Self Improvement

How Decision Making Skills Are Vital for Life

Dann Albright 02-06-2015

It’s the end of a long, busy day, and you’re standing in line at the grocery store. You’re exhausted and just want to get home and cook dinner. As you approach the till, you’re confronted with yet another decision: should you buy your favorite candy or sweets? There’s a reason why it’s hard to resist, and that reason is decision fatigue.


Let’s take a look at what decision fatigue is, how it makes our lives more difficult, and some strategies to help you manage it.

What Is Decision Fatigue?

Most people make thousands of decisions every day.  Some of those decisions are large — should I open a business? Should we go ahead with this merger? Should I ask my boyfriend to marry me? Some are trivial — what should I have for lunch? Should I check Facebook now or later? Should I work from home or a shared co-working space Shared Offices & Coworking: How To Become A More Productive Freelancer Working from home might seem like a great idea, but I don’t see it. After more than a year of working from various places of residence I’m thoroughly sick of mixing business with pleasure. Home... Read More ?

After making so many decisions, your brain gets tired. It gets harder to weigh the pros and cons of choices. You might make a choice just for the sake of making a decision instead of weighing the options. Or you may feel irritable because you don’t want to think about decisions anymore. That’s decision fatigue.


Decision fatigue is closely related to ego depletion, another unpleasant phenomenon in which self-control or willpower runs short. It’s a somewhat controversial idea, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence: if you’ve been using your willpower 4 Ways to Make Smart Use of Technology and Power Up Your Willpower We all have enough motivation to want to do things but not enough motivation to actually do them. As a result, we turn to technology to bridge the gap of that motivational purgatory. Read More all day (by staying off social media at work, for example), it’s hard to exercise self-control at the end of the day.


These two phenomena combine to hamper your decision-making ability. You might sabotage your diet with a fast food dinner on the way home. Maybe you skip your workout for the day. Or take the day off of trying to internalize your newest habit How To Build One Brain-Boosting Habit In 2015 In 2015, give your brain a boost. It's easier than you think and takes only a few minutes of your life each day — something you can easily turn into a habit. Read More . No matter how it manifests, decision fatigue is bad. Here’s what you can do to keep it at bay.

Reduce Decisions

One of the best things you can do to avoid decision fatigue is to find a way to remove a number of decisions that you need to make. For example, it can go a long way toward fighting ego depletion if you use a distraction blocker Focus! 4 Best Tools To Temporarily Block Facebook & Co You're not alone, we have all done it - wasting hours browsing the web instead of getting stuff done. Need a spike in productivity? Find the best tools for escaping social media here. Read More to keep yourself from looking at Facebook during work hours.


Turning decisions into habits also reduces mental effort — instead of deciding whether you should drive or bike to work, use a gamification strategy Points For Everything: How I Tried to Win At Life With Gamification My brain is stupid. It thinks I can get done tomorrow what I need to do today, and that I can do this afternoon what I need to do this morning. It puts everything off.... Read More to turn cycling into a habit that you don’t have to think about. You don’t need to start with something life-changing; even micro-habits can kickstart big changes How to Use Micro Habits and Spark Massive Personal Change Creating new habits is hard. Habits are usually built over weeks or months of repetition, and motivation is the challenge. When the going gets tough, micro-habits can be a huge help. Read More .


You can also use some apps to make decisions for you so you don’t have to think about them at all: there are plenty of financial apps that will help you save more money 4 Ways You Can Save Money With Apps and Websites It's vital to have enough money in your savings accounts. Take the first steps to financial security by using these apps and websites. Read More or get started investing The 5 Best Investment Apps for First-Time Beginners Want to start investing? Have no idea where to begin? Here are the best stock and investment apps for beginners. Read More , for example. Take some time to figure out where you make a lot of your decisions and see what you can do to cut down on the number.

Prioritize Your Day

When you start your day by looking at your list and seeing dozens of tasks that you need to take care of, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. You’ll start the day stressed and already on your way to decision fatigue. A prioritized list 3 Types of Lists That Actually Help You Be More Productive To-do lists are the ultimate productivity weapon. These to-do lists could give you all the power you need to get things done. Read More can change that.


If you have a smaller, high-priority list, the decision you need to make is easier. And if you have a “#1” item, the decision is already made for you. You can start your day by accomplishing something important instead of trying to decide what to work on.


There are plenty of apps that will help you prioritize your activities:

Priority Matrix (free for iOS and Android) lets you put tasks into four different priority categories and organize them by project.

iPrioritize, an older app for iOS, makes you answer questions about each task on your list that will show you whether it belongs there.

A good habit to get into is prioritizing your day’s tasks before you go to bed the night before. That way, the prioritization isn’t contributing to your decision fatigue before you even get started the next morning.


Embrace Minimalism

The more clothes, books, apps, and other sorts of things that you have, the more decisions you have to make. Make it easier for yourself by cutting down on your stuff so you don’t have to make as many decisions. It’s not always easy to get started, but embracing minimalism How To Be An Effective Minimalist In Your Daily Life More and more people are choosing to embrace minimalism. In certain situations this can wreak frustrating havoc on your everyday life. With some minimal planning it doesn't have to come to that. Read More can drastically reduce the number of decisions you make.


“But what if I need stuff!?” That’s often the question I ask myself when I think about minimalism. Fortunately, there are lots of solutions. If you cut down on a lot of your clothes, you can pick up desperately needed items of clothing for free The 5 Best Sites to Find Free Clothes Online Clothes can be expensive even with the rise of fast-fashion. Here are some of the best places to find free clothes online. Read More . You can rent video games Video Game Rentals: Where Can You Borrow Your Fun? Video games are awesome, but buying them all brand-new can get expensive. Save some money with these rental options. Read More , borrow e-books Where Can I Borrow eBooks From? If you have an e-reader, you will know how convenient eBooks are. I have a Kindle and I love it. It makes reading anywhere a breeze and I read a lot more too. However, the... Read More , and share stuff with your neighbors.

When you take part in the sharing economy What Is The Sharing Economy, And What Does It Mean For You? It's really just ordinary people meeting a demand with resources they own, in order to make a profit – but what does that look like? Read More and decrease the number of things you own, you’ll reduce the number of decisions you have to make every day.

Bonus: Be Smarter About Decision-Making

When you actually do have to make decisions, you can be faced with a lot of intermediate ones that you need to deal with before actually coming to a final decision. If your decision-making process is efficient and effective, you’ll save a lot of time and mental energy.

Effective decision-making and using willpower are skills like any other, and they can be practiced and improved How to Work The Willpower Muscle Some people don't have the willpower problem. What makes those productive people different? As it turns out, there's plenty of research on the subject, and the answer turns out to be pretty simple Read More . Make a point to be as intentional as possible about smart decision-making, and you’ll get better at it. Also, make your most important decisions in the morning, when you still have a lot of mental energy.


There are plenty of apps out there that will help you make decisions Indecisive? Make The Right Choices With These Apps Have you heard of the paradox of choice? If you're like me and suffer from analysis paralysis, these apps will change your life. Read More by walking you through the steps you need to take to best analyze your choices. Having this bit of guidance can make a big difference in how efficient your process is. And when the decision doesn’t really matter, there are apps that will flip a coin or roll a dice for you, too!

Don’t Let Decision Fatigue Drain You

We’re faced with thousands of decisions every day — and computers and smartphones only compound the problem by providing us with more distractions and the constant need to inhibit our impulses. But by setting yourself up to make only the most important decisions and to deal with them as efficiently as possible, you’ll save a huge amount of mental energy so you can be more effective in the things that are actually important.

Do you experience decision fatigue and ego depletion? How do you deal with them? Which strategies have you found most effective in maintaining your ability to make good decisions? Share your thoughts below!

Image Credits: Confused woman, Side view mirror view reflection, Close up of a pencil and a notepad, Wide view of a work desk interior, Business office scene via Shutterstock.

Explore more about: Habits, Minimalism, Time Management, To-Do List.

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  1. mike
    June 1, 2017 at 4:08 am

    One way to reduce the need to make a gazillion decisions is to not re-invent every day. Routine is your friend.

  2. Anonymous
    January 5, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    "Effective decision-making and using willpower are skills like any other, and they can be practiced and improved."
    The above sentence contradicts the premise on which you built your article. The more you practice, the more you improve. However, you advocate reducing the amount of daily decision making to avoid "decision fatigue." The brain has been likened by many to a muscle. The only way muscles become stronger is through their use. It's a case of use it or lose it. When muscles are not used, they lose their strength and their tone. Over time, the same task induces "muscle fatigue" easier and easier. Would you advise someone to use their muscles less in order to build up their strength?

    "Decision fatigue" maybe caused by the very remedy you recommend for avoiding it - making less decisions. By letting apps make the decisions for you, you are using your brain less. Over time, your brain loses its "tone" and it takes less decisions to induce "decision fatigue." The bottom line is that to prevent "decision fatigue" you have train your brain like you train your muscles, use it more by making more decisions.

    " it can go a long way toward fighting ego depletion if you use a distraction blocker to keep yourself from looking at Facebook during work hours."
    Instead of using distraction blocker(s) why not use a gamification strategy to turn not using Facebook during work hours into a habit? Why develop a bad habit (FB) in the first place?

    "Prioritize Your Day"
    If you have a list of 20 items to do, whether it is prioritized or not, it is still a list of 20 items to do. By prioritizing, you may have reduced the number of decisions but you may have increased the amount of stress. What if #10 in order of importance can be disposed of fairly easily? Are you going to get it out of the way and the agonize that you did it before items 1-9? Or a re you going to do the list as prioritized?

    "Embrace Minimalism"
    I'd rather embrace "optimalism" - not get carried away with owning "stuff" but, at the same time, not to reduce the amount of "stuff' to a bare minimum. You may not be able to obtain desperately needed items on short notice. It takes time to buy, beg or borrow a suit you need for this afternoon's interview.

    • Dann Albright
      January 10, 2016 at 10:34 pm

      Sorry if that sounded contradictory; maybe I didn't explain it very well. You can improve your willpower reserves by using them, but overwhelming them every day isn't the way to do it. You should try to strengthen your reserves, but also to use them more efficiency. I wouldn't advise someone to use their muscles less to build up strength, but I would advise them to be smart about their training, and not to just go all out every day. That's just not the way to go.

      I don't think that apps let you make less decisions—maybe a few, but not many. But they can help you remember and prioritize things, which can be a huge help. Taking things out of your working memory (and putting them into an app) frees up limited resources for use on other tasks.

      As for your gamification strategy, if that works for you, great. If not, a distraction blocker is a good bet. It all depends on what works for you—there's no best-for-all strategy.

      Related to prioritization, again, it all depends on what works for you. Maybe you want a prioritization system that lets you put #10 into the #1 spot, because you value building up momentum. You could even alternate easy and hard tasks; whatever works best for you.

      And minimalism doesn't need to be the bare minimum; going all out with minimalism might mean that you cut down to the absolute essentials, but most people that embrace the principles of minimalism just keep those principles in mind and use them to optimize their possessions.