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Understanding and Overcoming Decision Fatigue

I recently had lunch with a friend who is also a small business owner. Our businesses are in completely different fields, but we agreed that the most exhausting part of our jobs is the constant decision-making that comes with running a business. The official term for this is Decision Fatigue. Decision fatigue is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when an individual experiences a decrease in the quality of their decision-making ability after a long session of decision-making, especially when dealing with a multitude of choices or complex decisions. This decline in decision quality is often due to mental exhaustion and a depletion of cognitive resources. If you are a small business owner, you have probably felt some of the impacts of decision fatigue including:


1. Reduced Decision-Making Quality: As we make more decisions throughout the day, our ability to make quality choices diminishes. This can lead to poor judgment, impulsive decisions, and increased likelihood of errors.

2. Increased Stress and Anxiety: The weight of constant decision-making can lead to elevated levels of stress and anxiety. It can be easy to become overwhelmed by the pressure to get every decision right, causing mental and emotional strain.

3. Slower Decision-Making: Paradoxically, decision fatigue can also lead to a slowdown in decision-making. This might look like procrastination or indecisiveness.

4. Decline in Strategic Thinking: The never-ending stream of operational decisions can pull attention away from long-term strategic planning, which is crucial for the growth and success of a small business.

Without a plan for avoiding decision fatigue, these outcomes are nearly inevitable at some point of being a small business owner. However, there are ways to stay out of the weeds. Here are a few ideas on how to avoid getting to a place of decision fatigue and creating space for better decision-making as a business owner:

1. Prioritize and Delegate: Identify tasks that can be delegated to others and focus on high-impact decisions only you can make. For high-impact decisions, consider seeking feedback from someone you trust. A quick discussion can help solidify your perspective.

2. Streamline Processes: Effective business processes eliminate unnecessary recurring choices. Many small decisions can add up and impact your ability to make bigger, more important decisions.

3. Create Functional Routines: Establish structured routines that allocate specific times for meetings and strategic planning. Creating dedicated time serves two purposes—it removes the need to decide on a time and place for key tasks, and also makes sure you have the space you need to think clearly about business-critical topics.

4. Space It Out: Plan ahead to ensure you can spread out key decisions, and to provide ample time to consider your options adequately.

5. Take a Break: Take regular breaks to recharge and maintain mental clarity. Just a short walk around the block can clear mental capacity and enable more balanced decision-making.

Decision fatigue is an ever-present challenge, given the demands of owning a business. Recognizing the signs empowers you to adapt and restructure your decision-making process for more effective, sustainable leadership. By combining proactive and responsive strategies, you can ensure that key decisions reflect your best judgment and will empower your business to flourish.

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