9 Sure-fire ways to Overcome Decision Fatigue

Dec 02, 2014

“There’s no greater waste of energy or resources than doing well that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

Do you feel distracted as you go through your day and your life in general? I know I do at times. There’s hope for you and me but you’ll have to be aware of this first.

I was listening to a great podcast the other day – The Tim Ferriss Show. I’m sure a lot of you have read Tim’s stuff (Four Hour Work Week, Four Hour Body, Four Hour Chef) or have at least heard of him. I highly recommend his podcast….very enlightening stuff. Mostly he has some pretty cool guests (Tony Robbins, Peter Thiel, etc.) and he occasionally does mini episodes to talk about various things. The guy is a complete lab rat when it comes to optimizing productivity and performance. You can check out his podcast here. They’re great for listening to when you’re working out by the way. Good stuff.

In this particular one, he talks about the law of diminishing returns we go through when we have to make too many decisions. He calls it decision fatigue. It got me thinking…

It breaks down like this – imagine you have 100 points each day and every decision you make causes these points to diminish. Everything you do has an effect on this account. If you wake up everyday and have to make decisions on what clothes you’re going to wear and what you’re going to eat, that’s going to take away from your capability to make a good decision. If you don’t have your work day planned out in advance, at least how you start your day, you’ll be more apt to check email first thing (and get sucked into someone else’s agenda!!). Or, it will be much easier to get distracted and jump on social media when you should be getting higher impact work done. As the day progresses, the account is diminished and you’re much more likely to be distracted and, ultimately, make bad decisions.

I’m such a big proponent of getting your highest impact work done early in the day. I know some of you may be night owls and that’s okay – the good news is that I believe you can replenish this account throughout the day. I think being productive at night probably has more to do with the small number of distractions coming in, however (not much email at midnight, at least compared to 2 in the afternoon). The bottom line – get your big stuff done when your energy is the highest and your mind is the clearest.

Here are some keys to minimizing the effect of decision fatigue and maximizing your output for the day:

1. Start your day with a plan that you set the day before – This should be the last thing you do before your workday ends. Plan tomorrow. Keep it simple but at least set a plan. This leads to number 2.

2. Create a checklist for the first 60 minutes of your day – make it foolproof. I’ve tinkered with this quite a bit and I’m a believer. If 60 minutes is too long, try 30. Clearly list out what you’re going to do and just get to that list right when you wake up (even put “make coffee”, “make bed”, etc. on there. Remember, dumb it down so you don’t have to think about it when you wake up.

3. Use checklists for routine tasks – For things like packing for a trip or a weekly review of your work, keep a standard checklist you can go back to. I travel almost weekly so having a list of everything I need to pack helps immensely. I use a combination of Evernote and Toodledo to keep these lists. Either works great.

4. Plan your meals, especially your first one – A crucial, crucial component to productivity optimization. If you can do this the night before, even better. Lately, I’ve been hard boiling eggs in advance – it’s quick, easy – just add a little sea salt and some hot sauce and you’ve got a tasty meal. I’m a fan of smoothies first thing in the morning too. Again, the better you plan these basic things the more decision capacity you’ll have for bigger ticket items throughout your day.

5. Limit the number of choices you have to make – Automate wherever you can. Delegate the things that others can do better than you. Focus on what your strengths are and find others that can fill in the gaps. I know plenty of people that hire out virtual assistants and swear by it. Remember the 80/20 rule – 80% of your results comes from 20% of your work – if you can be an assassin when it comes to that approach, you’ll do very well, I promise.

6. Learn to say no – This one is hard. I struggle with it. Many people are pleasers, me included. It’s a recipe for disaster – I’m telling you. Build your muscles slowly with this….try saying now in a respectful way. I promise it won’t be as bad as you think. From there you’ll gain confidence and will realize the value of this.

7. Pay attention to when you get distracted – When your decision fatigue is up what distracts you? Is it social media? ESPN? TMZ? Your dog? There are plenty of things. Become aware of what you do when your points are down. Simply being aware will help you make better decisions.

8. Use timers – I think this may be the biggest productivity hack I know. All smart phones have timer apps now. If you’re struggling and need to push through (and don’t want to take a break), set a time for 10 minutes and just get after whatever it is you’re doing. When the buzzer goes off, see how you feel. I know a lot of times, I pass through the resistance and get into a flow state and can get a lot done in 30 minutes or so.

9. Take breaks – An often looked-down upon thing, taking breaks is essential. Just like an elite athlete, you must take a step back to recharge yourself. This goes for small breaks during the day as well as longer breaks throughout the year (i.e. multi-day disconnected vacations, etc.).

Definitely check out Tim Ferris’s podcast – it’s really good. I think it ties nicely into The Catalyst Day producitvity document I created as well. It’s all about being intentional and having a plan is crucial. Remember, the better you plan you work the better you’ll be at executing…and adjusting when your decision fatigue ratchets up and the game is on the line.

Good luck.


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