I have what feels like a terminal case of decision paralysis. I cannot make One. More. Single. Bloody. Decision. In Paperchase, I can’t choose between Scandi or nutcracker wrap. Will the 5kg turkey be enough? Should I upgrade to 6kg? I am so unable to pick anything right now, I don’t even know if I’d go for the Toffee Penny or the Green Triangle.
Apparently, decision fatigue is an actual thing. I first heard of it from the guru of productivity, Tim Ferriss, author of Tribe Of Mentors. He told me that on book launch days, he eats exactly the same lunch every day from the same place: chipotle burrito bowl, no rice, chicken, mixed black and pinto beans, guacamole, no cheese, no dairy with pico de gallo salsa. When I asked him why, he told me, “Because I want to preserve my decision-making and my cognitive load for the places that matter.’”
What he’s saying is our brain power can run out. You might be running low at this point – the point you overtax your decision muscle is when you start making bad decisions. Bad decisions AKA pinot noir bottle number two on a school night or scrolling New In at Zara.com when you should be buying other people's presents (guilty!).
Another way decision fatigue shows up is you’ll be busy, busy, busy all day, but you never tick off what’s important. “Your mind energy is finite. If you use it all over the place, you’re going to wind up depleted before you’ve done the thing that really matters,” says performance coach Sara Milne Rowe, whose job it is to help CEOs and senior leaders of global companies to run their teams more effectively.
Apparently, decision fatigue is an actual thing. I first heard of it from the guru of productivity, Tim Ferriss, author of Tribe Of Mentors. What he’s saying is our brain power can run out
So, I ask her, how can we reduce brain fatigue, so we get done what we need to? Milne Rowe suggests you make some habits automatic, so you have fewer decisions to make. Like Tim Ferriss, plan the same breakfast or lunch – or both – every day while you’re busy. “I have one client who makes up a scrambled-egg mixture in a pan each night, so all she has to do is put the heat under it in the morning,” she says.
If you can’t automate, get organised: “I have another client who travels all the time. She has two cases so there’s always one packed with her toiletries and basics, ready to go.”
“Some clients decide what they’re wearing the night before, when they have mind capacity, and put out their clothes. And one client lines up her make-up in the order she uses it.” Now, that last one is genius – no scrabbling around for the brow pencil/sharpener/concealer in the bottom of the make-up bag in the morning.
Milne Rowe also uses a specific way of planning to reduce mental fatigue: “At the beginning of the day, take a moment to decide the three things you can do to make a big difference today, and just be really focused on achieving those.”
But what about my present wrap, tags, turkey, all those tiny decisions that don’t really matter but add up to a massive headache? “Assign half an hour in the day to do your admin, so you can empty your brain. Think: what can I make easy for myself?” she says.
Milne Rowe has a final mind-restoring trick and this one is by far the most appealing: go to sleep. “Recent research has shown sleep is the way to regenerate your mind energy,” she says. An early night? I’m in.
The Shed Method: Making better choices when it matters by Sara Milne Rowe is published on 25th January 2018 (Michael Joseph, HBK £12.99)