective while also being open to new approaches that might aid you in getting the outcomes you are after.

What determines your resourcefulness?

Resourcefulness is a mindset and is especially relevant when the goals you have set are difficult to achieve and is determined by your ability to reach out to your external and internal resources to effectively deal with difficult problems or situations. It is also determined by your ability to reach out to others or people in your network of contacts like friends, coworkers, and associates to communicate your ideas persuasively or to seek their help or in building fruitful relationships that can help you gain leverage to make most of your circumstances.

We all are constantly looking for ways to problem-solve. However, truly resourceful people look for creative ways that they can leverage their current situation for maximum benefit beyond quick fixes and short-term gains and have the ability to visualise all the possible ways to achieve what they desire. In order to become more resourceful, they limit or eliminate counterproductive habits while enforcing new habits that help them endure discomfort, uncertainty, or challenges to improve their internal resources. 

It is one thing to have a great idea, but it is important to find creative ways to execute. In order to be resourceful in your endeavours, you need to be flexible, creative, effective and should have the ability to plan, organise, to make decisions, and to problem-solve. Here are some internal resources that are important to enhance your resourcefulness.

  • Focus on getting things done through strong network of people and other external resources.
  • Persistence and mental toughness in problem-solving abilities.
  • Creative and driven to take initiative or to be part of creating and finding solution.
  • Open-mindedness to redefine what is possible and what is not. Ability to consider different perspectives, possibilities, people and views to broaden your perspective.
  • Willingness to get out of your comfort-zone and learn form things that are new and different.
  • Self-belief that you are competent and adequate enough to get things done. Being confident that you can problem-solve and find solutions to challenges with your talents, abilities and good attributes.
  • Ability to think outside of the box and come up with innovative solutions to problems.
  • Ability to anticipate, assess, and evaluate when a challenging situation comes your way.
  • Adaptable so that you don’t box yourself into doing things in a particular way.
  • Consistency and discipline to practice productive habits to get things done despite obstacles.
  • Optimistic and positive attitude that the solution is easier to find.

How to improve your Resourcefulness

Resourcefulness is a key leadership skill. Whether you are an entrepreneur running business, or managing a group of people or an employee looking to get ahead, a resourceful mindset can really set you apart. The ability to find solution and use available resources to achieve your goals is a skill and can be learned and practiced by implementing right strategies that enable you to find new approaches, set objectives, create positive momentum and overcome negative challenges. Here are some strategies that can improve your resourcefulness in your problem-solving.

Work on your available resources

Resourcefulness is about being aware of what actions you can take with your current abilities, skills or resources. By taking stock of your available resources like time, effort and productive habits in personal or professional areas, you can identify where you are falling short and make adjustments, so you won’t feel stuck in un-resourceful habits.  Our resourcefulness relies heavily on positive momentum we can build in achieving our goals and one such momentum builder is to identify the resources and habits that are helpful. 

Keeping the needed materials handy and your next action defined and ready to go, you remove certain obstacles to getting started and can see to it that they won’t eat into your focused time and effort. Are you stuck in any of your un-resourceful habits? Do you often pack too many tasks in short amounts of time? Do you have difficulty managing your routines or your important tasks? Do you have adequate skill set to complete your tasks on time? Reflecting on your available resources and productive habits can help you enhance your resourcefulness.

Anticipate Problems

You cannot anticipate everything but you can look for potential problems that might get in the way of your goals. The more you prepare ahead of time, the more resources you will have when faced with a problem. These resources can be your skills, knowledge base and your support network. This way, you can build a toolkit of resources that you can turn to and use when you need them most. Anticipating the likely problems you might face in advance can make you better prepared. Your inner resources like focus, previous experience, attention, expertise from other people or ideas based on your knowledge  can be valuable to rely upon. 

What goals are you working toward? What could potentially go wrong as you work toward these goals? What resources might be of value as you work towards them? Do you have these resources at disposal and if not how will you acquire them? Asking yourself these questions can provide clarity about the types of problems you might potentially face along with the resources and thus can make you more resourceful when the potential setbacks arise.

Assess your situation

Evaluate when challenging situation comes your way. Be clear about what you can achieve by making most of the situation given the external resources that you currently have at your disposal with the support of your internal resources. Reflecting on how you might deal with a problem and then actually solving it when it arises might not always match-up. How you thought things would be might not reflect how things are in real life. Determine the real issue to come up with useful resources.

Assess the situation by asking yourself, What was the cause of this problem? What can potentially be done to solve this problem? Has anyone solved a similar problems like this before? Who could potentially help you to overcome this? What valuable resources could these people have that you could use to solve your problem? Have the ability to leverage to use what others bring into the situation. Look for some viable solutions that you could try to solve when there is no assistance from people. Once you assess the situation, you can find the relevant resources and look specifically how you can apply them to your present situation.

Devise creative solutions 

Being resourceful requires you to tap into your resources more creatively. Know the difference between seeking resources and being really resourceful. Think creatively to utilise the tools and resources that are within your reach. Do you have access to or could you obtain anything that might help with the situation? You should remember that resources aren’t only tools or objects, they also include skills, people or emotional states, knowledge, opportunities as well. Take a stock of your current resources and find creative ways to apply them in problem-solving. Ask yourself, If you apply this idea, what could be possible? What potential insight can be gained from taking this course of action? What new path could this lead you to? See the situation you face from an alternate perspective. Take the situation as an opportunity to take a new course of action that you hadn’t considered before. Develop an open-mindedness to look for creative ways to solve the problem.

Be proactive

If an opportunity presents itself, do not hold yourself back looking for right resources or people to show up. Be more than idle observer. Participate actively and get involved to solve the problem with the available resources and to be part of a solution. Don’t simply react to events, people, challenges and information. Engage and influence people involved so you can make real contribution to the situation. Ask yourself, What the nature of the problem is? What is really needed? Is this truly a crisis or merely an inconvenience or setback? Does it need to be addressed immediately, or can it wait for an appropriate solution? Train yourself to focus on solutions when a challenging situation comes your way.

Shift your perspective

Thinking about the big picture  can shift your perspective to be more open-minded in problem-solving. Decide what you can do in short-term so you can take action and be more productive. Revise specific tasks, roles and responsibilities towards your goals. Seeking information on the work that you are trying to get done or researching and reading will provide necessary insights you need to tweak your approach. Reflect on How effectively did you solve this kind of problem in the past?Is there another way to achieve your goal? What is something very similar to what you need that might also work? What is one more thing you can try to arrive at a solution? to seek new possibilities. Seeing every problem as an opportunity to solve can help you shift your perspective and strengthen your internal resources and drive to get your desired outcome. 

To Conclude,  

How would you rate your level of resourcefulness?

What resources do you already have and how can you use them better?

Where can you potentially be more resourceful? 

How could you be more resourceful the next time in your problem-solving? 

What kind of internal resources should you focus on building to improve your resourcefulness? 

What productive habits will help you in becoming a resourceful person?

Do you often utilise the resources that are within your reach in overcoming difficult situations?

In what ways could you be more innovative and resourceful with the understanding, experiences, skills and resources you already have?

Self-reflecting on above questions will provide necessary insights to improve your resourcefulness.

Accomplishment of your goals is typically the physical manifestation of your resourcefulness. Remember that your resourcefulness is a valuable resource when it comes to getting things done. It is not about having more resources, but it’s about being more resourceful with what you have and it is best attained when you combine the resourceful mindset and skills. Also, there are always certain things that you don’t know and understand, therefore, finding the right people to seek help and ask for advice is important to overcome certain challenges and to solve difficult problems.

Use the above problem-solving strategies to upgrade your internal resources over time so that you can use them in optimal ways. There is no problem too big that cannot be solved and no opportunity too small if you develop a resourceful mindset. Therefore, no matter what your circumstances or position or situation in life, instead of thinking of what you do not have, improve your resourcefulness by making the most of what there is.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”—Theodore Roosevelt