Decision Fatigue Can Rob Your Creativity
Have you heard of capsule wardrobes? Or entrepreneurs who eat the same exact thing for breakfast every day? There’s a reason they’re doing this. And I’ve totally been resisting it. But I think it’s time to change that.
Did you know that adults in the U.S. are estimated to make 35,000 decisions per day? Holy shit. No wonder I sometimes feel like an incoherent blob the end of a hard day.
Research shows that we have only so many good decisions in us, on any given day. This phenomenon is called decision fatigue.
Any given day we choose what to eat, wear, buy, believe, how to work, where to go, and the list goes on. As the day wears on our willpower and ability to make quality decisions deteriorates.
And yeah, it’s totally worse if you have kids, a disability, others to care for, a household to run, deal with discrimination, have health issues, etc. (more factors=more decisions)
This is where tools like the capsule wardrobe (ugh) come in.
Leaders and entrepreneurs like President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Nicole Richie have adopted capsule wardrobes because it reduces the need for another creative decision in the morning. The theory is that the less good decision-making “credits” you use up the more reserves you’ll have left for important choices throughout the day. Have one navy suit, two ties and two white shirts? Boom, you know what to wear, with little to no consideration needed.
Now I’m not proposing you throw out 90% of your clothes. A capsule wardrobe, or eating the same thing for breakfast everyday isn’t going to change your whole life. But imagine the results for your creativity, or personal brand, if you consistently did this kind of thing with a bunch of daily tasks and removed the need to make some of the more arbitrary decisions. Now that may make a big difference.
To be clear: I do not currently utilize a capsule wardrobe or eat the same thing every day (though most days my breakfast is an RX Bar). I actually like to joke that because of my years of being a sometimes broke single mom, that I’ve had an involuntary capsule wardrobe for the past ten years. 😉
Seriously though, as I continue to tweak my lifestyle to fit my dreams, I want to cut the waste and optimize my life and career the way I really want it to be. I don’t want to squander precious time on things that don’t matter to me.
These are times when events are often outside of our control–inevitable roadblocks, bumps, potholes on the road. Pandemic, anyone? These may require more decisions that can potentially rob us of our ability to accelerate as fast as we’d like down toward our dream life. Sometimes they even run the risk of knocking us off the road completely.
Paring down decisions can be one way to help you keep momentum when you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. Simplifying can help you hold on to your creativity and ability to make better decisions on a daily basis.
What to Do About It
So, below are some ways to reduce decision-making in your daily life. Obviously, not all of these things will work for everyone. For instance, I would get bored of eating the same thing everyday, while someone else might love it. Customize with your own needs in mind.
As a creative multi-passionate person I also have huge resistance toward- what I like to call -“a boring old routine.” But I’ve also found that a balance of routine and free time really helps my focus and progress on my projects. So here we go:
- Plan the week’s meals ahead, buy everything and meal prep on Sunday (or whatever day starts off your week).
- Eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch or dinner everyday. I prefer only to do this for breafast, but you know, do you. 😉
- Simplify to a capsule wardrobe
- Set a clear work schedule (especially if you work from home) and stick to it as much as possible
- Set a clear creative project schedule. Treat your creative project as important as work, or exercise–or whatever you naturally have an easier time prioritizing.
- Embrace (or try for a month) a morning routine–time for yourself in the morning where you do the same thing every day: get your coffee, write your morning pages, take a shower, eat your avocado toast, do yoga, etc. whatever works for you.
- Set your clothes out the night before.
- Batch time/decision wasters: check email 1-3 times a day at set times (instead of incessantly all day), check the snail mail once or twice a week, do laundry only on certain days, etc.
- Outsource mundane tasks (if you can) like cleaning, laundry, design, bookkeeping, errands, etc.
- Use IF/THEN pairing decisions: “If it’s 5pm, I quit working for the day; if I have a glass of wine, I have a glass of water.”
- Prioritize big or important decisions or tasks for the beginning of the day. Keep your To-Do list short and execute like a bawse!
- Ask yourself if there’s a simpler way. Sometimes we get too wrapped up in options or “best case” choices. I’ve literally deliberated over types of milk in the grocery store for 10 minutes, before. It’s ridiculous. So more often lately, I’m trying to remind myself–what’s the simplest solution here? The least stressful?
- Remember that done is better than perfect. Sometimes you just need to finish something. You could even possibly come back later when you’re fresh. I often use this approach with clients who are on a deadline, sometimes it’s more important to get something right. Other times, it’s best to finish a simpler version of something and then add bells and whistles in phase two.
- Stick to one task at a time until it’s finished. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been working and save a big graphic file on my computer, that might take 30 seconds (max) to save, and I feel the urge to go check on some other project “while I’m waiting.” 30-frickin-minutes later, I realize I’ve actually wasted more time by switching tasks.
- Meditate, do yoga, or something mindful each morning (or any time you’re feeling overwhelmed) to start your day and strengthen your good ole prefrontal cortex (aka the good decision factory).
When it comes to your writing career, here are some additional ways to help get your best decisions made before you begin to burn out later in the day.
- Set aside time to put together (or revisit) your branding and marketing strategy once or twice per year. Knowing what you want to achieve, by when, with measurable tasks can then be then broken down and used as checklists, rather than having to remind yourself repeatedly what to do next, or decide on what the next promotion will be.
- Take time to go deep FIRST and get a solid understanding of what you really want, what you want to be known for and what steps you may need to get there. I’ve found that a great deal of decision fatigue develops when you’re not solid on what you really want to build. When that happens your subconscious desires (some of which can be self-sabotaging) take over.
- Do the research and brainstorming it takes to really get to know your Ideal Readers. Once you understand them on a deeper level, marketing, branding, pricing, etc. decisions will become a lot easier. Plus you won’t be tempted as much by the latest “miracle” marketing bullshit.
- Keep a Creative Ideas folder on your computer or phone (or good old hard copy). Use software to organize all these files and ideas, using the likes of Google Drive, Notion, Evernote, or equivalent software. This way, when you get great ideas (that you can’t necessarily act on right now or you’ll distract yourself) you know they’ll be in a safe place, waiting for when you have more time. I have both a physical folder and digital for this. Plus I also use Notion.
- Reduce or distill your larger 6 month/year goals down into monthly, weekly, daily goals. Smaller chunks, when written out, will help you just follow the list rather than feeling like you need to decide what’s next.
- Plan out your week, every week in advance–schedule in specific time for tasks so you can just follow along (for the most part) during your work week.
- Organize your creativity and/or business supplies in a way that works for your brain, makes things easy to find, and helps you stay in the flow.
It’s important to separate our processes from our decisions and I hope that a few of these tips will help you clear your head and make more progress on the things you care most about.
If you find yourself avoiding working on your author brand or marketing efforts, here’s a piece about shifting your mindset.
Free Printable: Hero's Journey Brand Worksheet
Become the Hero of Your Own Creative Career--whether you're a writer or author, this worksheet is a great first step!
Create Your Brand, Hero's Journey Style worksheet