Dealing with Decision-Making Fatigue as a Leader

by Danielle C. Levy | Business, Wellness

Do you ever feel like you’re drowning in an endless sea of decisions, desperately longing for a life raft? As leaders, we wear numerous hats, juggle countless responsibilities, and make decisions left and right. It’s no surprise that decision-making fatigue can sneak up on us!

According to Eva Krockow, a lecturer at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, our brains make upwards of 35,000 decisions each day. For those in leadership positions, this number is likely even higher.

What is Decision-Making Fatigue?

Decision-making fatigue, also referred to as choice fatigue, is a cognitive phenomenon characterized by the gradual depletion of mental resources as we navigate an array of decisions throughout the day. Just as physical fatigue sets in after exertion, our cognitive faculties begin to wane as we process an ever-increasing number of choices. This is not limited to high-impact decisions; even seemingly mundane choices contribute to the erosion of our decision-making stamina.

Interesting insights about decision-making:

  • Less Is More: Having more options isn’t necessarily better. Columbia Business School professor Sheena Iyengar’s jam experiment showed that when fewer varieties of jam were displayed, six times as many people made a purchase.
  • Timing Matters: Making choices becomes harder as the day progresses. A study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University in 2011 found that parole boards granted parole to about 70% of cases heard in the morning, but less than 10% of cases heard in the afternoon.
  • Strength in Smaller Groups: A 2014 study by Princeton University researchers revealed that the smaller a decision-making group is, the more likely it is to make the right choice.

How to Manage Decision-Making Fatigue 

Now, while not every decision is about choosing a jam flavor or an outfit, the cumulative weight of constant decision-making can start to feel overwhelming. So, how can leaders lighten this load?

Prioritize Like Tasks

Begin by listing the most critical decisions you need to make. By addressing the most important ones first, you’ll allocate your time and energy where it truly counts. Save less urgent decisions for later, ensuring a smoother decision-making journey.

Take a Breather

When decision fatigue creeps in, give yourself permission to take a break. Step away from screens, take a walk, indulge in a hobby—anything that rejuvenates your mind. Upon your return, you’ll gain renewed clarity and a fresh perspective.

Make a Decision Once, and Stick with It

Decision-making need not be a cumbersome process. Implement defaults and standards that serve as guiding principles. For example, President Obama wore the same thing every day to reduce the number of decisions he had to make. In an interview with Vanity Fair he said, “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” This reserves your mental bandwidth for decisions that truly warrant your attention.

However, if eliminating the need to make a decision through processes is not an option, another solution to avoid decision-making fatigue is to delegate certain decisions to team members. 

The Benefits of Delegating

Delegation is more than just a redistribution of tasks; it’s a strategic mechanism that empowers team members and liberates leaders from the overwhelming task of shouldering every decision -and allows business to keep going in your absence. 

By entrusting responsibilities and decisions to individuals with relevant expertise, leaders can tap into a wealth of perspectives and skills, making the organization more agile and responsive.

Empowering your team to make decisions and take action can lead to:

  • Broader Perspective
  • Reduced Stress and Burnout
  • Faster Decision-Making & Elimination of Bottlenecks
  • Enhanced Accountability
  • Unleashed Growth Potential

Alleviating Decision Fatigue

As a business strategist, I help my clients view decision-making through a different lens. Which decisions are crucial only for you? Which hold the most significant impact? How can you empower your team? How do you streamline decision-making by establishing rules and standards? These are just a few aspects to explore when looking for ways to alleviate the number of decisions you make every day.

Remember, being the leader doesn’t mean you have to shoulder the full responsibility of making decisions alone. By improving your process and knowing yourself well enough to create healthy boundaries, you not only alleviate decision fatigue but also create space for growth and success for yourself, your business, and your team members.

Danielle C. Levy
Business Coach, Strategist & Professional Problem Solver

Sought-after business coach and strategist, Danielle Levy, helps six and seven-figure online business owners expand with clarity and efficiency. After her experience in the traditional business world, Danielle established The Boardroom League™ to give other entrepreneurs a little black book of trusted industry professionals to help them grow and scale their businesses.

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