Navigating Decision Fatigue for Force Multipliers

Late last year, Adam wrote a great article about how Executive Assistants and Chiefs of Staff can help their Executive’s overcome decision fatigue. It’s an important topic and one I know that leaders and their Force Multipliers feel all too much. Decision fatigue is real. In the article, Adam outlined some strategic and tactical ways for EAs and Chiefs to help their leaders minimize decision fatigue, such as remembering the 40/70 Rule, recognizing patterns of when decisions start to get pushed (and ensuring the Force Multiplier closes the loop), delegating decision making, and planning ahead as much as possible. All very valid ideas to consider and implement into our day.

What is decision fatigue anyway?

Decision fatigue is not just another pop psychology buzz phrase. It’s real. Decision fatigue is the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. And what do Executives do all day? They make decisions.

Force Multipliers can have a major impact on the effectiveness of their Executive, particularly when it comes to the number of high-stakes decisions, advice, and communication that they are faced with each day.

But what about us Force Multipliers!? That’s exactly what one reader asked. And she was right. We, too, are making decisions, solving problems, and using our executive functioning skills at a high level every day.

What about the impact of decision fatigue on Executive Assistants and Chiefs of Staff?

I don’t know about you, but there are many nights when I arrive home after a long day at the office and I turn into Allie in that meme from The Notebook when my husband asks me what I want for dinner. It usually goes something like this: “What do you want?” Me: “It’s not that simple!” After repeating that a few times we end up ordering pizza… again…

Sometimes you really can’t make even one more decision. Something low stakes like what to have for dinner isn’t a big deal. But what if you are faced with higher impact decisions with caretaking responsibilities, an after-hours call from a client or your Executive, or decisions with a larger financial impact?

We can’t ignore the existence of decision fatigue, but there are some things we can do to mitigate its effect on us at work and at home.

Do, Delete, Delegate, Defer

As new decisions come across your desk or inbox, use the 4 D’s of decision making to evaluate each decision.

  • DO – If you determine the task needs to be done by you, first ask yourself if it needs to be done right now or if it can wait. If it takes less than 5 minutes and if it must be done by you, then just do it.
  • DELETE – This goes for emails, relationships, and social obligations. Delete from your calendar and life anything that is not aligned with your vision for your life or that is not serving your greater purpose in life or business. Just delete it.
  • DELEGATE – If the project or task is important to the business, it doesn’t mean it needs to be done by you. Delegate the project or task to the appropriate member of your team and then hold them accountable to the result. I would also take the delegation a step further. You don’t need to just delegate projects or tasks, but rather you could delegate entire categories of decision-making. If it’s not going to adversely affect your career or your life, then let it go! For me, that includes things like what route we’re going to take on our vacations, what happens in the garage or attending every meeting at the office. Just delegate it.
  • DEFER – If it is going to take longer than five minutes and isn’t a fire that needs to be put out, make sure you block time to complete the project. Delay until your one thing (top 20% of your job) is done. Just defer it.

The 4 Ds of decision-making is the low-hanging fruit of the bunch. It’s a quick filter system that can help you mitigate decision fatigue. Deleting and delegating, in particular, can get decisions off your plate so that you have the time and energy to handle the decisions that really will require you to be at your best.

Table Decisions For Another Time

When it comes to the many decisions we’re hit with each day, it’s important to understand what time of the day you are at your best. Our cognitive abilities fluctuate over the course of the day between a peak (mood rises), trough (mood declines), and recovery (mood boosts back up). Everyone experiences these fluctuations at different times throughout the day–you might be a night owl or an early bird, or somewhere in between. And some of these times are better than others for certain types of work. For example, the trough is best for administrative and routine work, while the recovery period is best for brainstorming and creative work. And making a decision? The best time for a night owl is later afternoon/evening and for the early bird, early morning, of course!

A chronotype is a person’s natural inclination with regard to the times of day when they prefer to sleep or when they are most alert or energetic. There are four main chronotypes (Dolphin, Lion, Bear, or Wolf). Just like the early bird and night owl, there are peak productivity times for each of these chronotypes. Find out your chronotype here: For those wondering, I’m a Dolphin!

Now, that you’re armed with this information, keep an eye on your energy and when you are going to be at your best for making tough decisions. And when you’re able to, ask for more time to consider options and come up with viable solutions. Or table a decision or meeting until the next day when you’re at your peak. Not all decisions need an immediate answer. In fact, after gathering all the information and hearing multiple perspectives, it can be incredibly beneficial to sleep on all of it and approach the final decision with renewed energy and clarity.

If you have been faced with decision after decision throughout the day, there is nothing wrong with asking for a time out – as long as you follow-through with a final decision.

Proactively Make Decisions

To mitigate decision fatigue, make as many low impact, repetitive decisions as you can ahead of time. This applies to things like what to wear, meals for the week, your workouts, weekly obligations, etc. Instead of waiting until the last minute to decide what to make for dinner when you are all decided out, make these decisions on a Sunday morning when you’re fresh.

I’m a big fan of the weekly meeting (either with yourself or your family) when you go over all of these items for the week ahead. Talk with your partner about the schedule for the week, who’s picking up the kids/walking the dog, who’s making dinner, or running errands. Schedule all of your workouts–the time and the exact thing you are going to do. Plan your meals for the week. Better yet, meal prep them all! One less thing to worry about during the week! Choose your outfits for the week (particularly if you have an important meeting or event to go to). Decide on the top 3-5 priorities for the week ahead – the non-negotiables that must get done to move the business and your personal life forward.

Yes, this may take a few hours on the weekend. But it will significantly cut down on stress and indecision throughout the week when you’re hit with decision fatigue.

Braindump at the End of the Day

This is a favorite of mine. Does it have a direct correlation to decision fatigue? I’m not sure. But does it help clear my head at the end of the day? Absolutely. And a clear mind can only be good for decision fatigue–I think! I like to do a braindump before I go to bed, but before leaving the office can be a great time to do this too. The mind’s chatter can be overwhelming sometimes – running to-do lists, things you don’t want to forget to do or tell someone about, small decisions that are still open and need to be finalized, etc. By getting these thoughts and tasks out of your head and onto paper, you can leave them until the next day when you can prioritize and take action, instead of trying to solve all of those problems while lying in bed at 2 am. Plus getting a good night’s sleep is good for mitigating decision fatigue!

To learn more about quieting your mind’s chatter, check out this episode of our podcast.

Create a Self-Care Routine

This is another method for proactively creating some calm, clarity, and space in your day to quiet the mind, refresh your energy, and get centered. Operating from this place enhances your ability to not only make more decisions, but better decisions. While you can certainly whip out a quick breathing technique or do some push-ups on the fly, you will get the most benefits by consistently practicing a self-care routine.

Self-care routines can look a little different for everyone, but they generally include some of the following: exercise, journaling, breathing, yoga, prayer, sitting in silence, or meditation. I think a bubble bath, walking outside, or a skincare routine falls into this category too! Why these activities? Because they are all designed to go inward, to allow thoughts to come and go with no attachment to the outcome. They create a space for you to just be. And, if you’re anything like me, these are the times when you get the most clarity and the best ideas – when you are simply in the moment, just being. No agenda. No expectations. When this becomes a part of your daily life, just think how much more effective you will be when you’re hit with the hard stuff of running a business and the tough leadership decisions.

While decision fatigue can happen to the best of us, there are ways to combat it by making decisions ahead of time, delegating or delaying decision making, and creating routines that help us stay centered and clear.

Have you experienced decision fatigue? How did it impact your life or career? What would you add to this list to help others mitigate decision fatigue?

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