How to Prevent Decision Fatigue

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Life is full of decisions, which can be both a privilege and a source of stress. Decision fatigue—the exhaustion you experience from having too many decisions to make in a day—can build in subtle ways and create stress that can sneak up on you.

By minimizing the number of non-essential decisions you have to make each day, you can cut down on the level of decision fatigue you face, and lower your overall stress levels at the same time. Here are some of the most effective strategies for reducing the stress caused by decision fatigue.

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Build Habits Into Your Schedule

You already have several things you do each day without thinking—like getting out of bed, taking a shower, and eating breakfast. You probably don’t think too much about how to get these things done; you just do them.

If you can attach other decisions to your already-established routine, making them a habit, you won’t have to think about them, either.

There are a number of different ways that you can build automatic habits into your day. Some ideas:

  • Try eating the same thing for breakfast each day.
  • Schedule what you will work on certain days of the week.
  • Create a weekly exercise schedule so you'll know how you’ll get your exercise each day.
  • Pick one day of the week when you will do your laundry.

You can apply this same logic to a multitude of other choices that you may or may not have already automated. Whatever you can work into your schedule becomes one less thing you have to decide upon later.

Make Fewer Decisions

One important way to reduce decision fatigue is simply to start making fewer decisions each day. How do you go about doing this? The key is to keep only the decisions that bring you joy or that are truly important—then eliminate the other choices that don't really matter to you.

Some things that you can do to reduce the decision load:

  • Eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day.
  • Follow the same schedule each day.
  • Have a rotation for meals each night of the week, so you don’t have to think about what healthy meals to cook.
  • Set up automated payments.
  • Wake up at the same time each morning and go to bed at the same time each night.

Some people wear roughly the same outfit every day—Apple CEO Steve Jobs was famous for this and inspired Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to do the same. The goal is to put as little effort as possible into choosing what to wear in order to save decision-making energy for more important choices.

These habits might feel extremely stifling in some instances, but for the average person, they can be effective and low-stress ways to cut down on the number of choices one must make day after day.

Think about the daily choices you make. If any feel like a burden to deal with each day, find a way to make them routine. Then move on to the choices that matter to you more. 

Limit Your Options

Being faced with too many options can increase your stress levels. One way you can minimize this source of stress is simply by limiting your options.

When you are faced with a seemingly limitless array of choices, start first by paring down your options so that you have just a few to pick from. Start by setting specific criteria to focus your options. 

For example, if you are shopping for a shirt—limit your choices to one or two stores. Next, narrow your choices further by selecting only options that are under a specific price point.

Setting limits on your options means you won't get overwhelmed researching and comparing all of the possible choices that are available.

Turn to Role Models and Experts

As you are working to streamline your life, remember that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If there is some aspect of your life that is eating up your decision-making energy, turning to role models and experts can be a great way to simplify your life.

There are people out there who are successfully doing what you’d like to be doing. Watching and learning from them can be a great source of knowledge and inspiration. Follow their success model if you think it will work for you.

Many people are more than happy to share what works for them, and even feel honored when you ask.

So if you’re starting something new (or wondering if there’s a better way to do something):

  • Find out people’s best tips.
  • Implement the ones that seem like they would work.
  • Adjust, if necessary, for your life and situation.

You can repeat this process in many different areas of your life. This works with studying, job strategies, fitness plans, and even stress management.

Get Comfortable With “No”

Sometimes it’s a struggle to decide what you want to do and what you don’t. Other times, you know what you want, but you also have to factor in the consequences of saying "yes" and "no" to everyone else’s list of wants and needs.

Particularly for parents, the juggle of decision-making is multiplied greatly by the number of members in the family, and even the demands of others in their networks. Women, in particular, disproportionately bear the burden of carrying the "mental load" of the family. Examples of this mental load include:

  • Deciding what to make for dinner each night for the entire family. 
  • Keeping track of what each child will and won't eat.
  • Remembering when the children's immunizations are due.
  • Tracking payment due dates for all the household bills.

This means they have to remember what needs to be done, what's been done, what needs to be scheduled, who needs to be where at what time, and so on. All of this can play a role in causing decision fatigue.

If you're not willing to turn down other people's requests, your plans can be taken over by last-minute changes or an overly packed schedule, requiring you to make even more decisions to juggle it all.

You can make this easier by getting comfortable with saying no. It’s easier said than done, but once you have a clear idea in your head what you can and can’t handle—and stand by it!—the decision to say no gets easier. And everything else can fall into place more easily, as well.

Stick With Your Decisions

One of the really fatiguing aspects of decision-making is the feeling that a decision you made may not be the right one, which leads you to revisit it. Second-guessing yourself can take a much larger toll than you may realize.

Rather than beating yourself up over making a wrong decision, just decide the choice is made and move on.

There are pros and cons to every decision. Once your choice is made, focus mainly on the benefits, and don’t even think about the cons. There are drawbacks to every situation, and if the negatives of your choice were truly that bad, you probably would have made a different decision in the first place. Keep in mind that the decision made was the right decision at that time given those circumstances.

A Word From Verywell

Decision-making can be a hidden source of stress, and being faced with too many choices can ultimately lead to decision fatigue. By doing things to simplify and streamline your life, you'll be able to better manage this stressor and make better choices that will ultimately leave you feeling happier and more satisfied.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Daminger A. The cognitive dimension of household labor. American Sociological Review. 2019;84(4):609-633. doi:10.1177/0003122419859007

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.