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Tactics for reducing decision fatigue

2013/01/19 6 comments

I’m starting an experiment in restructuring my life to reduce decision fatigue.

If you’re like me, and not very familiar with the concept of decision fatigue, it is well-outlined in a 2011 New York Times article. At its core, decision fatigue is the assumption that we possess a finite amount of willpower, and that we expend this willpower as we make decisions throughout a day. This can lead to unintended (and often undesirable) psychological effects, such as a selection bias towards leniency after lunch, suffered by judges and even greats like Paul Graham. Fortunately, there are factors that can abate this fatigue. As the lunchtime anecdote alludes to, one of these is glucose levels, which this study from the University of Kentucky shows even happens in animals. The factor on which I would like to focus, as part of my desire to design a simpler life, is reducing the number of decisions that I need to make each day.

After a very brief analysis of my daily routine, there are several obvious areas in which I expend my decision-making energy unnecessarily. These wastes include:

  • clothing
  • meals
  • meeting schedule
  • exercise routine
  • content consumption (reading books, watching movies)

With the goal of minimizing waste in decision-making energy throughout a day, one approach is to cluster all of these low-value, low-risk decisions into a particular time of my day, such the night before. I’ve experimented with this for a few days with my eating habits, by using MyFitnessPal not as a post-consumption recording device, but as a meal-planning tool. I have notice the following benefits:

  1. I feel less decision stress just before mealtimes because I’m just executing on an existing plan
  2. I’ve been able to better avoid temptations to stray from my intended diet, because I’m not making decisions in-the-moment (a low-glucose moment, at that)

While the are only preliminary observations, they’re sufficient to convince me to continue this experiment. A few ways to expand this include planning my wardrobe in weekly batches (perhaps, on Sunday evenings), or selecting in one session all the books I’m going to read throughout the year. I’d really like to experiment with ways to make this easier with retail shopping, but that topic is deserving of its own post.

What are some ways in which you can reduce decision fatigue in your life? I’m really curious to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Hat tip to @MarkWittman for sharing this concept with me.

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