Combatting decision fatigue

The heart of financial planning is making good decisions for and with clients. The pandemic, however, created myriad new decisions we must make on a daily basis to adjust to a new and ever-shifting environment. This leads to exhaustion and the phenomenon of “decision fatigue.”

What is decision fatigue?

Imagine that when you first wake up in the morning, you get 100 “decision points.” Every choice you make draws down on the total cache of points. Small choices, such as what to have for breakfast, take a few points. Bigger things, like writing an email to a client or making decisions about your child’s education, take more from your daily decision point total.

Each point requires energy. So each decision we make decreases our overall energy. The more points we use, the more energy we use. The brain is a muscle, and like all muscles, it works less efficiently when it’s exhausted. Stress and intense emotions serve as multipliers, draining mental energy faster. This is why so many people are feeling exhausted in these COVID times — there are more decisions to make on a daily basis that may be wrought with emotion.

Practical remedies to fight decision fatigue

While we can’t walk away from the pandemic or making decisions, there are some coping strategies we can use to recharge and fight decision fatigue.


Taking breaks frees up the pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for using logic and willpower. When the cortex is powered down, the subconscious continues to work on specific ideas or issues. That’s why coming back to a project after a break can lead to “light bulb” moments.

Sleep is a powerful way to restore blood flow to the brain. Even a five-minute catnap can give your “decider muscle” a hard reset.

Establish routines

Reportedly, Steve Jobs created the so-called “developer uniform,” which was his daily black turtleneck, to stave off decision fatigue. While you don’t have to commit to turtleneck shirts, ask yourself: What parts of your life can stand a decision audit? That is, how and where can you cut down on daily decision-making? Can you eat the same thing for breakfast every day, for example?

Batch work

There have been numerous studies showing that switching between varying tasks, or multitasking, burns mental energy because the brain needs time to “reset.” By batching similar tasks to set times, you can cut down on this effect. For example, set aside an hour to read and respond to emails. Don’t do anything else until this is done.

Eat a healthy snack

The brain uses glucose as fuel. Glucose is the energy the body converts from eating food. When you eat an apple, a portion of those “decision points” gets restored by replenishing glucose. Avoid sugary snacks, though, as they cause glucose to spike then crash, leaving you worse off than if you’d done nothing.

Keep your decision-making skills sharp

While you can’t whittle your daily decisions down to zero, you can create plans and use specific tools to keep from exhausting yourself.

“Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they’re not rested and their glucose is low,” said Roy Baumeister, the psychologist who discovered decision fatigue. The best decision-makers, Baumeister says, “are the ones who know when not to trust themselves,” in a New York Times article.

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