What Is Decision Fatigue and How to Reduce It

Decision Fatigue. Yes, it is a real thing. Every day we make hundreds if not thousands of decisions. What to eat, what to wear, what to work on, when to read, when to send a text and on and on and on … It is estimated that in a full day an average person makes around 35,000 decisions. It seems like an unusually high number but this is what researchers have found in various studies.

Researchers at Cornell University estimate we make 226.7 decisions each day on food alone. And as your level of responsibility increases, so does the multitude of choices you have to make. It’s estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day.

Each decision requires time, energy and willpower – and contrary to popular belief, willpower is a finite resource and depletes over the course of the day. That is why it is recommended to make big and important decisions early in the day when we have more (mental) energy and willpower. This is also why Mark Twain suggests to ‘Eat The Frog’ first thing in the morning.

In her book, The Art of Choosing, writer and researcher Sheena Iyengar suggests that limiting our options can help us make better decisions. The more choices we have, the harder our brain works in comparing and deciding between the said options. So, start with a small set to choose from to simplify things and remove some of the decision fatigue.

So what are the ways to overcome decision fatigue and make better decisions?

I prefer to develop systems and routines where I can put less-important and recurring tasks and decisions on auto-pilot in what I call Future Decision Making.

Enter – Future Decision Making (making decisions for your future self)

I don’t want to spend time and energy every day to make the same decisions.
What to eat, when to eat, when to go to the gym, what to wear, what to watch, what to read etc.
I put in the time and thought up front to bulk these decisions and make them for my future self.

Some areas where I apply this methodology is:

Eating – Meal Planning

I have a four-week meal plan based on my macro requirements which list 3 main meals for any day in the coming weeks along with 2-3 snacks (I don’t always consume everything but it is pre-decided if needed). So I know what I need to eat and when so I don’t spend time deciding every day. Which by the way, also makes weekly/monthly grocery shopping a breeze as I know exactly what I need in the coming week.

Exercise – Gym Planning

I have an exercise plan that is prepared and updated by a professional trainer every four weeks based on my progress and goals at the time. I know exactly what I need to do when it needs to be done and I keep tracking my progress through the process. Another point on the limited willpower – I go to the gym early in the morning soon after waking up. I get the big tasks done early when I have the energy.

Media Consumption

I make a list of all the books, podcasts, movies and TV shows I wish to consume for a month and then add them to a queue.


There was a time when most of the world used to go to this place called ‘An Office’ to work. Work from home was not a usual occurrence. In that time, I used to prepare my wardrobe on Sunday for the next 5 days. I knew exactly what I was going to wear on what day based on who I was meeting and when.
And for those who know me personally know that outside of work I almost always wear a black T-shirt with blue jeans. I don’t need to decide every time. I have made the one (blanket) decision that eliminates the 1000 decisions in the future.

Personal Projects & Holidays

At the beginning of the year I decide what personal projects I am going to work on; photography, music, blog etc. I then plan my year, goals and tasks around that. Marking important milestones and allowing time for breaks and holidays. Yes, the calendar is my best friend 🙂.

All of the above allow me to simplify my decision making and frees up my daily time to focus on more important things and creative pursuits. However, I am human after all. Things do not always go to plan and there is always that week when something comes up; impromptu catchup with a friend, a movie/book/podcast comes highly recommended by a trusted source, work runs late, or me/family member falls ill.
As much I plan things in advance, I allow room for flexibility and when things don’t go to plan – I don’t beat myself over it. There are things I can control and then there are things I can’t.
Most importantly – I plan to a point to ensure I leave room for spontaneity and serendipity.

A Note On Emotional Decision Making

Another very important aspect of future decision making is it eliminates the emotional decision making. As humans, we often make decisions based on feelings and emotions where our rational and logic self is overpowered. We make decisions in the moment based on how we feel and call it spontaneity.

For example, eating a doughnut for a snack instead of carrots and hummus or sleeping an extra hour instead of going to the gym because we feel hungry/tired/sleepy/emotional. When we organise our lives with your meal plans, gym plans or any other plan for that matter, it discourages this type of behaviours and helps in stick to the plans and the decision made previously (by our rational/logical self).

Some other ways to reduce decision fatigues.

  • Outsource / delegate decisions
  • Eliminate less-important tasks and decision
  • Simplify and just make fewer decisions
  • Once a decision has been made (with due diligence), sticking with it.
  • Establishing daily/weekly/monthly routines and rituals.
  • Using a decision matrix – If THIS, then THAT approach.