Decision Fatigue: Is it Affecting Your Business?


Jacob Baadsgaard

November 20, 2017

Have you ever had a day so long that at the end of it, you didn’t want to make any decisions at all—even minor ones, like what to watch on TV?

Business owners and upper-level team members have to make a lot of decisions on any given day. Do I take that new client, or turn them away? They seem difficult to work with but the extra retainer never hurts.

What about the new employee—should I hire person A or B, and as a contractor, or part time, or full time, or not at all? Do I want to offer more services? Improve the quality of the services I offer now? Is it time to update the website? Facebook Ads or Google AdWords?

It’s exhausting. I could go on for hours about everything business owners need to decide on a daily basis, because there’s always something, especially for those of us trying to grow our businesses. I’ve had multiple days where I’m so over making decisions, that I tell my friends “I don’t care where we’re going to dinner, you pick. And while we’re at it, I might have you order for me, too.”

This is a pretty big sign of decision fatigue, which can be dangerous for your business if you’re hitting it too often.

What is Decision Fatigue?

Decision fatigue occurs when you have to make too many decisions at any one time. Each decision you make in a session will be deteriorating in quality and you’ll likely feel burned out at the end of the it all to boot.

decision fatigue in businesses

Simply put: the more decisions you make in a set period of time, the worse those decisions will become.

Making decisions is a lot like doing reps of an exercise at the gym. The first rep will be easy. You’ll wonder why you ever thought it would be so hard. The second and third might even come without much of a problem. But maybe by the fourth, you are conscious that your muscles are a little tight. By the fifth, you notice how heavy the weight feels in your hand. By the time you’re at the tenth, you might notice your arms feeling weaker or shakier.

How It Can Affect Your Business

It’s not shocking that decision fatigue can affect your business quickly. In a lot of cases, decision fatigue will cause us to default to the simple decision. This is not always the right one. We’ll make the easy decision because we’re mentally exhausted and the thought of going through a mental (or physical) pro/con list can actually be painful.

You could, for example, be overwhelmed and decide to go with the cheaper ad agency over one that has more experience and thus charges more. Your brain registers that cost is an obvious benefit and makes the decision quickly. In reality, choosing to go with the more experienced ad agency would have likely gotten you better results, meaning more growth and better ROI.

Let’s look at another example. A realtor could be helping their client purchase a home, and the client asks if they should make a higher offer than what was asked, or go under.

The realtor, experiencing decision fatigue from going through this with several other clients earlier, decides “go higher” because it seems easier—it increases the likelihood of the sale going through and them getting their commission. Maybe, in that particular case, they’d ignored that the house had been on the market for awhile and that repairs would be needed. They could have cost their customer thousands upon thousands of dollars.

Decision Fatigue in Business: How to Prevent It

Decision fatigue in business is no good, so knowing how to prevent it is crucial. You want to be able to make the right calls for your clients and yourself every single time.

Here’s a few ways you can prevent decision fatigue from setting in:

  • Tackle the hard stuff first. A lot of us like to procrastinate on the decisions we really don’t want to make, especially if they’re unpleasant or there’s a lot riding on them. Think Michael Scott trying to figure out who to fire in The Office. Not ideal. Instead, tackle the biggest decisions early in the day, or after you’ve had time to reset after other decision making.

  • Ask for second opinions. If you can feel yourself at wit’s end and that mental fog or any level of impatience is setting in, get a second opinion. Don’t try to do everything yourself, because you can’t. Lay out all the facts, and ask a trusted colleague what they think. They may help you see a side that you were too exhausted to see, and they can stop you from making a mistake.
  • Reduce the amount of decisions you have to make. For some people, this means picking out their clothes and making their lunch the night before so they don’t have to make decisions until they start work. For others, it means straight up outsourcing. Don’t worry about trying to choose between different Google AdWords strategies. Hire an agency who can make those decisions for you.
  • Stick to the decisions you’ve made. Decision fatigue can wear you out fast if you’re not only trying to make future decisions, but reconsidering the ones you’ve already made. Stick to your guns. Barring any true disasters, try to focus on moving forward instead of wondering “what if.” Do what you can to make it work.
  • Eat something before making a decision. Keep your blood sugar good and yourself mentally alert by eating something before big decision making. This can give you a mental break and a boost of energy and mental clarity at the same time.

These steps might seem simple, but they can significantly reduce the amount of decision fatigue you have to wrestle with when it comes to making big, important decisions.

Final Thoughts

Decision fatigue affects both our personal and our business lives and there’s no denying that it can wreak havoc on both. I’ve even seen it happen with a friend during wedding planning. After deciding on the table layout and the center pieces, she was about toast when it came to the seating chart and Grandma was almost put at a table with some of her college friends because “they all like to cook.”

You don’t want this to happen with your business. You want to be level-headed and ready for those contract negotiations and employee hires and updated business plans. Keep decision fatigue in mind, and do what you can to prevent it from affecting your business with the methods discussed above. You’ll thank us later.

What do you think? Do you experience decision fatigue in business? How do you prevent it from affecting your work? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think. 

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