Written by Higson

What is decision fatigue and how can we deal with it?

2nd November, 2020   •   3 min

‘Decision fatigue’ is a phenomenon that affects us all although we are not all consciously aware of it. As the name suggests, it is when our decision-making ability is depleted.

Psychologists have found that people have a limited amount of ‘brain power’ that is reserved for making decisions. This is a precious resource that is used up more quickly than we realise, and can lead to us making poor and illogical decisions if we are not careful.

Have you ever wondered why tech moguls such as Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg would wear the same outfit every day? Or why Barack Obama decided what to wear the previous evening?

It is not because they are not up to date with the latest fashion trends – they wanted to reduce the number of decisions they make. They did this to reserve their decision-making energy for more meaningful and impactful decisions.

Has this been proven by science?

Multiple studies have demonstrated the significant impact of decision fatigue in our lives.

In one study, it was shown that prisoners applying for parole were much more likely to be successful if their hearing was in the morning. They were were granted parole about 70 per cent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 per cent of the time.

This is because by the end of the day, judges were exhausted from all the decisions they made so their decision-making became less fair and logical over the course of the day.

Another study at Stanford University  revealed how decision fatigue can leave people vulnerable to marketing and sales strategies. When buying a car and after having to make lots of small decisions such as choosing between 56 colours of paint, people were much more likely to buy extra add-ons such as rust-proof paint or enhanced options.

When our decision stamina runs out, we opt for the easy, default choice. Even though it may not be the most favourable, or even most ethical.

What can we do to avoid the drawbacks of decision fatigue?

Much like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Barack Obama, we can all reduce the number of decisions we make by cutting down on those that are less relevant or important. Here are three things to consider when doing this:

1. List all of your decisions

Make a list of all the decisions you make in a day and organise this list by level of importance.

Once you have ordered them you can identify which decisions you value most and would rather conserve your decision making power for. Then you can carefully choose what kinds of decisions you wish to prioritise and make earlier in the day.

For example: if you are a leader, you may find that the decisions that are most important to you at the moment are those on your prospecting strategy, rather than those to do with future recruitment. For this reason, you can plan to make these strategic decisions early in the morning, before decision fatigue can take hold.

2. Eliminate trivial decisions

Once we have chosen the types of decisions we want to prioritise – and not prioritise – we can remove the trivial ones that do not add value.

For example: if you spend time in the morning deciding what to have for breakfast, prepare it the night before or have the same thing each morning. This will remove one decision of negligible importance.

3. Plan around it

The third thing we can do is to be aware of when we have high or lower decision-making energy. As past studies have shown, our judgement takes a dip after the morning, or after having made lots of other decisions.

Baumeister, a expert prominent psychologist in decision fatigue has been quoted saying “the best decision-makers, are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”

CEOs do not restructure companies late at night, and politicians do not make vital decisions during cocktail hour (at least, we hope not!).

Planning around this would be scheduling your tasks and decisions; if you have a decision-heavy afternoon, spend your morning hours on tasks that do not fatigue your decision-making ability.


Decision fatigue is real and can be harmful. However if we stay aware, prioritise decisions, and plan accordingly we will achieve better outcomes from the decisions we have to make.

We would love to hear your thoughts on decision fatigue and your strategies of dealing with it. Please get in touch if you have anything to share.