After a ten-hour intense divorce meditation, Brian was exhausted and frustrated that only one aspect of the divorce agreement was resolved. As an attorney and mediator for over 20 years, usually, he was able to accomplish more. But this couple spent hours bickering over minute issues and refused to listen to reason. Relieved to be finally headed home, he barely remembered driving.
His teenage daughter approached him first saying that she “had to” have a motorized scooter. She had lined up her arguments, already picked out the scooter and contacted the owner, and with rapid fire delivered her case as if she was in court. Unable to think straight, Brian requested some time to consider her position. His daughter stormed off yelling about how he was incapable of making quick decisions.
Next, his wife approached him. She began downloading her day, talking about work, something about one of the kids and a teacher, another thing about a neighbor, and finished by asking him if he wanted to go out to eat. “What?” he replied unsure of her last question. Instantly, his wife was noticeably frustrated saying, “You never listen to anything I say.”
Brian tried to listen to both his daughter and his wife, but the exhaustion from the day prevented him from being present. He had already made too many decisions for other people who didn’t appreciate his efforts and reached his limit. Brian was suffering from decision fatigue, which is the deterioration of an ability to make good decisions after a long day of decision making. But his job was to do just that. So, Brian incorporated these strategies to minimize the impact of decision fatigue.
- Know yourself. Some people are morning people and others are evening people. Morning people tend to be more productive and make higher quality decisions in the morning. Evening people are the opposite. Brian was a morning person, so he decided to make his biggest decisions early in the day and not at the end of the day when he was tired and overwhelmed.
- Reduce options. The first step Brian took was to restructure his day. He decided to automate as many small decisions as possible to limit the number of decisions that needed to be made in a day. For instance, he wrote out a strict morning and evening routine that he followed nearly every day without exception.
- Limit distractions. When possible, Brian limited the distractions around him to elevate some of the decision-making stress. He silenced his phone, closed windows on his computer, cleaned up his desk, and refused to start a new task until he completed the previous one. His minimalist approach helped him to focus better and longer allowing him to feel more present.
- Limit screen time. Electronics make it easy to constantly check emails, notifications, social media, and text messages. But each time Brian did this, he was using up some of his decision-making supply. Instead, he limited the number of times during a day that he would look at messages or email. By scheduling these times, Brian felt more in control of his routine instead of allowing others via email or notifications to determine what he did next.
- Schedule breaks. Brian noticed that he tended to go long periods of time without taking a break. A simple 20-minute rest break placed in the middle of his afternoon when he was least productive worked. The 2:30-3: 00 pm time period was the worst for him, so he scheduled a mandatory break during this time and another one just before coming home. Brian found that the decisions he made after taking a break were much better then if he had no break.
- Chain tasks. Next, Brian designed the perfect 20-minute break. He would first start off with a cup of coffee to get a caffeine boost by the end of his break. Then take a 15-minute meditation, quick nap, or walk outside. This was followed by a small snack to increase glucose levels. This combination worked well, and he felt rejuvenated and ready to go back to work.
- Rate decisions. To eliminate the pressure of each decision, Brian developed a three-part rating system: 1- most important, 2- somewhat important, and 3- not important. For #3 decisions, Brain chooses the simplest option. For #2 decisions, Brian aimed for “good enough” and not his usual perfectionist standard. For #1 decisions, Brian would stop, take a deep breath, think about the pros and cons, and then choose. This system helped him to move more quickly through inconsequential decisions.
These simple changes had a large impact on Brian. Instead of feeling exhausted by the end of the day, Brian felt more present and aware of his surroundings. The not only improved his abilities at work but his relationships as well.