How to overcome complex decision fatigue

The coronavirus pandemic – and the response that has been required by leaders in all sectors – is truly one of the most pressing challenges we have faced in our time. Many of us are experiencing serious ‘carers’ load’ and ‘vicarious trauma’ as a result of the challenges presented at work and home.

This series of ‘recharge’ blogs explores themes and models that you can refer to in times of stress, to replenish your leadership capacity. In this blog, we look at how you can manage your day to overcome complex decision fatigue, a phenomenon that is more prevalent than ever as we grapple with carers load and the associated impact in workplaces.

What is complex decision fatigue?

Have you ever noticed that your ability to make decisions dwindles as the day goes on? It’s easy to attribute this to being tired, but it’s actually more involved than that – every time we make a decision, our ability to consider our options and potential consequences depletes a bit. Complex decision fatigue refers to the effect that decision making has on our cognitive state. The term was coined by Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist, to demonstrate the emotional and mental strain that is created by making multiple decisions throughout the day.

Interestingly, researchers have found that with smaller, routine decisions, our ability to make decisions is not greatly depleted. It is when we must focus on more complex or less routine situations that our capacity to make decisions can begin to fade. Over time, complex decision fatigue can also lead to stress, headaches, irritability, and increased anxiety.

Signs of complex decision fatigue

There are several signs to look out for that might indicate that you or your team are struggling with complex decision fatigue:

 - Procrastination

 - Impulsivity

 - Avoidance

 - Indecision

Tips for overcoming complex decision fatigue:

There are many things you can do to minimise your risk of experiencing complex decision fatigue.

  • Automate your less complex decisions
    By having a work uniform, planning and preparing your meals in advance and creating a predictable routine before and after work, you minimise the amount of decisions you have to make each day. Even though these decisions are less complex, they still save brain space for more complex decision making.

 

  • Optimise your schedule
    Do you feel freshest first thing in the morning? Try to keep it free, and use that time to strategise, plan and make decisions. Conversely, if you find you think more clearly in the afternoons, prioritise that time for complex thinking and decision making. Leave your more mundane or ‘routine’ tasks for times where you feel tired or need a break.

 

  • Practice positive wellbeing
    While our capacity to make complex decisions is depleted BY making complex decisions, you can still take steps to proactively increase your ability to think critically and decisively. Eating well, sleeping and having rest times will help you overcome complex decision fatigue.

 

While prioritising your wellbeing is sometimes the last thing on your mind, it really couldn’t be more important. Use these tips to reduce fatigue and increase your energy and enthusiasm at work.

 

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