How to reduce decision fatigue by eliminating decisions
I cannot decide what to put as the subheading, so here are some cat emojis: 😺 🙀😼
Hello and welcome to Academia Made Easier. I am so glad that you are here.
Avid TV-watchers like myself noticed a new feature on Netflix earlier this year: Play Something. As the company explains, “There are times when we just don’t want to make decisions. A Friday evening after a long work week. A fridge full of food but nothing jumps out. A family movie night where no one can agree. We’ve all been there.” The solution: Netflix picks a show for you.
We have become too exhausted to even select our own TV shows.
Pre-pandemic, for many of us the volume of daily decision-making was already tiring. And of course, Covid-19 made it worse. As Healthline reports, “It’s not simply that people are making more decisions. It’s also that those decisions are resting on more uncertainty with more impactful consequences.”
As I have written about before, sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to just not have the problem in the first place. Extending this idea, one solution to decision fatigue is to eliminate some decisions entirely.
I’m not alone in thinking this. In her book The Lazy Genius Way, Kendra Adachi writes, “Constant decision-making is one of the reasons you don’t have energy for things that matter to you. By discovering a few opportunities to decide once and then never again, you give your brain more room to play.”
Adachi suggests making preemptive decisions about what to wear (uniform dressing), what to eat (meal matrixes), and other areas of regular decision-making that can suck up energy for low payoff. I have found the ‘decide once’ idea works for bigger decisions as well.
Today’s small thing to try immediately focuses on applying the ‘decide once’ idea to your academic work. Decide to give it a shot.
One Small Thing to Try Immediately: The Decide Once List
The idea of the Decide Once list is to document your decisions and keep them visible, both to keep yourself accountable to them and (if you are forgetful like me) to remember that you made the decision in the first place.
1. Create a visible space for your Decide Once List. I put my Decide Once List at the back of my planner. Other options include a piece of paper that you pin above your desk, your office whiteboard, or a Word file that you keep visible on your computer desktop. As always, you do you. Just make sure the list is visible (so you see it on at least a weekly basis, whether you want to or not) and accessible (so you can add items easily).
2. Add at least one item to get your Decide Once List started. Ack! I just asked you to make a decision about what to make a decision about. If nothing immediately comes to mind, feel free to adapt or adopt one of my own decisions:
No coffee after 2 pm. (Quality sleep matters to me.)
Book Project B is on hold until Book Project A is complete. (Whenever I think about B, I remind myself: “You already decided this. Eat a piece of chocolate and get on with your day.” It works.)
No projects involving [redacted], ever. (Yes, there is a story. No, I won’t share it.)
3. Make it easy to implement your decisions by planning ahead. In my experience, once I make a decision, life throws me a challenge to test it. I find it helpful to anticipate these challenges, lest they catch me in a weak moment.
For things that require saying no or setting a boundary, I like to have some canned text to adapt. For example:
Thank you for this invitation. While I would welcome the opportunity to speak at Fancypants Conference for Important People, I am not traveling outside Canada before fall 2022, so I must decline. I hope you will consider inviting me to future opportunities. I wish you the best with the event!
Thank you for the opportunity to join this Important Committee. I currently have a number of service commitments that prevent me from taking this on, so I must decline. I wish you the best with this important work!
Thank you for the invitation to speak on the Morning Show. As the program is scheduled at 5:45 am in my time zone and I am not available before 9 am in my time zone, I must decline.
Key points of note: gratitude for the opportunity and clear no without apology.
4. Whenever you make a decision about a reoccurring matter, add it to your Decide Once List. You have better things to do than to keep making the same decision again and again. Add it to the list and clear up some mental space for your Future Self.
5. Revisit your Decide Once List periodically to assess if the decisions are working for you. Some decisions may need to be adapted. Some may no longer be relevant. And some may be things that you find you want more flexibility around. The point of a Decide Once List is to make your life easier. Anything that fails to do so doesn’t belong on the list.
Are there areas in your life where preemptive decisions could be helpful? Please hit comment and let me know!
Chipping Away: What I Have Been Up To
A quick update on some of my own activities since my last newsletter, since I have your attention:
I had the pleasure of moderating a panel for the Institute for Public Administration Canada (IPAC) New Professionals Seminar. The panel considered how the public service is changing in light of growing attention to diversity and inclusion and to Indigenization, advances in digital governance, and, of course, Covid-19. It was a great discussion!
Speaking of exhausting decisions, on what I intended to be a relaxing Saturday, I got it into my head that I needed to reorganize my home office so the cat tree could be closer to the window for optimal bird viewing. This involved moving my large bookshelf, so then I got it into my head that I needed to edit my book collection. After a few hours of careful deliberation, I managed to identify a total of two (!!!) books that I was willing to get rid of. But I am proud to report my bookshelf is now well-organized and Bandit and Storm love the new cat tree location. So I am counting this as a win.
Running in Saskatoon continues to be pretty glorious. As a slower runner, I am regularly passed by, well, pretty much everyone, but it gives me more time to take in the beauty.
Until next time…
Have you decided to sign up for Academia Made Easier yet? If not, I invite you to do so now. If yes, thanks, and please consider forwarding today’s newsletter to a colleague. They just might find it helpful. 😺
Stay well, my colleagues.
P.S. In the interests of full transparency, I must acknowledge that a few days after my bookshelf edit, I rescued one of the two books I had selected for removal. Sigh. But that remaining book, well, it is going. I mean it.
Loleen Berdahl, Ph.D.: I am a twin mother, wife, runner, cat lover, and chocolate enthusiast. I spend far too much time on Twitter and binge-watching television, and my house could be a lot cleaner. During the work hours, I am the Executive Director of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. I am the author of University Affair’s Skills Agenda column and my most recent books are Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD and Explorations: Conducting Empirical Research in Canadian Political Science.