Personal Development

Decision Fatigue

Alright, so I’m about to go on a short trip to Barcelona next week. All by myself. No wife or kids in the tow. A workation that ends with a meeting of some entrepreneurial friends on Thursday evening.

I simply need to book my train journey and a hotel for two nights. That’s it. Sounds simple?

Let me introduce you to my brain…

Should I take the 8:15, 9:15 or 12:15 train from Valencia to Barcelona?

Well, 8:15 is quite early, so my wife would need to take care of our daughter in that case. 9:15 gives me enough time to wake up with my daughter and make breakfast for her before the nanny arrives. 12:15 would mean I lose the opportunity to meet people for lunch on that day.

Alright, problem solved. The 9:15 train it is.

But what class? First class or second class train tickets?

I got fancier in recent years and I love trains and I’m planning to make it a workation. So it should be a First class ticket…. But…it’s double the price…Anyways, First class it is.

Now the accommodation. AirBnB or hotel?

I’m by myself and I should treat myself to some time off the “normal” family life. Hotel sounds fancier and more relaxed than AirBnB.

But, where in town and how many stars?

4 stars or should I splash out on a 5-star room?

And the decisions go on and on…

I’m not here to brag, quite the contrary. I’m here to complain.

In those moments I’d love to have a normal salary and my average Joe 9-to-5 job – second class train journey, 3-star hotel. That’s it.

But the combination of a bit of extra money (I’m by no means rich!) and freedom gives you something that I see more and more amongst people – Decision Fatigue.

When the traditional worker wakes up they have their morning routine just like me – brush the teeth, shower, get dressed, have a coffee and so on…

But then their routine continues – commute to an office building, start work at a set time, work all day long, finish work at a fairly set time, commute back home, work on their private matters…

However, my decision process just starts when they leave their house – should I work from my home office or from the coworking space? Or maybe from the coffee shop around the corner? Should I first deal with some important private matters like my son’s passport or should I get some other work out of the way first?

And yes, with habits and routines you can counter-act this decision-overload and create a more regular, traditional work day.

However, in the back of my mind is always that little devil who knows that I can change my work day if I want to do so. And once you’ve broken your own rules a few times your wife knows about it too. So she might want you to make an “exception” in your schedule because of something important for the family. And so begins the vicious circle.

So what’s the solution?

First off, I don’t think there is a solution that will work 100% of the time. Once you’ve hit a certain lifestyle and financial freedom (that’s another interesting topic to write about in the future!) you’re doomed to get hit by decision fatigue from time to time.

In my teens and 20’s I actually tried to avoid routines at all costs. I thought that boring, old, traditional-thinking people had routines. People that are not creative, people from small cities, people like my parents.

In recent years I finally came to the realisation that routines create habits. And habits are actually great. They remove decisions as they push a lot of our daily actions into our subconscious.

Therefore leaving us with enough mental energy to tackle the real issues in our lives to find creative ways of solving them.

Keeping a To Do list is another way to limit decision fatigue if you’re able to actually stick to it. I’m currently struggling to work on my To Do list step by step from point 1 to point 10. I love jumping too much.

Lastly, planning ahead tasks rather than big fluffy end results seems to work, too. Knowing what you want to specifically work on, the next day or the next week, on an hour-by-hour basis seems to be more productive than just having the final goal in front of me.

However, again, it takes time and effort to actually prepare those hour-by-hour task lists. As soon as I don’t prepare them I just seem to jump from one random task to another.

This constant jumping is nothing else than millions of decisions that happen in the brain – what to work on right now? How to solve this customer issue? A few minutes later it might be a tech issue, and then a marketing issue.

Needless to say that our brains aren’t made for jumping between those sort of completely different tasks on a minute-by-minute basis.

So far I figured out 3 potential ways to reduce decision fatigue for myself:

  • create routines and habits
  • work with To Do lists / Calendars
  • plan time hour-by-hour in small increments

What else could help?

1 reply on “Decision Fatigue”

Set defaults and make them non-negotiable.

Ex default: if ticket is > $100 take second class, if ticket <= $100 take first

Btw, once you set this, you can not go back to edit. Maybe just twice a year. Also, once you set this, you should have someone else operate from the defaults for you (a VA).

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