We’ve covered the impact of decision fatigue on two huge elements in my life: my eating habits (3-4 times/day), and my work (6-8 hours each working day).
What about everything else?
What about the (literal) hundreds of situations that can’t be classified as food or work?
Let me tell you about the few that have made a massive difference for me once I eliminated decision-making from them.
“I have nothing to wear”
How often do you say this? Once a month? Weekly? Every day?
I operate with a relatively small closet space, so I’m already quite unable to own hundreds of items in each clothing category.
However, I really don’t think that an issue here is the number of clothing items you own. You can have 20 or 500 and you can be equally peaceful in both scenarios.
The issue happens when you have, say, 50 clothing items to choose from every day, but about 30 of them, you literally always skip.
As you read this, you already know the exact items in your closet that fall into this category. You like them enough to keep them, but they are not your favorites, so you simply always go with the favorites.
This also extends beyond the main garments and into underwear, socks, accessories, jackets, shoes, and so on.
And if you’ve grown up having less than you have right now, you probably have a particularly hard time letting go of things (took me a while to realize this for myself, and even longer to overcome it).
Here’s the thing: every time you look at those 20 pieces that you really like and want to wear again and again, you also have to look at those other 30 that you really only go for if your favorites are in the washing.
Every time, you have to make a decision to skip them again and go to your usual outfit choices.
And if you’re anything like me, you may have some pieces you’re holding on to because they used to fit you really well when you were [insert your own attribute here]. For me, it was when I was skinnier, and it made me feel guilty every time I saw a ‘skinnier me’ piece and knew I still couldn’t fit into it. Why do this to myself in the first place?
My suggestion: let these things go. Whether you go full Marie Kondo on them or simply set a rule you’ll get rid of anything you haven’t worn for an entire season (3 to 6 months) is totally up to you.
I’ve done this in a massive declutter of my entire home back in December of last year, and I still set aside some time every 3 months or so to do a check-in. By doing this, I’ve also become more aware of the style choices I really enjoy and keep going for, which makes my shopping decisions easier and better, too.
“I feel overwhelmed with everything I have to remember”
If there was one word to describe my emotional state for what I’m about to share, it’s overwhelmed.
This overwhelm goes beyond the standard “I’m a little stressed out because there’s so much to do at work.”
It’s the feeling of being weighed down by everything. And I don’t mean things that would be difficult for everyone, like conflicts with friends or a partner, financial issues, or deadlines at work.
Let me explain.
My time being self-employed, marking 2 years this past June, can be described as quite positive, without many hiccups or deep stress or financial roadblocks.
Yet, for much of that time, I’ve felt run over by not just work, but life.
Things became really hard to do.
From making phone calls to make doctor appointments to taking my bicycle to be serviced.
From reordering new shampoo because I’ve run out of it to submitting an insurance claim because I accidentally drove my rental car into a lighting pole and paid a hefty damage fee.
This is exactly why I’ve resonated so much with the BuzzFeed piece on millennial burnout. Because, for the most part, I felt like I have zero control over my time and all the things I have to do within that time.
There never seemed to be enough of it, and I always seemed to forget at least a few things I was supposed to do, thinking of them in panic as I’m falling asleep or first thing after opening my eyes in the morning.
Who’d want this life?
I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but a huge reason I felt this way is because I did nothing to take note of things as they required my attention or tracked what I’ve done about them.
I would make one to-do list after the other, some work-focused, some based around personal admin, some mixed ones. Guess what? After a few of them would be in circulation, I’d get—you guessed it—overwhelmed.
Neither of them was a master list. Neither of them was a single source of truth, a single place to go to when figuring out what to do next.
So, as you can probably assume by now, I had to make many tiny decisions, many times a day, still never truly figure it out. I operated in this mode perpetually.
Let me tell you something: that’s not healthy.
Towards the end of 2018 (if you’ve been following this series, you’ll notice this is when a lot of the things started changing), I’ve discovered the concept of Getting Things Done, or GTD for short, with the accompanying book.
I ordered it and devoured, highlighted, and marked up the shit out of it within days. (I still re-read some parts regularly.)
Here’s the gist of the GTD approach: everything that comes your way and you need to look after it, you write down. This way, it doesn’t live in your head—it’s safe, whether on paper or in a tool you use for planning.
“Everything that comes your way” includes work tasks, admin, phone calls you have to make, information you need to research, things you have to buy when you’re out, trips you want to plan, literally any commitments you’ve made, appointments you need to make or attend, birthdays you want to remember, gifts you want to buy, events you want to potentially go to…
You get the idea.
Everything that makes you think:
- “I should…”
- “I need to…”
- “Remind me to…”
- “I wish I could…”
…and so on, gets written down.
From there, you organize it into projects and next actions and contexts so that you can tackle things at the right time and in the right place. This could be a separate series of posts and is outside of this scope, so I won’t get deeper into it at this point.
The point is: nothing needs to live inside of your head anymore. The goal is to achieve the state of “mind like water”. What does water do when you throw a stone through its peaceful, calm surface? It ripples out for a few seconds, and then goes back to being peaceful.
That’s how your mind operates in GTD. Something comes your way, you take it in, you sort it into the right project/list/however you organize your life, and you move on.
This removes the pressure to keep remembering things, which removes unnecessary decision-making, too. Your mind becomes steady instead of jumping from one thought to another, perpetually worrying about tasks that need to get done.
Beyond GTD, another idea that helped me move away from reacting to things on the spot and becoming fatigued with the daily overload comes from the Invest Your Time book.
In it, at the very beginning, Matt Sandrini talks about how everything we experience right in this moment is the result of our past actions. For example:
- Your mood and energy this morning are the result of yesterday’s food choices and last night’s sleep
- Your productivity today is the result of your planning and scheduling yesterday
- Your level of fitness this month is the result of your activity over the recent months
For me, this quickly became about decision fatigue yet again. If I made a batch of decisions yesterday—what I’m doing, what I’m wearing, who I’m meeting, what I’m cooking—I don’t have to do them today.
And that approach to spending (investing!) my time makes life better, more energized, more dynamic, and rarely overwhelming.
This is the end of the decision fatigue series. Did you learn anything new you can do with your time or the way your life and work are organized to reduce the overwhelm that creeps up with decision fatigue? Let me know.