Given the speed of modern life, most of us know a little something about fatigue. But as an entrepreneur, you may also be making your brain tired in a totally different way. It’s called “decision fatigue.”
Essentially, decision fatigue is what happens when your brain gets tired of making decisions, and while it sounds kind of obvious, it has less obvious (and important!) consequences.
“No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue—you’re not consciously aware of being tired—but you’re low on mental energy,” explains New York Times science columnist John Tierney. “The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts.”
That can lead to either reckless (AKA bad) decisions, or a sense of being paralyzed. You can’t decide, so you just stop trying. (Instead of focusing on getting your business goals finalized, you end up scrolling Insta for an hour.)
Entrepreneurs—like nutritionists and personal trainers—are especially vulnerable to decision fatigue for a couple of reasons. When you’re your own boss and are running your own company (often alone), you naturally have to make all of the decisions. Also, since you may work in an unstructured way—not from a set office, for example, or different hours every day—there are more decisions to be made at every moment. (Should I go home for an hour or find a cafe to work from? Which cafe? When should I leave to get to my next client?)
How to avoid decision fatigue? Try these simple fixes.
3 Tips to Avoid Decision Fatigue
1. Create structure for yourself.
When you work for someone else, lots of decisions are mapped out for you in advance. You have to start work at 9:00 a.m. You have to sit at this desk. You only have to grab lunch from that one close salad place. You have to be at this meeting at 2:00 p.m every Tuesday. The last thing you want as an entrepreneur is to sit up every morning and be faced with the same mundane decisions day after day. Instead, create your own structure, i.e. block out the hours you’re going to work every week and where you’re working from on your calendar. Get into a consistent lunch routine. Schedule a recurring weekly check-in (even if it’s with yourself). Simplify your wardrobe. The more of those things you can make feel set, the more energy you’ll save for making the bigger decisions.
2. Make big decisions early in the day or right after lunch.
One of the most interesting studies on decision fatigue looked at what motivates judges to either grant or deny parole. Surprisingly, researchers found that the strongest determining factor seemed to be what time of day a prisoner’s hearing was. First thing in the morning, judges were willing to hear arguments. Once they’d been deciding all day, they likely started to tune out. To avoid the same fate, make a point to schedule important meetings, discussions, or project work early in the day, when you’re feeling most energized. Definitely avoid agreeing to anything big during a client dinner, after an exhausting day.
3. Take snack breaks.
In the same study, the start of the sessions were defined as the beginning of the day or right after lunch, and after lunch, judges appeared back to the same state they’d been in at the start of the day. Just giving your brain a rest from decisions could account for that, but here’s another interesting factor: when you’re hungry and you’re using a lot of mental energy, your body craves glucose (sugar!). In other words, the more you deplete your psychological reserves, the more likely it is you’ll start to make wacky decisions about both work and food (sugar!!). Take little snack breaks to give your mind a break and refuel with nutritious, energizing foods.
The easiest (and best) decision you’ll ever make? Get Nutritious Life Certified!