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Have you noticed yourself getting angrier, less focused, feeling more anxious or giving in to junk food for the kids and yourself more often?  Maybe you’ve been clicking those Facebook ads promising the longest eyelashes ever or you’ve been on the verge of tears at the grocery store and not known why.

As working moms, we are no stranger to making a lot of decisions, but this current pandemic has brought a tsunami of decisions we weren’t prepared for:

  • Do I wear a mask to walk the dog?
  • Should I bring the kids to the grocery store?
  • Which sanitizer is best?
  • Am I supposed to get in the elevator or wait?
  • Should the kids be allowed to play with a friend?

It’s no longer about what to wear or what to have for dinner.  We are being tasked with making more decisions that have bigger implications for ourselves and our families, than ever before.

As an accountant, we are also no stranger to making a lot of decisions, but this current economic crisis has also brought an avalanche of decisions we also weren’t prepared for.  Our companies and clients are looking to us for answers and to help them make decisions regarding their businesses as well.

The weight of these pandemic-related decisions, added to our already full plate of normal working mom decisions, can add an incredible amount of weight to our day to day lives.  A weight that might cause a normally rational woman and mother to take shortcuts that are out of character.

For example, sending that angry email instead of pausing and waiting to respond, or buying the peanut butter Oreos even though you are on a diet.  Maybe you’ve been unable to make a decision, like whether to cancel the vacation plans or whether to have rice or potatoes with dinner.

If any of this sounds like you, you are probably experiencing decision fatigue.  With being faced with so many choices, options and decisions, it’s no wonder you want to stay home and binge Netflix alone or dread Monday mornings more than usual.  

This week I’m going to discuss what causes decision fatigue and ways to help you manage it.  

What causes decision fatigue

If you are among the many working moms who are experiencing decision fatigue, and feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, you are not alone.  This is a very common issue, especially during our modern times where we have more choices and options than ever before in history.

Think back to when you were a child and how much less there was to choose from.  When I was growing up we had a dozen or so channels to choose from on the TV (now there are thousands), our school lunch options were usually about two hot and two cold (now there’s a full menu of choices), and we had a handful or two of toys to play with (now there’s an infinite number of choices with online games and apps).  

The reason so many of us, especially working moms, are experiencing decision fatigue is because when there are so many more options and choices to make, it requires so much more of our brain’s energy to make decisions.  Your tiredness, irritability, lack of focus and desire to escape with a glass or wine or chocolate, is most often caused by the overload of choices and decisions you are faced with day after day.

For example, maybe you’ve experienced this, but when my daughter was little, she would have a meltdown almost on a daily basis, when she was getting ready for school in the morning.  But, once I laid out only two options of outfits for her to choose from, the temper tantrums decreased dramatically; less options equaled less meltdowns.

What I also learned is that it was important to have her make the decision in the morning, when she wasn’t experiencing decision fatigue from everything she had done in school and at home during the day.  Her brain threw a tantrum when asked to make a wardrobe decision before bed because it was too overwhelmed with all the previous decisions of the day.

One of the interesting studies on decision fatigue discovered the same thing.  In this study, prisoners were brought before a parole board to determine their release and what they discovered is that the prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70% of the time, while those that appeared later in the day were paroled less than 10% of the time.  

Even when the prisoners had committed the same crime and had served the same amount of time, the earlier the decision was made in the day, the more favorable the outcome.  The parole board wasn’t being malicious, they were just mentally exhausted by making decision after decision and by the end of the day, they were worn down.

The more choices you have to make throughout the day, the harder it is for your brain to process each decision.  Before you know it you’re either making irrational, quick decisions to just “get it over with” or you are shutting down and not making any decisions at all.

Studies have also shown that the optimal number of choices for a human to have is about 3 to 5.  If you have less, you may feel deprived; but if you have more, you’re more likely to get overwhelmed and not make any decision at all.

As a working mom you’ve probably experienced this as well – you have 15 things on your to-do list, you have a day to do them and you just can’t decide what to do so you wind up scrolling Facebook for 2 hours instead.  Your brain cannot handle more than 3 to 5 choices so it just wants to shut down and expend as little energy as possible.

It’s still an amazing thing that we have so many options in our modern times, but as working moms we just need to get a handle on all the decisions we need to make in order to reduce decision fatigue as much as possible.

Ways to help you manage decision fatigue

Just like the mentally exhausted parole board members, you might also feel so depleted by the end of the day that even deciding what pajamas to wear to bed might be too much.  The two keys to managing decision fatigue is in making decisions ahead of time and editing your life by using constraint.

The reason that making decisions ahead of time, or in advance, is so important is because when other options come along, you can know that the decision has already been made.  This allows you to drop the additional option, making it irrelevant, and not something you even need to consider.

For example, if you decide in advance that you are going to have a salad for lunch with some protein, ginger sesame dressing and sparkling water, then when lunch time comes, there is no issue with decision fatigue.  If you decide in advance that Monday’s color is blue, Tuesday’s color is green, etc., then choosing what to wear for the day is less of an issue.

One of the best ways to manage decision fatigue is to have a routine.  Routines help minimize decisions that need to be made and free up your mental and physical energy for other things, allowing you to focus on other areas of your life that might need more attention or concentration.

Whenever you can make decisions ahead of time, you use the higher part of your brain in the best way possible because you are calmly planning, as opposed to frantically reacting in the moment.  As a working mom, the more you can decide ahead of time and then honor what you decided, the easier it will be to manage your life and to reduce decision fatigue.

The next key to manage decision fatigue is to use constraint.  Constraint is a limitation or restriction that you put on yourself in order to simplify your life, allowing you to reduce overwhelm, improve your self-esteem and reduce decision fatigue.

As working moms and accountants, there seems to be an increasing feeling of overwhelm due to all the things we need to learn, things we need to know, and things we need to do, creating bigger problems and more fatigue.  We wind up spinning with so many options, not enough time, and exhaustion from too many choices and too many decisions to be made about those choices.

The thing with constraint is that it can feel challenging and limiting; it can often bring up a fear of missing out or a lack of freedom to do what you want to do.  But when you are focused on one thing at a time, you can allow your brain to be laser focused and disciplined on that one thing.

Think about the power of a laser pointing at one spot on a wall, as opposed to a flashlight dispersing light over the entire wall.  Focusing all the light in a single place, gives it the ability to bore a hole  through the wall if the laser is powerful enough.

By choosing to constrain your life, you also make your life more powerful and focused, like the laser.  Constraint can be applied to many areas of your life in order to help with decision fatigue, but here are a few:

  • Things – I’m sure we can all admit that we just have too many things, whether it’s in our homes, our offices, our cars or in our lives in general.  The reason it’s difficult to constrain when it comes to things, is because of our natural scarcity mentality.  We’re afraid of not having enough, so we hold onto too many things.  The key is taking an inventory of all the things you have and allowing your brain to see the abundance.  It might mean taking everything out from each drawer, closet or area, but it is really helpful to allow your brain to see abundance as opposed to assuming lack.  Now ask yourself how many do you need for each category of things?  Are 6 wooden spoons really necessary?  For example, my husband and I go away to Wyndham timeshare facilities at least once a year and one of the things I look forward to the most is the simplicity of each of the kitchens.  There is just what I need and no more than that.  It really helps me to feel so relaxed, as if someone has taken care of the decisions for me.  Bringing that constraint home with me can be a challenge but, when I can apply it, life gets easier and less stressful.  Less things means less decisions to be made about the things.
  • Time – As working moms, time has to be one of the most scarce resources we believe we have, which is why using constraint can help tremendously with decision fatigue.  What you and your children spend time on and the number of activities you’re involved in, can all be adding to your decision fatigue.  Right now, in this moment, look at what you are all involved in and ask yourself, “Would I make this decision today?”  Would you still be involved with that group, sign up for that commitment, choose those activities, etc.?  You have the power to do a “do over” with your time.  You can wipe the slate clean and constrain how you and your family spend your time.  For example, when my children were younger I allowed them to be involved in one school activity and one outside of school activity; that’s it.  I valued downtime for them and for myself more than what other moms were doing.  You get to be intentional about how you spend your time so that decision fatigue becomes less of a problem
  • Thoughts – As I’ve shared over the past 90+ podcast episodes, you have approximately 60,000 thoughts a day and although you can’t really reduce that number, you can choose how you want to think about anything or anyone.  Constraining your thoughts is one of the most powerful, energy-producing, success-creating things you can do.  When you edit and choose how you want to think on purpose, you make it so much easier for you to feel better, to take focused action and to achieve whatever results you want.  Decision fatigue is reduced when you constrain and choose what you want to think in a way that’s helpful.  Then when thoughts that don’t match come up, you can say, “Remember, we don’t think that anymore”.  For example, instead of being dragged down by how many thoughts you have, and opinions you hear, about whether the kids will be going back to their schools this year, you can constrain your thoughts by saying to yourself, “My husband and I will decide what’s best at the right time”.  When that time comes, you can sit down and make a calm, rational decision but until that time, you keep reminding yourself, “My husband and I will decide what’s best at the right time”.  When you constrain and get intentional about the thoughts you choose to pay attention to, decision fatigue becomes less of a problem.        

You no longer need to feel as exhausted, unfocused and anxious, when you learn how to manage decision fatigue.  By deciding ahead of time and using constraint, you can live a more peaceful, productive and pleasurable life.

Summary  

  • As working moms, we are no stranger to making a lot of decisions, but this current pandemic has brought a tsunami of decisions we weren’t prepared for
  • The reason so many of us, especially working moms, are experiencing decision fatigue is because when there are so many more options and choices to make, it requires so much more of our brain’s energy to make decisions
  • Studies have also shown that the optimal number of choices for a human to have is about 3 to 5
  • The two keys to managing decision fatigue is in making decisions ahead of time and editing your life by using constraint