Just like a muscle, the brain gets tired. We experience this daily, but you may not know specifically how this affects your actions. One way is decision fatigue, which means that the quality of a person’s decisions deteriorates over time. The longer a person makes one decision after another, without time to recuperate, the worse his or her decisions will get.
Closely related to decision fatigue is decision avoidance. This happens when a person is presented with too many choices and can’t decide. In sales terms, this means if a person has a large number of options, he’s likely not to make a choice at all. If he has just a few options to choose from, it’s easier to choose between them. This may partly explain why grocery shopping can be so mentally tiring.
One way supermarkets capitalize on this is by putting tempting treats and such at the registers, because decision fatigue leads to another effect: impulse buying. As you’re waiting in line, you’ll see celebrity and gossip magazines, gum, and candy. The idea is that after making dozens of decisions on what to buy, you’ll get in line and give into the temptation to purchase something that offers instant gratification. In other words, something you really don’t need.
Decision fatigue manifests itself at work when a customer asks for a recommendation and you make a bad one, or when you’re writing a business letter and can’t think of what to include. It can make you tired and irritable, just watching the clock and waiting for it to be time to go home.
All of this mental fatigue follows you home too. After a long day of making decisions at work, you come home to even more decisions. What will you have for dinner? Should you do a bit of cleaning? What are you going to read the kids at bedtime? Should you pay the cable bill today or put it off until tomorrow?
Here are a few ideas to help minimize evening decision making so your home becomes a respite from chaos rather than another stressful environment. If you have children, some of these tips may also help them. If nothing else, you’ll be setting a good example.
Make your mornings easy by planning certain aspects of the week in advance. While you have some extra time over the weekend, plan your outfits for the work week. You can line them up on a shelf in your closet, get some extra pillowcases to keep them in, maybe labeling each, or even bundle each with a ribbon and put the outfits in a stack with Monday’s clothes on top.
Plan the week’s meals, or at least dinners. We’ve all decided at the last minute what we want for dinner only to discover we’re missing some essential ingredients and have to run out to the supermarket, that incubator for decision fatigue. You may end up going to a restaurant, spending more than you probably should, or making something that you don’t particularly want because it’s what you have. If you plan your dinners during the weekend before you go grocery shopping, you can pick out your favorite foods then buy exactly what you need. Also, we all know it’s easier to shop for groceries when you have a list, so write that as you plan your meals.
Finally, wipe down the kitchen sink and counters after dinner, so they’re clean and pleasant the next morning. Set up your coffee maker either so that it will brew automatically at a certain time just before you get up, or so that you can brew your morning joe with the press of a button.
Above, we covered decluttering your house and wardrobe, which will go a long way toward achieving this goal. If you have a dozen magazines or books out and can never decide which to read, pick out a few of each and put the rest away. (In any case, you should go through your book and magazine collections and decide what you want to sell, donate, store, and keep.) Chances are there are one or two of each that you really want to read but seeing a large assortment keeps you from getting to them. This can work for any sort of item you have multiples off like DVDs, jewelry, and so on.
If your kids have dozens of video games, have them pick three or four to keep out at any given time and put the rest away. They can rotate the selection on a weekly basis, keeping any they want to keep playing and swapping out those they aren’t as into. This can teach discipline and decision making while still allowing your kids to have fun. It can also work with their books and toys.
Cleaning can be totally overwhelming, especially if you haven’t been able to get to it for several days or more. Whatever your attitude toward cleaning, this technique can simplify your decision making and render the whole process easier.
Again, work on one room at a time. As you go through the room, make one pile of one type of object, and another of everything else. For example, if the room is filled with toys, put the Legos in one pile and the rest in another. Then, put the Legos away, and sort the other pile similarly, perhaps putting all stuffed animals in one pile and everything else in another. Simple, right?
You might start with trash/not trash, then clothes/not clothes, then kid clothes/adult clothes, and so on. No matter how many different types of things are there, you can gain some serenity using this binary sorting method. At each stage, it’s obvious that you’ve made progress, and that serves as encouragement.
Keep a wall calendar and write important appointments on it. Computer and pocket calendars are great, if you remember to check them. The thing about a wall calendar is it serves as a physical reminder that you will see at some point during your day. Many calendars don’t have much room to write on, so I suggest getting a larger one made specifically for keeping track of appointments, or combining writing in shorthand on your calendar with keeping an electronic one with the details. The wall calendar serves as that critical reminder, and your smartphone fills in the rest.
Simply knowing you’ve written down your important appointments can help you relax knowing that you don’t have to hold everything in your mind.