How to Conquer Decision Fatigue

Today we’re excited to share a post from guest blogger Beth Beutler. See her bio below or visit her website for more info.

I suffer from decision fatigue.  

As a virtual Executive Assistant with her own business serving multiple clients (as well as being the go-to admin of the family), I have the privilege (and sometimes curse) of deciding what work I will do when, and where I will do it. Will I work in a co-work spot? Coffee shop? From my home office? Which client should I serve first? Should I make self-care more of a priority today or keep focusing on my business?

I bet you can relate. As an Executive Assistant, you have a myriad of decisions to make each day, too. Not only are you trying to manage your own life well, you are assisting your executive in managing his or hers. It can be fatiguing to make the right choices when there are multiple options and priorities. How can you keep your head (and keep breathing) in the middle of all the demands coming your way? Here’s one way.

Reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a day.

Think back over your most recent work day. Make a list of all the decisions you can think of, including the “little ones.” (Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

Now, take a look at the list. Did it contain things like deciding:

  • What to wear
  • What we’ll have for dinner
  • When to run that errand
  • How to respond to that email
  • Which task at work to start first
  • What time to leave
  • Whether or not to call your relative on the way into/from work?

I’m sure you can add more.

Now go through and star which of these decisions could be automated.

Take those, and think about HOW to automate them, or get ahead of them. Here are some examples based on the list above: 

  • What to wear: Simplify your wardrobe and either pick out your clothes on the weekend, or if you are like me and work from home, develop simple “uniforms” that you wear on certain types of days (i.e. when you won’t be in video meetings).
  • What we’ll have for dinner: Decide tomorrow’s dinner while you are eating tonight’s, or develop an efficient meal plan. For example, Tuesdays are “Taco Tuesdays” for us almost every week. I always know we’re having tacos on Tuesday. Maybe you could have “Meatless Mondays” and “Fend for Yourself Fridays,” or repeat the general plan of meals monthly.
  • When to run that errand: How about picking one day a week that you run errands? (e.g. every Wednesday after work.)
  • How to respond to that email: This may be a task that is not a simple decision, but by reducing other decisions, you’ll have more mental capacity for it.
  • Which task at work to start first: You might want to discuss priorities with your executive and then follow that plan. For example, you may want to devote the first 30 minutes of every day to catching up on your (and his/her) email box. A morning routine once you get to work can help you get started.
    • Pro Tip: If you routinely get a cup of coffee/tea to start your day at the office, stay at your desk instead for at least 15 minutes, then reward yourself with that coffee/tea run. You’ll have jump-started the day, and may avoid the break room crowd and distracting conversations.
  • What time to leave: Work out with your executive a regular leaving/no longer available time. It’s great to be flexible, but also wise to have a cut-off each day to shift gears back to personal life (especially if you work from home).
  • Whether or not to call your relative today. This is, of course, a personal matter—but I add it because calls with friends and relatives can impact the productivity of the day, particularly if you can’t decide whether to take the time to do it. Consider having set times you call your mom/sister/dad/aunt, etc. if this is part of your relationship cultivation, and stick to that plan whenever possible to avoid going off track with your work.

Now let’s look at a few general principles for reducing decision fatigue:

  • Set up routines (e.g. morning and evening) that you repeat daily, being flexible when you need to.
  • Understand your energy cycles, and make important decisions when you aren’t under stress or exhausted.
  • Pay attention to the environments that help you be productive. If you have flexibility as to where you work (e.g. occasionally going to a co-work spot or some other place in the building), see if your executive will support you in the option to work away from your main desk sometimes.
  • Ask questions before you make a commitment. Why do I want to take this class? Is now the best time? How many nights out a week energize me vs. exhaust me?
  • Whenever possible, reduce your daily decisions about meals, wardrobe, personal calls, etc. (See the discussion above.)

We will always have decisions to make. But if you can streamline your decision-making processes, you might be able to reserve the energy and focus drained by multiple small decisions and apply that to the larger decisions of life and work.

Written by Bryn Smith

Bryn is the Senior Manager of Brand and Product Marketing at Base, where she is on a mission to build a world-class EA community by connecting them with top-notch thought leaders, invaluable resources, and cutting-edge insights.