Leadership

4 signs you may be suffering from decision fatigue—and how to combat it

Have you ever found yourself staring into the depths of your closet, silently debating between ensembles? I think we've all been there.

Highly-successful people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have famously eschewed this morning struggle by sticking to the same outfit every day. They weren't trying to make fashion statements; rather, they made conscious efforts to minimize daily decision-making.

In particular, it's an attempt to eliminate some of the more inconsequential decisions we face each day — which lead to decision fatigue and render us unable to effectively make bigger, more important decisions.

Jobs and Zuckerberg understood that we could keep our minds fresh through simple hacks. Many of us use similar tactics like weekly meal prepping to simplify nutrition decisions, consulting Consumer Reports on big purchases or comparison shopping for internet services on InMyArea.com.

Decision fatigue can seem harmless enough. Spending a few extra minutes deciding between chicken or beef isn't the end of the world. But what you may not realize is that those little moments of turmoil could be negatively impacting your business.

If left unchecked, decision fatigue can lead to reckless behavior like compulsive spending or, worse, the inability to make any decisions at all.

Luckily, you don't need to deck your closet out in hoodies and mock turtlenecks to combat decision fatigue. You can ward it off in a number of ways. But before you can take steps to mitigate it, you must understand whether you're actually suffering from decision fatigue.

Here are four signs to look out for and the steps you can take to prevent it:

You create congestion within your organization

As a business owner, you never want to become the bottleneck — preventing your employees from keeping projects running smoothly and costing your cash-strapped start-up money. But when you're constantly bombarded with questions, it's easy for the pressure to build until you're circling the decision-fatigue drain.

You might find it helpful to have a mantra like "the customer comes first" to guide your company's outward-facing decisions. But it's also a good idea to have some rules in place to prevent making decisions that someone else could make instead. Next time you're fielding questions, ask your employees what they think the answer is: Over time, this will empower them to think for themselves and keep critical workflows moving.

You take longer than usual to make simple decisions

Maybe an employee has asked for some time off or to change his schedule. Your inability to make a straightforward calculation about how this will affect workflow may indicate you're suffering from decision fatigue.

Former President Ronald Reagan said it best: "There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers." It's easy to lose sight of this truism when you're running a hectic startup, but by carving a path to simplicity, you can make decisions more quickly and confidently. First, outline the expected outcome and worst-case scenario. Then, do a simple cost-benefit analysis. Decide — and don't second-guess yourself.

You continue to put off at least one big decision

Whether it's spending money on new equipment or new employees, you're probably facing several decisions that could have profound effects on your business. If you've been vacillating over these decisions for weeks or even months, decision fatigue has taken hold.

Avoiding a decision isn't an option — consequences are never far behind inaction. Instead, thoughtfully consider the purpose of the decision: Will it expose your business to new customers, for example? You also must accept that you can't predict the future. Identify all the constraints to executing on your decision, evaluate whether and how you can mitigate them and then accept that uncertainty is a reality.

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You notice an increase in your own impulsive behavior

If you find yourself suddenly spending more money on things you may not need or engaging in other impulsive behavior like binge eating, for example, you've fallen prey to decision fatigue.

The first step in preventing impulsive behavior is self-awareness. Dr. Srini Pillay, CEO of NeuroBusiness Group and author of "Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlocking the Power of the Unfocused Mind," suggests that entrepreneurs periodically schedule time for "conscious daydreaming" to promote mental health and focus. According to Pillay, taking some time to allow yourself to be unfocused can not only boost self-awareness and creativity, but also lead to better decisions.

As an entrepreneur, the number of important decisions you must make will only grow with your business. You can't let decision fatigue get you down; otherwise, you'll stagnate. So the next time you open your closet, try not to spend too much time debating. Chances are, there's something far more important that will need your attention soon.