Decision fatigue is what you get when you're constantly presented with near-endless choices. Up to 35,000 times a day.
You have to choose, decide, choose, decide, until you hit a wall - that's decision fatigue.
To progress & level-up your business, you have to increase your decision velocity, without compromising your decision quality.
By analysing the science of decision-making, you can make better quality decisions faster.
It is critically important that you reduce your non-critical decisions as much as possible, to reserve your capacity for more important, complex thinking. Your want to ensure that for your important decisions you have high focus, energy, and attention to spend on it.
For most of us, the decisions that drain us aren't the important ones - they are the ones that we make over & over & over. Wasting precious willpower on these decisions - which could be automated or routine - is a primary contributor to mental fatigue.
How decision fatigue undermines you & your business
Although the majority of our decisions are made quickly & easily, that's not what matters. What is important is the will-power & capacity consumed by all those superficial decisions.
I'm not going to bore you with an extensive example - I created one, then destroyed it - I nearly put myself to sleep, it was so drearily boring.
Each decision decreases your ability to effectively make decisions - so we get worse and worse at making decisions as the day wears on. The collective, cumulative effect is what impacts us.
What is important to understand is this: we have a limit on our decision-making capacity. That's right - we're on a budget! Regardless of the magnitude of the outcome, our minds spend energy on every decision at hand. as the day progresses, that capacity reduces & reduces until our level of decision fatigue is so high that meaningful decision-making is no longer possible.
Avoiding or postponing decisions is not the answer - that leads to reduced productivity.
We each have a primary approach to decision-making
- Satisficers decide what criteria must be met by a suitable option; when they find the option that satisfies their criteria, they choose that one, & move on.
- Maximizers want to make the best possible decision, so they keep gathering more & more options, and do extensive comparisons of the options, spending tons of time and energy before they choose. Sadly, they tend to second-guess themselves, wondering whether they had, in fact, chosen the best option.
Some basic principles
- You need tools to keep your decision fatigue low
- You need to time your important decisions for higher-quality decision-making
- You need to reduce the amount of attention taken up by incidental, unimportant decisions.
- Choose your battles logically; we are constantly bombarded with data designed to make us feel as if trivial decisions are incredibly important. Is your choice of shampoo really that critical? Most consumables are fungible, by the way. So there's not really much difference between one can of baked beans & another: they're fungible.
- The more options you consider, the greater buyers' regret you're likely to have
- The more options you encounter, the less fulfilling your ultimate purchase is likely to be
- Too many choices = less or no productivity (excessive choices are a distraction)
- Too many choices = less or no appreciation (many beautiful things together make each less beautiful, more pedestrian)
- Too many choices = a sense of overwhelm.
How does this impact your customer when they look at your product / service range? Are you overwhelming them?
Leverage your intuition in short-term and longer-term strategies
- Your gut instinct (this is when you just "know"
- Expert intuition (good for a known situation, fast, you rely on experience)
- Strategic intuition (good for a new situation, slow, needs to "brew/simmer" before you get a breakthrough)
Choose your Longer-term strategies
When you have to make a significant choice, run your choice through your Goal Decision Filters. Question: does this support or progress my goal of XXX? If the answer is No, you can ignore it, or pick the easiest option. If the answer is Yes, devote attention to it.
Adopt Minimalism as a life & business philosophy.
By simplifying & minimising all aspects of your life, you reduce the number of decisions you are faced with daily. Eliminate the extraneous, the unimportant, the unnecessary baggage from your life.
Reduce variation and limit your choices whenever possible. Steve Jobs famously wore the same basic type of outfit all the time = simplify your wardrobe. Timothy Ferris famously eats the same meal for breakfast every day = simplify your diet.
They both hoarded their decision-making capacity like misers - and see where it got them & their business: pretty wealthy. If it's good enough for them, it's probably good enough for you. Try it? Let me know how you get on.
Choose your daily strategies
By making your activities predictable, you reduce the number of decisions you have to make. Simplify, and design routines around the repetitive decisions. This will give you more intellectual power & capacity for your important choices.
E.g. when you have a list of 5 tasks, you intuitively start at the top, and work your way down. You don't have to figure out where to start, and you don't have to choose between countless options between tasks.
You could use the Ivy Lee method of creating a task list.
Write 6 important tasks you want to complete the next day. Prioritise them.
The next day, do task 1, then 2, etc., until the end of day.
Unfinished tasks go to the top of the list for the following day.
Make all major decisions early in the day, while you're fresh & vital.
For simple matters, choose the simplest options.
For important decisions, create criteria before you start the process.
Set a generic time limit on how long you will take to make the decision - 20 minutes good for you? So if you're looking at a product to buy, decide what the minimum data is that you require for your decision.
If you need Date, Cost, & Delivery Period, once you have that information, make the decision & move on.
If the Delivery Period is not critical, exclude it from your evaluation; it would just muddy the waters. Use Date and Cost, decide, and move on. Then make your decision work. No second-guessing yourself.
Make your workday from X time to Y time - especially important if you work alone. Block out times for research & development, for networking, for meetings - and respect those boundaries.
Create If-Then rules for specific recurring situations.
E.g. if your client hasn't responded after X hours/days, then follow-up. If your relative hasn't returned your call within X hours, then send an SMS message.
Stop working on it when your product is Fit-for-purpose.
"Done" trumps "Perfect" for your business success. Use the Pareto principle: 20% of anything usually gives you 80% of its result.
For correspondence, use the concept of Touch It Once (TIO)
Emails & other correspondence: you either deal with it, forward to someone else to deal with, archive for future reference, or destroy it - done!
For invitations: either accept or decline definitively - dealt with.
Once you've adopted a few of these longer-term and daily decision-reduction strategies, apply them to your business dealings as well. How many choices do you expect your customers to make before finally making that all-important purchase?
Let me know how you get on, and share your personal strategies!
Barry Schwarz, Daniel Gilbert, James Clear, Andrew Cohen, Ivy Lee, Jocelyn K. Glei, Jonah Lehrer, Herbert Simon.