Have you ever walked down the cereal aisle and thought to yourself, “There are so many options that it exhausts me”? You think about this crucial choice for several minutes. “I want Lucky Charms, but I should probably get Oat Bran or something . . .” You end up randomly selecting a box without looking at the price or even thinking about how it tastes. You flee toward the checkout line, relieved that the agonizing process is over.
If you’ve done this, then you’ve experienced decision fatigue, at least at a very basic level. Company leaders and managers face this every day. In the past, people may have said that another cup of coffee or a better attitude or simply more willpower was all they needed to make the best decisions. However, recent research, such as a study from the National Academy of Sciences, has demonstrated the real consequences of making decisions under difficult circumstances.
But we have some strategies to combat decision fatigue — don’t worry, none of them involve adopting Steve Jobs’s all-black wardrobe or stoic leadership qualities.
1. Get back to basics
If a particularly big decision is giving you problems, you might go straight for a pro-con list. This can be helpful, but it can also make the decision appear to be more complex than it actually is, as you end up listing tiny details.
Instead, focus about what’s really important — on how the decision will impact the company in the long term. Does this fit the company’s vision? Does this fit the company’s values? Can the company afford it? By thinking about it in this way, you’ll simplify the decision-making process.
2. Make important decisions in the morning
All of your synapses are firing in the morning and you’re ready to tackle a big problem. Harness that energy and use it to devise a creative solution. Don’t wait until the mid-afternoon energy drag to make the call.
Science backs it up, according to this article from the New York Times. Do the most important things early. And if you have to make a decision later in the day, be sure to have something to eat first.
3. Only consider three options
Eliminate other possibilities from the start and focus on three possible solutions. You’ll naturally be able to discard some options right away for an easier comparison. Sales people know this — that’s why they try to hook people and close the sale as soon as possible.
Once you’re considering too many options, your brain shuts down. Just think about how you feel after Christmas shopping at the mall — completely overwhelmed and ready to call it quits.
4. Perfect is the enemy of good
Allowing a decision to linger is a bad move. When you have a good option in front of you, don’t discard it in search of an even better one. According to psychologist Barry Schwartz, this is more likely to send you into the paradox of choice, where you’re unhappy with whatever decision you make. By quickly and decisively making the call, you demonstrate leadership and allow everyone to move on.
Decision fatigue is a real issue. Make sure you bring your best self to every decision you make.