Decision Fatigue Is Real


Back in March, with vaccinations on the horizon, my husband asked if he could book a trip for his birthday to attend an outdoor concert in another state. It’s been a long-time dream of his, and we agreed we both felt it would be safe to attend the event once fully vaccinated. A few months and two jabs later, he booked the trip.

In July, I started questioning what we had thought was a solid plan. Unfortunately, our opinions on the safety of the adventure differed, and, in some ways, it didn’t matter. His opinion and my opinion are a combination of the hundreds of data points we have both collected in recent months, filtered through the prism of our individual comfort levels. It was another question to think long and hard about, another moment to reevaluate, another game plan to reconsider.

A road with two directions marked on signThese moments are exhausting, and we are collectively experiencing them constantly. From small things like meeting up with friends to bigger questions such as family vacations, once simple choices are now loaded with bigger concerns. For those of us with kids going back to school, the decision-making is even more complicated. How safe does school really feel right now? What is the ventilation situation? How comfortable are we with the risks?

Other decisions seem almost impossible to make. Many of us feel certain there will be days (weeks? MONTHS?) where kids may miss school due to an outbreak or school may go back to virtual learning. What do we do when that happens? How can we plan anything with so many unknowns on the horizon?

I remember feeling anxious in the Before Time when I didn’t have childcare lined up for my elementary-school-aged kiddo in the spring for the following year. Yes, we’re talking six months in advance. Do you remember those days? Good times. Now, I sometimes find myself irrationally feeling that planning is pointless, everything is likely going to change anyway, and that decisions can wait. Waiting on decisions is itself, of course, not a good decision, and thus I find myself in the decision vortex of 2021.

That experience is called decision fatigue, a phenomenon Wikipedia describes as “the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision.” These past 18+ months have been full of complicated choices, often with little or conflicting information, and we now again find ourselves at a crossroads full of unknowns with the arrival of the Delta variant. As the decisions load up, our stamina for making quality judgement calls can plummet. Fortunately, recognizing the problem is the first step toward improvement.

4 Ways to Combat Decision Fatigue

Is there any way to combat decision fatigue? Once I had a name for what I was experiencing, I began to find ways to address it. I started by applying a professional mindset to my personal decision-making. Some of the advice experts give to those experiencing decision fatigue in corporate settings has helped me (somewhat) move forward when it comes to choices at home.

  1. Cut out unnecessary decisions
    Many famous people (i.e. Barack Obama, Steve Jobs) are known to have smaller wardrobes to limit everyday choices. Streamlining these daily processes actually DOES lighten the load to free up space for bigger decisions. Pre-planning meals for the week is another great way to cut down on more hum-drum decisions. Simple to-do lists can also help with this, provided you stick to them!
  2. Make decision deadlines
    Recently, I had to make a gut-wrenching decision, and it involved eventually sharing my choice with someone via email. I hemmed and hawwed about my decision for days. However, I set a specific date by which I had to send the email, so that the back-and-forth in my mind could only last a certain length of time. Funny thing is that once I sent the message, I felt a huge relief. Either way, the decision was done.
  3. Scale back
    The less we do, the less decisions we need to make. The pandemic has us all reconsidering so many aspects of our lives. Maybe this is not the season for you to learn Norwegian after all? Or possibly a good time to let go of your new beekeeping hobby? Sticking to the core and cutting out excess can ultimately cut down on the decisions and mental noise. The same can be said about kids and their activities.
  4. For big decisions, consider a decision matrix
    I know, they can seem hokey, but using visuals and getting thoughts on paper can really help with big decisions. There are lots of templates and descriptions for how to make a decision matrix, a concept often used in project planning. Even a simple pros/cons list can go a long way toward helping with bigger choices. Whatever your technique, putting what’s on your mind out on paper can help you get one step closer to making hard decisions.

And, above all, be kind to yourself! Especially when it comes to our health, making decisions without all the information can feel overwhelming. This is a hard season and we are all doing the best we can. 

Have you experienced decision fatigue? What helps you through it?
Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Lee Ann
Lee Ann moved to Portland in 2008 following an eight-year stint in Paris, France, where her eldest was born. Though she thought nowhere could compete with the City of Lights, the City of Roses immediately stole her heart. As a great place to raise kids, she loves getting out and exploring the city and the PNW with her husband and four young children. While in France, Lee Ann earned a B.A. in Journalism and a Master's in Linguistics at the American University of Paris and L'Universite de Paris - La Sorbonne, respectively, before returning stateside to become a Speech-Language Pathologist through the Portland State University graduate program. Throughout her studies, she kept one foot in the digital world, writing content for publications and creating websites for clients. After many years as a medical Speech Pathologist, she left to the field to continue freelance writing, become the owner of Portland Mom Collective (!), and to create a crafting/workshop space for PDX makers. She likes to spend whatever "me" time she can muster making soap, geocaching, jogging, sewing, and staring at the wall with no small humans talking to her. Get in touch by sending a note to leeann {at} portlandmomcollective {dot} com, or follow her on Instagram.