Beating Burnout//

How to Manage Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue can be a sign of burnout — but it is possible to manage it.

Photo credit: MR Gao/Shutterstock
Photo credit: MR Gao/Shutterstock

When you’re facing an enormous workload, and increasingly stressed at your job, making even minor decisions can start to feel like a struggle. That kind of decision fatigue is a cardinal sign that you’re teetering on the edge of burnout.

“Willpower is like a muscle, used for a great many things, including self-control and decision-making,” Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D., a social psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, tells Thrive. When we’re flooded by excess demands at our jobs, our bodies seek to conserve energy, and even easy decisions become difficult. “In this state of decision-fatigue, the person in question prefers to avoid decisions,” he explains.

If this sounds familiar to you, here are three small changes you can introduce right now to help you manage decision-overload.

Pick out your breakfast and outfit the night before

This tip comes via former President Barack Obama, who once told Vanity Fair:  “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits… I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” One study, spearheaded by Baumeister, shows that working ahead like this helps you free up brain space to make your strongest decisions in the morning — researchers found that as the day progresses, the strength and acuity of your decision-making powers wanes.

Delegate more

One way to better limit the number of decisions you have to make in a given day is to pass some of them down to your junior staffers. Trust them to make smart choices and it’ll pay off in more ways than one: Research shows that giving your staff decision-making authority helps improve their sense of efficacy and staves off burnout.

Take a break to recharge

When you’re feeling pounded by too many questions, take a time-out. That can include averting your gaze from the many screens populating your life. Look out the window, or go for a short walk around the block, which studies show will improve your decision-making power and mood. “Do something that facilitates positive emotion, liking watching funny videos or getting a healthy snack you enjoy,” Baumeister adds. Give yourself time away so you can come back to your decision-making process rejuvenated.

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