When it comes to making financial decisions, being at the top of your game can make the difference between navigating your way to a successful outcome rather than a disastrous one.
Decision fatigue happens to all of us. On a day to day basis we are faced with hundreds of decisions. Whether it’s deciding what to put on in the morning, which route to take to work, or the age old dilemma of what to have for dinner, our day’s are built on decision after decision. And that’s before we even factor in the nature of our job and the types of decisions we likely have to make in that environment.
In my past life I worked in a high paced, and high stress environment. One where decisions needed to be made quickly and constantly. And those decisions often had far reaching impacts on the lives of others, sometimes even life or death. For a long time I thought I thrived in that type of environment, that I even enjoyed the pressure and expectations. To some degree I really did. But in hind sight, it resulted in some serious decision fatigue presenting in my personal life.
Often I did not want to even think about what to make for dinner, or what to do with myself when I had some down time. The absolute last thing I wanted to do when I wasn’t at work, was make another decision. In fact, a lot of the time I felt like I just wanted to turn off my brain and zone out. Not an ideal mindset for my social life, my family, or my finances.
Jobs will always carry some degree of stress and decision requirements, but because we are also inundated with choice everywhere we look, the decisions we are required to make on a daily basis are exponentially higher than even a generation or two ago. Choice is great, but it comes at a cost. Our ability to make sound, thoughtful decisions is not limitless, nor is our willpower. All that choice equates to more decisions, sometimes really unimportant ones, that tax our decision tank and leave us empty when we really need it.
By understanding that decision fatigue exists, we can take proactive steps to avoid it in the first place. Here’s five simple ways to do exactly that:
1- Schedule Big Decisions
While it’s not always possible, do your best to plan to make major decisions about your finances in the hours when our decision making skills are at their sharpest. Studies have shown that we make our best decisions in the morning, or directly after a break. At those times we are better able to focus on the subject matter, apply critical thinking, and avoid rushing the decision just to get it done.
So if you need to have a discussion and reach a decision about paying down debt, making a significant investment, increasing income streams, or topics of that nature, don’t just do it when the idea strikes. Schedule it for the morning when you are at your sharpest.
2 – Eat
We all know getting hangry is a thing. I suffer from this big time. Just ask Mike. But eating is also a significant factor when it comes to your ability to make quality decisions. Allowing your blood sugar to drop translates into poor critical thinking and horrible focus, so have a snack and then talk about how to cut expenses.
This also applies to shopping. Don’t do any type of shopping on an empty stomach. You are setting yourself up to make bad decisions, whether it’s the chocolate bar while you are standing in line, or the impulse pair of shoes. When you enter decision fatigue, your willpower drops right along with it.
3 – Make Small Daily Decisions the Night Before
The best way to avoid decision fatigue is to reduce the overall number you have to make. So avoid starting off your day with a barrage of small decisions that tax your tank first thing in the morning.
Whether or not to hit the snooze button, what to wear, if you are going to have a workout or stop for coffee on your way to work, those are the kind of decisions you can easily make the night before. Even if you are really tired from your day, you don’t need a ton of mental energy or critical thinking to make those decisions, so don’t waste the optimal hours of your day making them.
Make and commit to the decision the night before so when you get up you can simply focus on execution and you won’t find yourself standing in your closet waffling over black or blue pants.
4 – Meal Plan
I’ve talked about how meal planning can save you significant money on your grocery bills, but it’s also a great way to reduce decision fatigue. Nobody wants to think about what to make for dinner, so take the question off the table.
Meal plan during a time when you can sit down with a coffee and think about healthy options that are easy to prepare during a busy week. You’ll save money, you’ll end up eating better meals, and you’ll eliminate the dread of deciding what’s for dinner.
5 – Minimize Social Media
It sounds silly, but social media sucks our decision making tanks dry. Who’s posts to like, what to write in your own posts, what photo’s to post. All of it consists of a myriad of small (essentially meaningless) decisions. They might seem like nothing, but if you consider your daily decision making abilities a limited resource, do you really want to use them for that? So consider minimizing or eliminating your social media time, or simply wait until the end of the day to check your feeds.
My caveat to this is if you are using social media specifically for your business or a secondary income stream. Then those decisions mean something, and it’s probably best to make them during more optimal time frames.
At the end of that day, even your best efforts to avoid decision fatigue won’t work 100% of the time, so the next best action is to ensure you recognize when it’s happening to you. If you find yourself struggling with a financial decision, and unable to engage or give it your full consideration, table it until you are in a better frame of mind.
Waiting is always a better option than making a less than a rushed, poorly thought out decision, especially when it comes to your finances.