Managing Decision Fatigue: 5 Ways to Make Fewer, Better Decisions

When a team of researchers analyzed over 1,100 parole board decisions and the factors that led to an unsuccessful appeal, one factor stood out.

It wasn’t the background or past criminal history of the applicant. Instead, it was the time of day the hearing took place.

Parole applicants appearing at 8:50 am were the most likely to be granted parole and rulings became harsher toward the end of the day.

This can be explained, according to the research, by decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue is the idea that our decision-making ability is a finite resource that we diminish each time we make a decision. In other words, the number of decisions we make impacts the quality of our decisions.

Top performers understand and mitigate the effects of decision fatigue

While he was president, Barack Obama famously wore only blue or gray suits. This was a strategy he use to mitigate the effects of decision fatigue.

In his words:

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Then there’s Warren Buffet.

Rather than busying himself with the minute details of running Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett spends most of his time reading and sleeping. Buffett only makes several business decisions a year, and so he wants to make sure his mind is uncluttered to make optimal decisions.

While few people are in a position to live this way, most people can reduce the number of decisions they make, so that the decisions they do make are better.

Here are my 5 tips for reducing the impact of decision fatigue.

  1. Build habits and routines

Habit formation is essentially the brain’s solution to the problem of decision fatigue. Decisions that we make regularly become habitual and are carried out on autopilot rather than deliberated over, which helps us save mental energy.

If you want to build a habit of going for a run each morning, at first you might need to talk yourself into it. But with repetition, this behavior will become as automatic as brushing your teeth or making yourself a cup of coffee.

  1. Plan your day around important decisions

If it’s 5 pm after a long day and you find yourself with a challenging decision to make, if possible, postpone it until the following morning.

Always be mindful that your ability to make good decisions is a finite resource. It is a muscle that gets tired if we overwork it and requires rest and recuperation to function optimally.

Ideally, you should structure your days so that the important stuff is dealt with early in the mornings, with smaller, less important matters faced later in the day.

  1. Delegate smaller decisions

Warren Buffett’s legendary decision-making ability is only possible because he can delegate all other decisions to his employees, leaving only the biggest, and most important decisions to himself. Of course, being able to delegate to this extent is a rare luxury, but in smaller ways business leaders can delegate smaller decisions, allowing them to take on larger decisions at full capacity.

  1. Plan and schedule

By planning and scheduling your days, you’ll save the valuable mental energy you need to perform.

Instead of having to decide to go to the gym after work, schedule it in advance. This way, it’s not a decision you make in the moment. You’ve already planned it, and you’re executing your plan.

This can also apply to your workdays. If you’re able, plan out your workday the night before. On the day, simply work through your schedule. Instead of deciding what to work on in the moment, simply follow your schedule. You will reap the benefits of having more mental energy.

  1. Take time to relax

Most importantly, to be able to replenish your decision-making faculties you’ll need to rest.

You can’t pour from an empty cup, so taking much-needed rest and relaxation is an essential part of fending off decision fatigue.