Leaders build careers on making good decisions—for their company and themselves.

Business woman speaks on the phone while sitting in front of her laptop computer.Imagine stopping at the grocery store to pick up food for dinner after a long day at work. You have a list but still you find yourself paralyzed, staring at the jars of pasta sauce, unable to decide which size or flavor to buy. You ask the nearby sales clerk for his opinion instead. This is called decision fatigue, a relatively new phenomenon that we all experience, especially business leaders.

Leadership training is supposed to prepare managers to make all kinds of decisions, but business leaders often find themselves in demanding situations. Entrepreneurs inundated with e-mails asking them to weigh in on every detail as they build their start-up. Executives unable to walk down the hall without being bombarded by questions that only they can answer.

Curiously, unlike physical fatigue that you can actually feel in your body, many experience the mental effects of making too many decisions without even knowing it.* Though it’s not surprising that running a business can be stressful, the impact of decision fatigue does not solely affect what’s for dinner—it can impact the bottom line as well.

As decision fatigue sets in, leaders tend to take shortcuts that lead to poor outcomes, or can avoid making a decision altogether. While not deciding can ease the short-term burden, it can have long-term consequences. Decision fatigue can also leave individuals vulnerable in areas and at times they otherwise would not be, and can result in impulsive and reckless behavior*—neither of which are valuable qualities of a leader.

Here are five easy ways to help prevent decision fatigue:

  1. Simplify your life. Small and big decisions can add up and detract attention from the real, important issues that need answers. Automating daily decisions can free up your mind and ease your stress. Your first decision each day is likely what to wear to work. In order to simplify the decision, many thought-leaders are known to have created a personalized uniform. That is, they wear the same or similar type outfit every day. Next is breakfast. It’s arguably the most important meal of the day, so streamline the decision and eat the same satisfying and nutritious meal every day. Continue this process to create a useful routine to simplify your day.
  2. Organize your day. A popular study of parole hearings demonstrated that time of day matters when it comes to making decisions. The quality of decision-making deteriorates as the day goes on, so whenever possible, organize your day to tackle the most important issues as early as possible.*
  3. Replenish your brain power. The same study also found that judges were more likely to grant parole soon after they ate. Our brains need energy to push through the day. Bring back those mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks to give it the boost of glucose—a simple sugar found in most foods—it needs.*
  4. Allocate your time wisely. Leadership styles vary, and some people prefer to maintain all control by being heavily involved from start to finish. However, that can easily contribute to decision fatigue. Knowing how to build a great team is an essential leadership skill, and executives and managers need to rely on those team members to do their job in order to focus on other pressing matters.
  5. Resist distractions. The lure of the internet and social media can be incredibly strong, especially when you feel like you just need a quick break. But don’t let it fool you—you’re still making decisions when taking that break. Which website should you visit? What app will you use? Should you comment? Breaks can be good, but make them useful for your mind, like meditation or yoga.

Organizations are demanding authentic business leaders who are prepared to address the ever-evolving challenges of a complex world. Those with effective leadership skills are better positioned to sort out the noise from the important issues that need answers. One way to develop leadership skills is to earn a master’s degree in leadership. Walden University’s MS in Leadership program can help prepare leaders to create innovative solutions to novel problems and challenges, as well as deploy effective strategies to facilitate change and manage conflict—easing the burden of making many decisions.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Leadership degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


*J. Tierney, Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?, The New York Times Magazine, on the internet at www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.