When we think of decision fatigue, we usually associate it with people in powerful positions. We think of people jumping from one meeting to another who need to make the right calls on key issues every day of their lives. We don’t associate it with people like you and me. We may not be deliberating life-altering choices, but the sheer volume of the decisions in our mundane lives can be overwhelming.
When I have to make an important decision, I usually do my “research” on Google. I speak to someone about it and make a list of pros and cons. Now imagine following the same process to figure out what to cook, when to get your workouts done, when to schedule your chores – every single day. This will push us into making questionable choices sooner or later. It’s tiring.
After some very questionable choices in life, I had to do some damage control. I read about decision fatigue and experimented with a few strategies. Here are 3 principles that have worked well for me.
1. Follow a routine
Most decisions revolve around our routine. You can eliminate half of them by planning upfront. A routine adds structure. It helps you focus attention on implementing your tasks rather than wondering what to do and when to do, multiple times a day. When you step into a day with some decisions already made, you have better control over your time. Think of it as working on an auto-pilot mode.
To get started:
- Write down how you spend every hour in a day.
- Highlight the slots where you are in full control of your time.
- Write down the important tasks you have to do (your goals, hobbies etc.).
- Allot a specific time for each task. (Here’s the tricky part – avoid the temptation to fill up your schedule to capacity. Understand what is feasible and sustainable.
- Track progress for each of the tasks.
- Review progress after a month to understand where you have been consistent and where you’re struggling. This is the most important step. You can modify your routines based on these insights and repeat the process till you find the right balance.
2. Follow a template
For the monotonous aspects of your life, use a template. It gives you a structure while allowing room for some variety. Some people say they dread cooking. That’s actually the easiest part for me. I find it challenging to come up with an idea for every meal with the available resources in my pantry. To overcome this I came up with a template for each of my meals.
- Breakfast: Oats (Or) Toast
- Lunch: Protein + 2 veggies + Brown Rice
- Dinner: Soup/Pasta/Salad/Chappthi/Pulao
This template helps me plan my meals for the week, order the right groceries and do some meal prep. I decide on the menu once a week. I mix things up now and then if they get boring. I can balance having a structure with as much variety as I need. I have a similar template for repetitive tasks like my workouts, what I wear to work, household chores etc. It is liberating to put in a system for these kinds of tasks and free up your mind to focus on something else.
3. Do not overthink every decision
Not all decisions are equal. Not all of them have major consequences. In fact, most of them are reversible. So do not spend a lot of time on them. Go with what comes to your mind first and move on. You learn something either way – about what works and what doesn’t. Learn to identify decisions that need a lot of thought and the ones that are not worth spending time on. If you are still unable to make up your mind, take a break from the thought, focus on something else and then come back to it. Sometimes a break gives you the clarity you need to think, or perhaps a different perspective.
These principles worked well for me. You might have to tweak them to make it work for you. The idea is to automate, eliminate or reduce decisions as much as you can. Things often get out of hand and we lose control. Before you know it you end up chasing multiple tasks and running around without a clue. The more you plan and put processes, the more you can take control back of your life. The more effective systems you have in place, the more you can live life on your terms. After all – you only live once. So live your life the way you want to!
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