Feeling Overwhelmed? Discover The Secrets To Beating Decision Fatigue

Struggling to make clear decisions? Discover the science behind decision fatigue and learn effective strategies to overcome it.

Girl looking at a board with numerous sticky notes and feeling overwhelmed with decision fatigue.
Photo by Brandon Lopez / Unsplash

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Introduction - Overwhelmed by Choices

Feeling overwhelmed with choices? You're not alone. Imagine sifting through an extensive menu or scrolling endlessly for a movie to watch. With an average adult making 35,000 decisions daily, it's no wonder many experience 'decision fatigue,' a state where making one more choice feels impossible. Learn how to combat this modern-day challenge and reclaim your mental clarity.

According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of our cognitive activity occurs subconsciously, leading to inherent fatigue. While having options can be empowering, too many choices for some people can lead to decision fatigue, which can have far-reaching implications on our mental health and overall well-being.

What is decision fatigue? It is a psychological concept that refers to the depletion of cognitive resources due to repetitive decision-making. Simply put, it is the diminished ability to make effective decisions after a prolonged series of choices. As we navigate through our daily lives, each decision we make, no matter how small, depletes our mental resources, leaving us mentally exhausted and less equipped to make sound judgments.

The impact of excessive choices and the resulting decision fatigue can be profound, affecting our productivity, decision-making abilities, and overall life satisfaction. By understanding the psychology behind decision-making and the strategies to minimize decision fatigue, we can regain control and make more meaningful choices that can enhance our quality of life.

An average American adult makes about 35,000 decisions per day.

Understanding Decision Fatigue: The Psychology Behind Our Choices

At the core of decision-making lies a complex interplay of psychological factors. According to the renowned psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of "The Paradox of Choice," having too many options can lead to dissatisfaction and analysis paralysis in decision-making. This phenomenon is driven by several psychological mechanisms, including:

  • When we have many options to choose from, we may feel like we're giving up opportunities by choosing one over the others. This can make us regret our decision and feel unsatisfied. 
  • Having too many choices can also make our expectations too high, and we may end up disappointed when none of the options are perfect. 
  • When there are many options, evaluating and comparing them requires a lot of effort. This can lead to decision fatigue, and we may make less-than-optimal choices.
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Factors Associated with Decision Fatigue at Work

  • Working Hours: Longer hours can lead to increased mental exhaustion, affecting decision-making capabilities in general.
  • Workload: High volumes of tasks can overwhelm individuals, making it difficult to make well-considered decisions.
  • Work Schedule: Irregular or demanding schedules can disrupt personal rhythms and impair cognitive functions.
  • Too much information: Information overload can hinder effective decision-making processes.
  • Multitasking: Juggling multiple tasks simultaneously can dilute focus and reduce decision quality. Read more on Multi-tasking is a myth.
  • Burnout: Prolonged work stress can lead to burnout, which significantly impacts the ability to make rational decisions.

Integrating the concept of the "decision-making process" and understanding the psychological effects of choices on our mental state is crucial for managing decision fatigue and making more satisfying choices.

Having too many options can lead to dissatisfaction and analysis paralysis in decision-making.

How to Recognize Decision Fatigue: Key Signs and Symptoms

Signs of decision fatigue in everyday life include:

  • Procrastination: When faced with too many choices, we may avoid decisions altogether, leading to procrastination and delayed action.
  • Impulsive Decisions: As our mental resources deplete, we may resort to impulsive decision-making, prioritizing immediate gratification over long-term consequences.
  • Indecisiveness: Even after extensive deliberation, the inability to commit to a choice can indicate decision fatigue.
  • Lack of Focus: Constantly juggling multiple choices can decrease concentration and difficulty staying focused on tasks.

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Consider the workplace, where decision fatigue is rampant among employees navigating complex projects under tight deadlines. Similarly, consumer behavior is affected as shoppers face endless product choices. Even our digital interactions are not immune, with streaming platforms offering countless viewing options. Understanding these scenarios, often referred to as "choice paralysis," can help us identify and mitigate decision fatigue effectively.

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The Impact of Decision Fatigue on Performance and Well-being

The consequences of decision fatigue extend far beyond the immediate moment of indecision. Almost any decision-making or other task requiring self-control will drain your mental energy reserves. Numerous studies have highlighted the detrimental effects of excessive choices and decision fatigue on our performance, productivity, and well-being. 

Decision-Making Under Fatigue

  • Delay decisions that are not urgent, avoiding the need to choose immediately, a tendency commonly associated with procrastination.
  • Opt for the simplest solution available. If inaction is an option, a person might choose it or select the least complex route if it involves less effort and analysis.
  • Base decisions on immediate needs, like fatigue or hunger, often overlooking a situation's long-term consequences or more complex aspects.
  • Rely on simplified decision-making tools, such as stereotypes or general rules, rather than fully analyzing a problem.
  • Act impulsively, losing caution in a way similar to someone who is under the influence of alcohol.

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Effective Strategies to Combat Decision Fatigue and Enhance Decision-Making

While the abundance of choices in our modern world may seem overwhelming, there are practical strategies we can employ to minimize decision fatigue and regain control over our decision-making processes. Here are some effective techniques on how to deal with decision fatigue:

  • Set Limits and Boundaries: Establishing boundaries and limiting the number of selections we encounter can help reduce choice overload. This can involve simplifying our routines, curating our options, or even implementing a "decision-free" day where we intentionally avoid making unnecessary choices.
  • Optimize your daily schedule: Apps like RescueTime, an essential tool for managing your time effectively, can ensure you focus your decision-making energy where it matters most. Use this link to get your 14-day free trial.
  • Prioritize Decisions: Not all decisions carry equal weight or impact. By prioritizing the most important decisions and delegating or automating less consequential choices, we can conserve our mental resources for the decisions that truly matter.
Each decision we make, no matter how small, depletes our mental resources, leaving us mentally exhausted.
  • Avoids Making Trivial Decisions: Mark Zuckerberg famously wears the same grey t-shirt to work every day, stating he doesn’t want to waste his energy on “things that are silly or frivolous." Preserve your mental energy and decision power for more important things in life.
  • Develop Decision-Making Routines: Creating routines and habits around common decisions can reduce the cognitive load associated with those choices. For example, having a set routine for getting ready in the morning or pre-planning meals can eliminate the need for constant decision-making in those areas.
  • Leverage Decision-Making Tools and Frameworks: Various decision-making frameworks, such as the Eisenhower Matrix, can provide structured approaches to decision-making, helping us navigate complex choices more effectively.
Eisenhower Matrix
Source: Eisenhower Matrix
  • Practice Mindfulness & Self-Care: Cultivating mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can enhance our present-moment awareness and reduce the cognitive strain associated with decision-making.
  • Prioritize Sleep, Exercise & Nutrition: Just like our body, our mind also needs time to recover and unload the excess weight it carries. It's important to take breaks and allow yourself to recharge.
  • Delegate Decisions: Stop micromanaging and let others, like your family & friends, in your life make some decisions. Let others pick the restaurant, playlist, grocery, clothes, etc. for you.
  • Make Big Decisions in the Morning: We tend to make the most accurate and thoughtful decisions in the morning, as we are more focused, not overloaded, and careful.
  • Stop Second-guessing Yourself: Don’t be obsessed with perfection. Trust what you narrowed down to the last two or three things. Remember, based on what you knew, your decision was best at that moment.
  • Seek Help If Needed: If you are feeling frequent burnout or are struggling with depression and anxiety, you should consider seeking medical help.

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Empowering Creative Outlets to Combat Decision Fatigue

In addition to setting boundaries and prioritizing decisions, channeling your energy into creative projects can be an effective way to manage decision fatigue. Engaging in a focused, creative endeavor like photography or blogging not only provides a productive outlet for your thoughts but also helps streamline the decision-making process in a structured, rewarding way.

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Implementing Solutions in Various Aspects of Life

The strategies for minimizing decision fatigue can be applied across various domains, from personal endeavors to professional pursuits and consumer behavior. Here are some examples of how to implement these solutions effectively:

Personal Life:

  • Simplify your wardrobe by creating a collection of versatile pieces, reducing the need for daily outfit decisions.
  • Meal plan and batch cook for the week, eliminating the constant decision of what to eat for each meal.
  • Establish a consistent sleep routine and bedtime ritual to reduce decision-making around sleep habits.
Too Many Options Shown As Eight Coffees in Mugs on Round Table
Photo by Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash


  • Implement a "decision-free" day or time block to focus on deep work without interruptions or meetings.
  • Delegate decisions to team members or automate routine tasks to reduce your decision load.
  • Establish clear decision-making frameworks and protocols for complex projects or initiatives.
  • Delegate smaller tasks effectively using Fiverr to preserve your decision-making energy for more significant business decisions.

Consumer Behavior:

  • Curate your online shopping experiences by subscribing to services that pre-select products based on your preferences.
  • Limit the number of streaming platforms or entertainment options you subscribe to, reducing the decision fatigue associated with content consumption.
  • Research and establish criteria for major purchases, such as a new car or appliance, to streamline decision-making.

There are numerous success stories of individuals and organizations effectively managing their choice environments and reducing decision fatigue. For instance, former U.S. President Barack Obama made a similar choice to Mark Zuckerberg's by limiting his wardrobe decisions. Obama famously mentioned in an interview that he only wore gray or blue suits to reduce the decisions he needed to make daily, focusing his energy on more critical presidential decisions.

Similarly, companies like Google and Apple have embraced minimalist design principles and curated product lines, reducing consumers' cognitive load and enhancing user experiences.

By implementing decision-making strategies tailored to your specific needs and circumstances, you can regain control over your choices, minimize decision fatigue, and ultimately enhance your productivity, well-being, and overall life satisfaction.


Understanding and managing decision fatigue is crucial for enhancing our quality of life in a world brimming with many choices. The constant barrage of choices, from the mundane to the monumental, can deplete our mental resources and impair our ability to make effective decisions.

By recognizing the signs of decision fatigue and implementing practical strategies to simplify our choice environments, we can regain control over our decision-making processes. This can involve setting limits, prioritizing decisions, developing routines, leveraging decision-making tools, and cultivating mindfulness practices. Remember, the key is not to eliminate choices entirely but to curate them to align with our values, goals, and mental capacities. By embracing the power of fewer, more meaningful choices, we can reduce & overcome decision fatigue, enhance our productivity, and ultimately lead more fulfilling and satisfying lives.

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Books For Inspiration:

  • "The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less" by Barry Schwartz - This book is a foundational text on the topic, discussing how too many options can lead to decreased happiness and satisfaction. 
  • "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" by Greg McKeown - Although not solely about decision fatigue, this book emphasizes the importance of focusing on the essentials.
  • "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman - Kahneman discusses two systems of thought: fast, intuitive thinking and slow, deliberate thinking. 


  • Clinic, C. (2023, June). 8 Signs of Decision Fatigue and How To Cope. Cleveland Clinic; Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/decision-fatigue
  • Is Decision Fatigue Real? (2023). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/stretching-theory/202309/is-decision-fatigue-real
  • Nasa, P., & Nimisha Abdul Majeed. (2023). Decision Fatigue among Emergency Physicians: Reality or Myth. Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine/Indian Journal of Critical Care Medicine, 27(9), 609–610. https://doi.org/10.5005/jp-journals-10071-24526
  • Oto, B. (2012, May). When thinking is hard: managing decision fatigue. ResearchGate; unknown. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225279309_When_thinking_is_hard_managing_decision_fatigue
  • Pignatiello, G. A., Martin, R. J., & Hickman, R. L. (2018). Decision fatigue: A conceptual analysis. Journal of Health Psychology, 25(1), 123–135. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105318763510
  • Reill, A. (2023, December 5). A Simple Way to Make Better Decisions. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2023/12/a-simple-way-to-make-better-decisions#:~:text=Various%20sources%20suggest%20that%20the,how%20we'll%20say%20it.
  • What doctors wish patients knew about decision fatigue. (2021, November 19). American Medical Association; https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-decision-fatigue
  • Feo, E. (2023, November 11). The Apple Design Process: A Paradigm of Innovation and Elegance. Medium; Bootcamp.
  • How neuroscience will enhance your content marketing strategies | Fifth Story. https://fifthstory.com/how-neuroscience-will-enhance-your-content-marketing-strategies/
  • Weeks, B. O. (2004). The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is LessThe Paradox of Choice: Why More Is LessBy SchwartzBarry. New York: Harper Collins, 2004. 288 pages, hardcover, $23.95. Academy of Management Perspectives. https://doi.org/10.5465/ame.2004.15268798
  • Clinic, C. (2023, June). 8 Signs of Decision Fatigue and How To Cope. Cleveland Clinic; Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/decision-fatigue