Decision Fatigue

If you ever eat at a restaurant with me, particularly if it’s a restaurant that I’ve never eaten in before, there’s a strong chance that I’ll order the same thing you do. Not because you have excellent taste (you totally do, by the way) but, for the last couple of years, I have been working to remove smaller decisions from my life.

Decision Fatigue is what happens to the mind when an individual has to make lots of decisions. The result is poorer choices, impulse purchasing, reduced ability to negotiate, a decrease in self-discipline, and sometimes complete decision avoidance.

While I'm not particularly worried about my ability to negotiate on a day-to-day basis, there are times when it's important. What I am more conscious of is my self-discipline. And even more than that, I am aware of the time I waste having to make decisions at all. Now, I'm not saying all decisions are a waste of time, far from it. I'd rather put the required energy into the big important decisions, and let the little decisions take care of themselves.

I have several simple rules I try to follow that guide my choices, or if possible, remove the need for them. Such as what I eat, what I wear, what I buy in the supermarket, and more. 


Restaurants I’ve covered above. The only exceptions are if I know the restaurant or the style of cuisine particularly well, then I’ll choose something I like. Or if I really don’t agree with your choice. I have always disliked the idea of having to choose from a strange menu, that bombardment of choice and the ensuing overwhelm. I find it much easier to leave the choosing up to someone else. Fortunately, I don't have any food allergies and have a broad palette, so this works out most of the time.

For meals I make at home; during a typical week, I’ll batch-prepare my breakfasts and lunches for Monday to Friday. These change week to week but follow a trend. Breakfasts at the moment are smoothies made in a Nutri-Bullet style blender. Lunches vary from week to week but generally follow the principle of being a salad in a jar. Something I can take out of the fridge and chuck in my rucksack and on my way out of the door. I prepare everything over an hour or so on a Sunday evening and then don’t have to even think about it for the rest of the week. 

It’s shocking how much time and energy it can save you. Batching meals, in particular, is something that friends and colleagues see me doing and often comment on, saying “I wish I had the time to do that”, or “I wish I were that organised”. When in reality batching meals saves so much time. Time which you can use to organise other parts of your life. Or time to be lazy, guilt-free! Batch-preparing healthy food means I know I’m eating well for the majority of my meals. And with minimal effort. It also means if I want to pig out on pizza once in a while I can do so, knowing that on balance I’m still eating pretty clean.

I’ve not quite brought myself to prep dinners yet. The main reason being that I tend to eat light in the evenings, or skip it entirely. I wake up very early every morning and as a result, tend to go to bed early too. At the weekends I’m more relaxed and tend to base my meals on what I’m doing, and as such, I don’t plan them in advance.


Lots of famous decision makers have gone down the standardised clothing route. The most famous probably being Steve Jobs with his black turtleneck, dad jeans and grey New Balance trainers, which he wore for both the convenience and also to convey a signature style. But there are others who do it too, to varying degrees of conformity. Mark Zuckerberg wears a hoodie and grey t-shirt, Barack Obama only ever wore blue or grey suits. It even occurs in the fashion world, where you’d imagine a variety of clothing would be the spice of life. Anna Wintour, Vogue editor-in-chief wears over-sized shades, often with a statement necklace and a crewneck under a power coat. Karl Lagerfeld, creative director at Chanel, is also known for wearing shades, along with dressing only in black and white and rocking black, fingerless gloves.

While my fashion choices are not as extreme as any of these, there is a consistency to what I wear out of necessity. Because I commute via motorcycle, I wear full gear to and from work, and so have to change on arrival and departure. In the winter I wear work clothes under my bike gear. In the summer when it’s too hot to layer up, I take 5x t-shirts and a pair of jeans to work on a Monday, change when I arrive, and wear the t-shirt on my way home. On Friday I take the jeans home too. I keep a pair of Vans slip-ons at the office, as well as a spare t-shirt, socks and underwear for the days when I get caught in a monsoon. Like my meals, I tend to not plan my weekend and wear jeans and a t-shirt 99% of the time.


When it comes to shopping, I’m pretty organised too. This ties into batching my meals. I write lists obsessively, which means I always have a clear agenda of what I need to buy. If possible, I try and shop once per week and only once. I also tend to buy my groceries online, not only to save time but to avoid the excess of choice from the supermarket. I pick out what recipes I’m going to make for the week in advance and order only the required ingredients. No snacks, no impulse purchases. I can also browse items I’ve ordered in the past and pick anything else I need from that list. While there are still many tricks the supermarkets use to get you to add in extra items you didn't realise you needed; by narrowing my focus on to the items I’ve purchased previously, I eliminate the excess of choice. I may miss out on a relevant special offer on a similar product, but the pennies I’d save are outweighed by the possible opportunity to buy some rubbish that I definitely don’t need.

Those are my main rules for avoiding decision fatigue. There are others I also follow for smaller things, but those three are the decisions I found I was making most often. 

Establishing rules to live your life by may sound like an odd concept, but it’s essentially a philosophical approach to living. Looking at what it is you want out of life, what you don’t want, and then working out how best to go about it. Once you start applying rules to guide your life, you start to see what your priorities are. And once you know your priorities, all the trivial and irrelevant things fall to the side.


Tom Sherman1 Comment