Combat Decision Fatigue With These Recommended Techniques

Spike Team
By Spike Team, Updated on March 23, 2023, 9 min read

From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep, our days are a series of decisions, whether we realize it or not. We are continuously making choices: toast or cereal? Bus or bike? Reply to an email or leave it for later?


The number of decisions that the average person makes in a day is almost impossible to know. Still, researchers and writers estimate it is anywhere between 35 work decisions a day to 35,000 general ones. Whatever it is, we can all agree that we make many choices, both big and small, all the time.


And making all these decisions can become highly tiresome, to the point that you might end up just wanting to walk away or to pick the first thing you see. The reason you feel this way is due to something called decision fatigue.



What is Decision Fatigue?



Decision fatigue refers to the decline in the quality of a person’s decisions after a long period of decision making – e.g., your typical workday. A person’s brain gets tired of making decisions and eventually just makes a sleepy job of it.


Decision fatigue came out of the broader theory of ego depletion, coined by the social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister. Baumeister’s research was on mental discipline and found that people have a finite amount of mental energy for exerting self-control – if they fend off temptation, for one thing, they are less able to fend off the temptation for another.


This research was expanded beyond what we would traditionally consider mentally taxing tasks, such as self-control, to include fundamental decisions, such as “do you want a large soda or a medium soda?” Thus, decision fatigue was discovered.



Decision Fatigue Symptoms

Our entire lives are dictated by decisions, both our own and other people’s, and decision fatigue can have a surprising effect on how those decisions are made. Some of the most noted symptoms, or features, include:


  • Avoiding unnecessary decisions. If a person is suffering from decision fatigue, they are likely to try to put off any decisions that don’t have to be made at that moment. This could be anything from deciding to leave your job to simply deciding to send an email. Most people will recognize this as procrastination.
  • Making decisions based on immediate needs. Another possible sign of decision fatigue is choosing based on primary motivations such as physical fatigue, hunger, thirst, etc. while ignoring the long-term impacts.
  • Choosing the easy way out. Those with decision fatigue will often choose the most accessible or most straightforward option. If doing nothing is an option, this will usually be the one taken. This is why many people default to the brands or products they know.
  • Making arbitrary choices. Just like taking the simple option, a person with decision fatigue may also make a seemingly arbitrary decision to avoid the need to deal with complex sets of choices or analysis of options, none of which they know.
  • Basing decisions on simplified algorithms. This includes when people start making “rule of thumb” choices rather than working through the problem.


Some of these features can be seen in studies on the subject. For example, one such study published in 2019 looked at the effects of decision fatigue on surgeons, a field in which poor decisions can mean life or death. The researchers found that as a surgeon’s shift went on and saw more patients, the likelihood of them deciding to operate went down significantly.


The study found that just a single increase in the patient’s ordinal position in a surgeon’s shift meant a 10.5% decrease in the likelihood of being scheduled for an operation. They attributed this to decision fatigue, whereby surgeons relied on heuristics, i.e., a mental shortcut that allows them to take what might be considered the “easy” option rather than the optimal one — in this case, not scheduling a surgery.


It’s clear that decision fatigue is a serious problem with severe consequences, but there are plenty of ways that you can beat it! Below, we’ve outlined some of our top tips on how to combat decision fatigue.



Organize the Chaos

The first step in beating decision fatigue is making sense of the chaos! In a work environment, this means taking proper breaks. When you step outside of your workplace (whether that’s an actual office or simply a space in your house), you give your brain a break from the onslaught of information that modern work inflicts.


It’s no surprise that people find themselves coming up with the best ideas when they’re out for a walk or going for a swim since this is the time that your prefrontal cortex  — the “thinking part” of your brain —  is free from the day-to-day chaos.


Better organization of your work and the use of tools to cut away unnecessary clutter can help you tame the chaos and give your brain the chance to work correctly. In addition, it will remove unnecessary decisions, allowing you to focus on the important ones and lessen the impact of decision fatigue.



Spike Organizes the Chaos

No software can block all the chaos from your workday, including Spike, but it does an excellent job of drastically reducing it, which helps reduce decision fatigue. Some of the most straightforward ways Spike can help you organize the chaos and cut back on unneeded decisions are:


  • Priority EmailSpike’s Priority Email delivers your most important messages straight to you while directing everything else (newsletters, promotions, etc.) to an “Others” folder. This allows you to focus on what’s important rather than being bombarded all day.
  • Conversational Email – cut the clutter from your messages with Spike’s Conversational Email making emails as simple as a chat app. There are no messy signatures or threads to work through.
  • Message Templates – if you find yourself writing out the same message over and over, you’re wasting valuable energy on the chaos of work. Spike offers reusable message templates, so you don’t have to sweat the small stuff.



Daily Routines are a Great Way to Deal with Decision Fatigue



Another way to cut back on decision fatigue is to reduce the number of unimportant decisions you make in a day by implementing a daily routine. This decision cutback can be seen in how successful people dress, such as Steve Jobs’s iconic black turtleneck. Wearing the same thing every day means one less decision to make.


We know that according to decision fatigue theory, we have a finite amount of mental energy each day, so why would we waste any of it on menial decisions? What’s more, having a daily routine is known to have plenty of other benefits as well, such as:

  • Reducing stress levels

  • Improves sleep

  • Overall improved health

  • Better eating habits

Spike can Help you With Daily Routines

Just like cutting back on chaos, Spike has the tools to help you establish an energy-saving daily routine. To limit your decision fatigue, try building a routine with:


  • Tasks – Spike offers users the ability to create trackable Tasks with real-time progress updates. These are perfect for stacking your action points for the day and working through them in a structured way.
  • To-Do Lists – don’t jump out of your inbox to see what you need to do. Spike enables you to create detailed lists to keep you on track and free of fatigue. What’s more, these can be shared with colleagues to keep everyone on the same page.
  • Reminders – sometimes just trying to remember to do something can be mentally taxing, as we stress about forgetting or trying to juggle multiple things in our minds. Spike allows you to snooze any task until you need it, leaving you to focus on the task at hand.



Break Your Work into Blocks

Breaking your work down into different task-based blocks is a great way to reduce decision fatigue since you no longer need to think about what you are doing throughout the day. For example, if you block out Mondays for meetings, you know you’re in meetings. On the other hand, Tuesday for “deep-focus work,” such as finishing a report, then you know you’re doing just that.


There are plenty of ways to batch your days. One popular method is the Managers and Makers schedules, differentiating between the types of work being done. Whatever technique you use, the aim is the same: to help you focus on a single task rather than worry about anything else, and Spike has that same aim.



How can Spike Assist with Boosting Productivity?



Every tool in Spike aims to boost productivity, from clutter-free emails to contact-focussed messages. Spike is all about clarity and distraction-reduction, which comes together to mean less brainpower spent on unimportant things.


  • The Structure – Spike brings all your production tools into a single platform. This means no flicking between apps to find what you need, which inevitably leads to context switching and less focus. Spike has messages, video calls, voice messages, file sharing, and more all built-in.
  • Scheduled Send – working in blocks means that people in your company might be working at different times. Spike’s Schedule Send feature means that you can set messages to be sent at a time that suits you and your colleague. Scheduling a message to be delivered for later might help them overcome decision fatigue as well.



Give Your Decisions Deadlines

Making a decision is tiring, and dragging out that process will inevitably be more tiring. What’s more, if a decision that must be made is not addressed, this will create a snowball effect of more decisions not being made, tasks being delayed, energy used, and fatigue setting in.


Setting deadlines for your decisions (as well as all aspects of your work) can help overcome this issue, so long as you stick to them. Deadlines help you focus on the tasks at hand, waste less time, and keep the momentum going. What’s more, having a deadline can also help you “let go” of a task once it is complete.


When it comes to decision making, having a strict deadline by which to make a choice can, counterintuitively, take some of the pressure off because you know when you need to get it done. It forces you away from some of the symptoms of decision fatigue and stops a snowballing of decision avoidance, whereby you don’t make one choice because you haven’t made the previous one.



Spike can Help you Make Decisions on Time

Spike provides the ability to snooze messages until you need to pay attention to them. This allows you to focus on one decision and creates a self-imposed deadline for those decisions.


Snoozing is not about putting off a decision as you would with decision fatigue, but rather creating a schedule of deadlined decisions so you can deal with them one at a time. For example, in Spike, you can snooze any email and set it to pop back up at a time and date that suits you. Once an item is snoozed, it is kept in its own section and appears on your calendar.


And of course, Spike also offers an integrated Calendar, which allows you to sync multiple calendars and keep all your decisions and tasks on strict deadlines. So schedule smarter with Spike and reserve your energy for the essential things.



A Quick Summary on Combatting Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue can have a severe impact and affects everyone, no matter how important their decisions are. It can cause people to take the easy option, think less about what they want, and even make arbitrary choices. However, we’ve outlined some of the ways you can tackle decision fatigue above, and as a quick reminder:


What To Do


Tools Needed

Cut the Chaos

Focus on what’s important.

  • Priority Email

  • Conversational email

  • Message Templates

Create a daily routine

Limit unimportant decisions


  • Tasks

  • To-Do Lists

  • Reminders

Work in blocks

Batch your work

  • Multi-tool app to reduce context switching

  • Scheduled Send Messages

Set decision deadlines

Have deadlines for decisions

  • Snoozed Messages

  • Integrated Calendar


Why not let us know how you combat decision fatigue by tweeting us @SpikenowHQ, or check out the Spike blog for more tips and tricks for productivity.

Spike Team
Spike Team The Spike team posts about productivity, time management, and the future of email, messaging and collaboration.

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