Fun fact: It is estimated that the average adult makes roughly 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day. While that number seems outrageous, a study from Cornell University calculated that we make 226.7 decisions solely on food (Wasink and Sobal, 2007). These decisions range greatly in terms of importance. Some decisions may only affect what you’re eating for lunch and some decisions may make or break a multi-million dollar business deal.
The decisions you make ultimately have a psychological impact on your mental well-being; this is known as, “decision fatigue.” In psychology, decision fatigue is the idea of the inverse relationship between the number of decisions an individual makes and the quality of their decisions over time. The choices you make throughout the day come at mental price, and the more choices you have to make during the day, the more prone you are to making poorer decisions as your day progresses. Think of your mental capacity as your bank account and each decision you make is a mental withdrawal. If you spend your brain power carelessly, then the quality of your choices will be affected by the low balance in mental capacity.
Picture this: you are in the market for a new car. This Saturday, you’ve decided to dedicate all day to go car shopping. During the early morning of your search, you are meticulous about what you want, your high standards aren’t budging, and you are a tough negotiator when it comes to your target price. As the day progresses, and you as you sit through sales pitch, after sales pitch and experience multiple test drives, you notice that the rigorous checklist of features doesn’t matter any more, your standards shift to whether or not the car runs, and your target price has increased. This experience is the result of decision fatigue. Thanks a lot, brain.
Now that we know each choice has a cost, if we reduce the number of decisions we make, we can allocate our mental capacity for more important decisions of the day. I understand certain decisions cannot be eliminated, however I do believe there are areas where we can all benefit from reduced decision fatigue. My strategies behind better brain power allocation are derived from automating certain aspects of my life as well implementing strategies from trusted industry experts. To give you an idea of how I decrease decision fatigue from my life, I will present you with my strategies around personal finance, fitness, task management, and daily routines.
Disclaimer: I am neither a financial expert nor a fitness expert. I am not providing you with financial or health advice. If you are compelled by my strategies and would like to create your own, please inform yourself with as much information as possible to come up with a plan that makes sense for you. My goal with this post is to provide you with examples on how I save my brain power for the bigger choices throughout my day. These are the best practices that work for me.
We all hate budgets, and I have yet to create a budget that I have followed correctly. I am not financially savvy by any standards. However, with each paycheck, I know exactly where my money is going. Thankfully, I implemented a system that I learned from “I Will Teach You To Be Rich.” The premise is to automatically deposit your money into key accounts. With direct deposit, I distribute my paycheck into 5 different online accounts: A Roth 401(k), A Roth IRA, an Online Savings account, a Brokerage account, and an Online Checking Account (See the table below for the distribution percentages). While each account serves its own function, and I am fully aware of where each paycheck goes.
As you can see, I have an automated system for most of my finances. This allows me to avoid having to make decisions about where my money should go or how much I should save. The planning and setting up of my current financial landscape took me a few hours and multiple iterations to create a strategy that works for me. Now my next step is to invest and have my money make money. I’m open to ideas and strategies if anyone is willing to share!
I’m not here to give you specific fitness advice about how to get bigger arms and a six pack for the summer. Frankly, I have no idea how to achieve those objectives. However, what I will recommend are two things: first, establish what your specific health & wellness/fitness goals are, and then follow a program or get a trainer/coach who will give you a tailored regimen to fit your needs.
By laying out your goals, whatever they might be, it will narrow down your choices of which programs or coaches you should look into and give you a vision to focus your efforts towards. For some of people, myself included, some days working out is not the hard part, but getting yourself motivated to put in the work can be excruciatingly difficult. The idea behind following someone else’s program is to reduce the amount of thinking you have to do when you workout. The program will tell you specifically, which exercises to do and for how long. You place the planning and strategy of the workout in the hands of a trained professional. Your responsibility is to show up and give 100% of your effort.
While I have been training exclusively in the sport of Olympic weightlifing (For those who are unfamiliar with the sport, it revolves around maximizing your strength in two specific lifts; the snatch and the clean and jerk) for over two years now, I have been most successful when I have been trained by a weightlifting coach and followed his workout program. Currently, I lift with a barbell club, and we follow the workout program that our coach has engineered for us. The team and I rely on his expertise and experience to create a program that will help us achieve maximal strength when executing the lifts. For every workout, I know exactly which movements to perform and in which order. It helps reduce the meandering and goofing off – well that’s idea anyway, but lifting with the team is always a good time! Since my coach has laid out the structure of the workout, I can reserve my mental capacity for the grueling workout ahead of me.
The fitness industry generates more than $80 billion a year in revenue and there are no shortages on paid and free resources. There is also no shortage of marketing scams within the fitness industry and being informed is the best way you can avoid being duped. My only caution with things you see within the fitness industry is to be vigilant. Do your research through customer reviews, forums, blog sites, YouTube videos, other forms of social media, and other various online resources. Educate yourself as much as you can before taking action.
With the understanding that each decision comes at a mental cost, I am well equipped to navigate my day much more efficiently. My strategy for organizing my day is a three-step process.
I create my to-do list, and then prioritize the tasks that in order of importance. If I can, prioritize the largest or most important tasks at the beginning of the day I maintain my ability to make effective choices as the day progresses.
Simplify – 10 minutes or less
I simplify each task into as many detailed steps as possible. I am a practitioner of the 10-minute rule: each task on my list needs to be completed in 10 minutes or less. If the task cannot be completed in that time frame then the task needs to be simplified even further.
My to-do list coupled with the 10-minute rule gives me a rough estimate of how long each task will take. This knowledge enables me to create a schedule for my day. I incorporate the summation of the 10-minute rule for all the subtasks and add a 10-minute buffer for distractions. I will also schedule recreational time, such as lunch or a 10-minute break after an arduous task. By scheduling in the “fun time” I am able to focus more intently on the task at hand.
Get it out of the way
My last rule for task management is the 2-minute rule: if a task takes two minutes or less to complete, get it done and out of the way. Implementing this concept helps reduce my tendency to procrastinate small tasks. Additionally, it’s a small win that helps me build momentum for the larger tasks at hand.
Even with a schedule, there will always be incidents that will disrupt your flow and cause you to readjust your schedule and plan of attack. Sometimes, whenever I am inconvenienced by unforeseen events, I become frustrated, annoyed and proceed down a path of negative thoughts. Don’t do that. It’s a waste of time and valuable energy. Instead, pause whatever it is you are doing and reassess your strategy and modify your schedule accordingly.
I’m a huge proponent of morning routines. While there are multiple benefits to this strategy, I want to dive deeper into how it reduces your decision fatigue first thing in the morning.
My morning routine takes about an hour. I meditate for 15 minutes, stretch for 25 minutes, journal for 10 minutes, and read for 10 minutes. Once my routine has been completed I’m relaxed, awake and fully charged to take on whatever life throws at me. As I wake up, the routine helps keep my morning in check as well. Because of the length of time of my routine, there isn’t much room for me to waste time on my phone playing games or checking social media.
A morning routine will require some planning, but once the routine has been established, it’s a phenomenal way of redistributing your mental capacity towards other decisions for the rest of the day. With a routine, whenever you wake up, you will already know exactly what it is that needs to get done for the morning. You can effectively operate on “autopilot” and set yourself up for a successful day simultaneously.
Perhaps the most famous method of reducing decision fatigue involves wearing the same outfit everyday. This method was popularized by Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Former President of the United States, Barack Obama. By eliminating the decision of which outfit to wear, these highly influential individuals can save their mental capacity for decisions that really matter.
If wearing the exact same outfit (Not the same clothes!) feels too extreme for you, one way of minimizing your decisions is by reducing the amount of clothes to choose from. There are varying degrees to this minimalist approach; you can go a full year wearing a variation of 10 items or purge your closet down to a 30-piece wardrobe. Whichever approach works for you, the benefit will be the same. You will reduce the choices you need to make on trivial things and save your brain power for the rest of the day.
Plan first automate second
The two phases behind reducing decision fatigue are planning and automation. First, you will need to figure out areas of your life where you feel you are wasting your mental energy and understand where you need more brain power. This will be a product of prioritizing your life. It’s all about what matters to you. By understanding when and where you need to be the most focused, you can create a strategy around those valuable moments of your day.
Once you have established your decision fatigue hierarchy you can automate the choices you deem less taxing. While there are multiple ways this can be done, I believe in working smarter not harder. Therefore, I allow technology and industry leaders to automate my life. Today, there are hundreds of apps out there, and there is essentially an app for anything you need. Likewise, there are thought leaders in almost every aspect of everyday life. With these two ingredients, you have access to the best strategies in the world for automating certain facets of your daily life. You have the option of following these apps or strategies verbatim, as is done through a guided meditation app or guided stretching workout, or you can modify the approach to better suit your needs. Either way, you are well equipped with the foundation for automation.
Readers, I’m sure that each of your daily lives is highly complex, but what are ways that you reduce decision fatigue in your life? Also, which strategies of mine do you agree with or disagree with? Please feel free to share your thoughts!