4 ways to overcome decision fatigue

Recognising the signs of decision fatigue can help you implement helpful strategies before issues become real problems.

Even in the best of times, decision fatigue can creep up on you and affect your daily work and personal life. With so much going on in the world right now, the chances of this happening are greater than ever for financial professionals who are being asked to give their "two cents" on everything from minor business decisions to major financial undertakings — and everything in between.

Defined as a state of mental overload that can impede someone's ability to continue making decisions, decision fatigue is the notion that, after making many decisions, a person's ability to make additional decisions declines. And while making a lot of decisions at one time or all in a row may not seem like a problem for a financial professional, even a series of minor decisions piled on top of one another can lead to mental exhaustion, frustration, and irrationality.

Ignoring decision fatigue can turn simple decisions into a maze of stress and burden and can lead to brain fog, thus affecting your ability to draw correct interpretations from the data.

"If persistently ignored, brain fog can lead to wrong decisions and cause burnout in professionals," cautioned Smita Das Jain, an executive coach and personal empowerment life coach in India. "Further, it may also impair one's ability to self-regulate, leading to emotional outbursts in the workplace."

Here are four strategies you can use to quickly recognise and address decision fatigue in any environment.

Know the four signs of decision fatigue

According to Das Jain, the four main signs of decision fatigue to watch out for are:

  • Procrastination: Putting off decisions that could easily be made on the spot but that you're avoiding;
  • Impulsivity: Making decisions without thinking them through;
  • Avoidance: Pretending the decisions aren't awaiting your input; and
  • Indecision: The "limbo" that sets in when you're not really sure what to do.

When any or all of these signs emerge, you may wind up putting the decision off until later, making a rash decision based on little evidence, avoiding the decision altogether, or swinging back and forth between various choices. "You might also get angrier with colleagues and families," Das Jain said, "and splurge on impulse buys like clothing that you don't need or junk food that you shouldn't be eating."

If any or all of these signs surface, Das Jain said one good way to address them is by confiding in a trusted colleague about the issue and making that person an "accomplice" who can help you stay on track and accountable for your steps. "For example, you may decide not to look back at your decision once taken," Das Jain said, "and when you find your thoughts dwelling on past decisions, lean on your trusted colleague to help you avoid overthinking the issue."

Lean on technology for help

You can take some of the pressure off by using technology to automate repetitive tasks and free up some brain space for thinking, assessing, and decision-making. This may require a closer relationship with your company's IT team — something that Sean Purcell, ACMA, CGMA, advocates for.

"Buddy up with someone in IT to learn about the solutions that are available and that can help take some of the work and decision-making off of your plate," said Purcell, a partner with London-based Wise Up Now, a corporate training organisation.

On an individual level, Purcell said apps like Zapier and Make (formerly Integromat) can help professionals automate their daily workflows and consolidate activity across different applications. Then, you'll have more time and energy to spend on more important tasks, like decision-making. "If a lot of responsibilities are piling up," he said, "figure out ways to automate the more repetitive tasks that don't require huge amounts of brain power."

Delegate as much as you can

Taking on too many decisions can lead to strategic errors, according to Purcell, who tells financial professionals to "spread the wealth" when it comes to decision-making. Find trusted colleagues who can chip in and shoulder some of the responsibility.

This isn't always easy to do, and the current remote-work environment has made it even more difficult, what with everyone working from home, the office, and some of both. "Financial professionals tend not to delegate," Purcell said, "and are probably surprised at how much responsibility others can handle when given the opportunity to do so."

Das Jain concurred and said a good step in this direction is to pick two to three major decisions to keep to yourself, and then delegate the rest to other team members. "Limit yourself to making no more than three or four big decisions per day," she added. "This way, you're not only beating decision fatigue, but you're also sending a signal to people that you trust them."

If they're struggling, employees should also speak with their managers, who might be able to assist them with prioritisation. In general, managers should just be aware of such struggles so that they aren't blindsided when indecision-related issues emerge.

Lastly, employee-assistance programmes are now an option at most companies and can offer tips and support on managing the stress or issues related to the indecision.

Make your most important decisions early in the day

Because multiple decisions drain out your energy, it's best to make the top two or three important decisions for the day first thing in the morning, when there are no disturbances and your mind is at its calmest.

"Similarly, schedule important meetings at work in the morning hours to make the most of your time," Das Jain said. "The lighter decisions can be left for the latter part of the day." Or, if you are a night owl, she added, make the important decisions before starting work, when you are in a steady and tranquil state.

Because you lump personal and work decisions into the same bucket, be sure to leave room for the former when allocating time for decision-making, determine which issues can be delegated, and enlist technology, trusted colleagues, and/or family members (for personal decisions) to help you beat decision fatigue.

For example, you can pick out what you're going to wear to work or what meals you'll eat during work hours for the entire week ahead, thus eliminating those daily decisions. "Putting less important tasks on autopilot can make a big difference," Das Jain said.

Bridget McCrea is a US-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek at