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When you’re an entrepreneur and decision fatigue is nipping at your heels, here’s what to do

Posted by Tasnim Ahmed

May 18, 2021    |     7-minute read (1391 words)

An entrepreneur’s success in running their business centers largely around decision-making.  Decisions large and small are an inevitable part of a startup founder’s day, some that must be made with little information but that could hold major consequences, others more straightforward. The weight of knowing that some of these decisions will have a substantial and profound effect on your business’ future is heavy on your shoulders.

It takes significant mental energy to consider each aspect of a problem to devise a feasible solution, particularly when this transpires many times every day. Handling strategic decisions, for example how a deal should be closed, what tactics should be adapted to take on a competitor and how to pivot amid the pandemic, is taxing even for the most formidable entrepreneur.

What is decision fatigue?

In psychology, the mental work of making numerous decisions can result in a state of mind dubbed decision fatigue. As many entrepreneurs can attest, long and repeated sessions of decision-making can have a detrimental effect on cognitive ability. Depending on the individual, it may spur procrastination, poor choices or a loss of willpower. Over time, you may feel exasperated and overwhelmed as a result of decision fatigue.

This is not to say that successful entrepreneurs are not capable decision-makers — far from it. They characteristically make tough calls almost every day. But that does not guarantee they always make the best decisions. Psychological researchers find that due to decision fatigue, the more choices you make throughout the day, the more difficult each one becomes for your brain, which may cause you to take “shortcuts” such as acting recklessly or simply doing nothing.

10 ways to combat decision fatigue

So, what are the functional steps you should take to make better business decisions? Well, there are a number of things you can do to replenish your stamina, take control of your energy and increase efficiency to make better decisions. Listed below are 10 well-defined transformational strategies for dealing with decision fatigue.

  1. Get a fresh perspective: Although making all the decisions by yourself is sometimes ideal, getting an objective view can be beneficial. Step outside of your own perspective and visualize yourself giving advice to others on the decision you face. Or discuss the issue with a trusted mentor experienced in making similar decisions. You can learn a lot from successful entrepreneurs by hearing how they perceive their own decision-making process and getting examples of decisions they made in real-life scenarios. The goal is to refresh your ability to judge from a distance while still making your own decisions.
  2. Prioritize and set deadlines: Refer to your to-do list and consider the items that are essential. Then you can quickly make decisions based on your top priorities. Set deadlines to space out your decisions. Entrepreneurs are most likely to experience decision fatigue toward the end of a long, complicated project that may have taken months or years to close. But this is the phase when people tend to make rash decisions due to the project's duration and intensity. To avoid poor decisions, psychologists recommend setting micro-deadlines for each task, which compel you to move quickly rather than mulling over options. And if you master the art of spacing out these decisions, you are more apt to exercise your best judgment.
  3. Block your time: Time-blocking entails planning out your day in advance and allocating specific hours to specific tasks. Set a time limit in your schedule for critical thinking. Even though you may get worn out from thinking about critical business-related tasks or decisions, entrepreneurs rarely consider this time as part of their work hours, which is inaccurate. Dedicate specific hours to critical thinking and put it in your calendar so you no longer deem these periods as “free time.”
  4. Make a decision matrix: When you have to make critical decisions with multiple options, a decision matrix can help guide the best choice by removing emotions from the equation. Identify one significant measure or key performance indicator against which you can make trade-off decisions, ideally the one that delivers the most value for your consumers. A decision matrix helps you analyze choices by listing the factors that must be considered, which are then each graded by importance.
  5. Delegate: Assigning or sharing decision responsibilities provide an excellent approach for avoiding decision fatigue. You shouldn't be the only one considering all of the factors that go into deciding whether to pick or drop an option,100% of the time. When sharing decision-making responsibilities with people you trust, have them explain what they would do if they were in your shoes. Consider their views, then overlay yours to see if anything changes as a result and make your decision. In addition, by putting trust in employees, you give them a sense of empowerment.
  6. Develop a routine: Create daily routines to simplify your options. By sticking to a regimen, less-important tasks can go on autopilot. Start by resetting your morning routine to wake up at the same time every day. Rather than stressing over what to eat, when to exercise and what to wear every morning, have a set pattern. For example, consider eating a variant of the same healthy breakfast and having a few outfits that you cycle throughout the week. You can also batch chores together by assigning menial and laborious tasks to certain days, allowing you to anticipate what will happen next without having to think about it. This helps conserve willpower.
  7. Limit options: If you limit your options, you are less likely to experience decision fatigue. The thinking is that the fewer choices you have, the less likely you are to feel anxious. Having too many options can lead you to be engrossed in decision-making and give rise to doubts that deplete brain power. It is much easier to concentrate and make a decision when you are faced with only two or three possibilities.
  8. Get enough sleep: As an entrepreneur, you need an optimal amount of sleep to make critical decisions. According to research, eight to nine hours of good sleep each night is vital for maintaining a good emotional state and preserving mental capability. Take necessary measures to address sleep disruptors like the glare of computer devices, room temperature or uncomfortable bedding.
  9. Cultivate positive habits: Constantly having to make decisions depletes your willpower. Exhaustion can lead to consumption of junk food, a lack of exercise and poor health. Automate tasks that you can, and cut back on your obligations to avoid feeling overburdened. Your brain will be freed up for work if you do so.
  10. Eliminate emotion: When it comes to making a final decision, it is important to regulate the role your emotions play. This can be particularly challenging when you are forced to make a judgment due to an emergency. But there are a few ways that will help you harness emotions, such as meditation, walking away from the situation, or taking a step back to contemplate a decision. Rethinking choices in a less stressful environment where emotions are less likely to intrude is the goal here.

How leaders like Barack Obama, Richard Branson manage decision fatigue

Avoiding decision fatigue entails prioritizing some things and putting others on autopilot. Some of today’s most admired leaders have adapted the practice of creating a “capsule wardrobe” that minimizes daily effort expended on what to wear.

Barack Obama. Widely considered one of the most stylish-ever American presidents, Obama says he is a firm believer in “minimalism.” He selects only gray or blue suits for the office to eliminate time spent deciding what to wear.

Kamala Harris. The U.S. vice president always dons a crisp white shirt when she’s on the road.

Steve Jobs. The Apple co-founder was famous for his signature black turtleneck, jeans and sneakers. He owned about 100 black turtlenecks.

Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook’s CEO sports the same gray Brunello Cucinelli T-shirt at every event. During a Q&A, he said he does this in an effort to make as few decisions as possible.

Richard Branson. Virgin Group’s founder reportedly wears the same pair of blue jeans nearly every day.

Albert Einstein. The famed physicist’s signature look was a gray suit, white shirt and black tie. He stocked his wardrobe with identical gray suits to avoid wasting brainpower on picking clothes each day.

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