We make a gazillion decisions each day. Or at least, it feels like we do.
And the more decisions in a day, the worse our decisions are by the end of the day — the research backs me up on this.
Following are [six] ways to defeat decision fatigue.
The acrostic CALMER will help you remember them — and it’ll remind you how you’ll feel when you reduce your decisions.
1. CHOOSE baseline CRITERIA
It takes energy to analyze every component of a decision each time you encounter it. When you set baseline criteria (or “rules”), you eliminate some of those decisions.
For example, in our household, we buy many grocery items based on the ‘lowest price’ criterion.
Well, except for toilet paper, which must be at least 2-ply and non-chafing, regardless of the price.
Additionally, baseline criteria can ease your life with kiddos. You could answer the “Can I…?” question 427 times in a single night. You know:
- Can I watch TV?
- Can I play on the computer?
- Can I go over to Jimmy’s house?
Or, you can set a criterion: “No other activities until your homework’s finished.”
Heaven knows the kiddos will still ask to perform other activities, but your new gatekeeper response (“Let’s see your homework”) reduces the number of questions you have to decide.
2. AUTOMATE repetitive choices
When you automate some of your everyday decisions, you save time and mental energy.
Don’t scour all the sales ads for the greater tri-state area each week — or worse, drive to multiple Big Box stores each time you need something. Instead, choose one store and stick with it.
- Baby shower to attend? Go to Target.
- Dog ate your throw pillows… again? Target it is.
- Your kiddo needs notecards for his research project, due tomorrow, and it’s 8:30 p.m.? Threaten to throttle your kid and then… head to Target.
No need to worry about every other stores’ sales because, over time, the prices will average out.
Other things to automate?
- Eat Cheerios for breakfast each morning
- Dub Fridays as Pizza-or-Pasta Night
- And at our house, Kleenex Extra Soft tissues. Always. (Yep; I’m “particular” about the items that touch my skin.)
When you know some of your choices ahead of time, you save valuable mental energy, which you can put to good use when you drag your jammie-wearing kids on a notecards search.
3. LET GO of the decision
Have you ever been with a group of people who tried to decide where to go for dinner? As college students (back in the Pleistocene era) my friends and I took hours to decide where to eat.
Although adults tend not to spend hours on a dinner decision (we have less free time or stamina than dorm-dwellers seem to), it can still be difficult to plan with a group.
Ask yourself: does the group need my opinion? If not, why not bow out and let everyone else decide? Your viewpoint’s often not as necessary as you think; at least, mine often isn’t.
Warning — only give up your right to choose if you can manage to not complain about the outcome.
Look for other decisions you can defer, as well.
For example, in my household peanut butter matters to my husband (crunchy, all natural). Although I enjoy both the creamy and crunchy varieties, I don’t have a strong preference so we buy the kind he likes.
By the way, it matters to my son, too (creamy with a shelf life of 30+ years). But not everyone gets a vote.
4. MAINTAIN routines
Many of our tasks and duties repeat on a regular basis: grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning the toilet.
Don’t ask yourself, each week, “When will I do this?” Create a routine instead.
For example, if you plan to grocery shop while your son’s at his piano lesson each week, you’ll save a whole lot of mental gymnastics.
True, your routine won’t always work out because, well, life and dentist appointments happen. But a regular pattern means fewer decisions overall.
Likewise, choose a specific day and time to run errands for the week and keep a list of chores you’ll need to accomplish in that timeslot.
For instance, we go to Costco on Fridays after work. And if we need to go to Home Depot or Target, we can hit them, too, because they’re in the same neighborhood.
Besides, nothing says “romantic weekend” like a Costco sample date!
5. ELIMINATE the unimportant
In the Western hemisphere, we tend to think decisions = freedom. Because we can have a choice, we often think we should. But how many of our daily decisions truly matter?
I’m embarrassed how often I spend 20 minutes (or more!) on a trivial decision, such as what color napkins to buy for the cook-out we’re hosting. Colorful napkins are festive, but it’s not a life-or-death decision.
In fact, the more time you take to choose the napkins, the more it’ll seem to matter which paper plates you get, and which plastic utensils, and… Eventually, it can add up to hours you’ll never get back.
So, why not eliminate the decision altogether?
One approach: always use white napkins. (We buy the thicker ones in bulk at Costco because they can handle BBQ rib fingers.)
Alternatively, take your Decision Diva to the next level: Choose a signature color (perhaps navy blue, or spring green — whatever pleases you), and use that color napkins for all your shindigs.
Likewise, don’t redecide which dish to take to the neighborhood potluck, or which cookies to bake (or buy) each time it’s your kiddo’s turn to bring the snack.
If you always take Poppyseed Ham & Cheese Sliders to potlucks, or bake your favorite chocolate chip cookies for snack day, you won’t have to decide each time the situation arises. And you can stock the ingredients in your pantry to save last minute trips to the store.
6. REVIEW your systems
Every so often, ask yourself:
- Do my automatic decisions and routines still serve their purposes, or should I switch things up?
- Would any of my other choices benefit from automation?
As you go through your day, pay attention to how many decisions you make. It’ll inspire you to lessen your mental load so your life will be CALMER, even if for a limited season.