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Every day, entrepreneurs make thousands of decisions. Tiny, trivial choices — fries or salad — and those with high stakes, like terms for additional funding. Sooner or later, you can’t summon the mental energy to choose. Confronted with Netflix queues or dinner options, you sigh and tell your partner, “Whatever you want.” Are you selflessly conceding? Not really.
Abstaining from choice makes us appear thoughtless. When decision fatigue shows up in our personal relationships, it’s perceived as carelessness. Among colleagues, it signals poor judgment, indecisiveness, or worse, incompetence.
Decision fatigue is energy depletion that leads to impaired judgment, since choices require brain power for multivariate analyses (If I do x, then y will happen). Projecting outcomes, even unconsciously, comes with a biological cost. The brain seeks shortcuts and becomes reckless when it gets tired — impulse purchases and daily fast-food orders are evidence of this. The quickest shortcut is doing nothing. We opt out.
“Whatever” or “It’s up to you” are disconnected replies that suggest the choice, and even the person asking, is not important. The burden falls to our partners or co-founders to choose for us. To help you be more present in your personal and professional relationships, here are some tips to prevent decision fatigue.
Related: Decision Fatigue Is Destroying Your Focus, Motivation and Drive
Practice decision batching
High-stakes decisions diminish our energy levels, but so do high volumes. Let’s imagine it takes 15 units of brain power to make one big choice, like hiring for a senior executive role. By comparison, 15 small decisions — medium or large, hot or iced, for here or to go — also require 15 units of brain power. Numerous small choices are also exhausting. It helps to plan for them.
Decision-batching might include weekly meal prepping on a Sunday afternoon or building a capsule wardrobe and laying out each day’s outfit the night before. Think of Steve Jobs and his famous uniform: black turtleneck, blue jeans and sneakers.
Easy wardrobe and food options leave leftover energy so you can be more present for those small choices that impact others. Taco Tuesday could prevent a spat over dinner.
Treat big decisions like tasks
When consequences are involved, treat the decision like a task. Build time into your calendar as you would for meetings or appointments. We tend to make hasty decisions when we try to fit them in between other responsibilities.
I’m shopping for a new CMS, which isn’t earth-shattering, but it is an expense. I’ve blocked out time for research, short-listing and onboarding to ensure I don’t do these things sporadically and become overwhelmed.
If the choice has more substantial consequences, set aside some time earlier in the day when you are most alert. One small study published in the journal Cognition found that chess players made slower, more accurate decisions in the morning and faster, less accurate decisions in the afternoon.
This tactic can also be applied to household decisions, like family vacations. Set aside time for each family member to choose an activity or excursion. Make the planning its own activity over a big Sunday breakfast. I have two boys, and I do consider teenage boredom a high-stakes consequence for the mood and dynamic of a long trip.
Related: Decision Fatigue Is Real. Here’s How to Overcome It.
Know your entrepreneurial mindset
In my experience, entrepreneurs tend to encounter one of two decision-making challenges: perfectionism or impulsivity. Both can lead to decision fatigue.
Perfectionistic brains don’t like ambiguity and want to make the “right” choice. In a scenario with no obvious win, perfectionists feel unfulfilled and stressed. But churning over the same choice again and again, without any new information, is just as tiring as choosing.
An impulsive brain, on the other hand, will make any choice to alleviate the tension of unmade decisions. This can lead to more mistakes, so the same decisions will need revisiting. It helps to know which type of decider you are. Perfectionists can remind themselves that opportunities may be lost if one lingers too long. Impulsive choosers should sleep on it.
Unlike physical exhaustion, which is palpable, decision fatigue is sneaky. We may not feel tired when our judgment is flawed, and we may not notice how our energy depletion is affecting others. It’s best to form good habits, lest we seem careless or detached. Decision-making is a skill. If we fail to choose, we don’t practice, and we won’t improve.