The financial services industry is one driven by effective decision making: which trade to make, who to hire, where to invest. Most of us consider ourselves sensible, logical people capable of making informed decisions that drive growth and progression at work and on a more personal level. However most of us also splurge on clothes we don’t need, buy junk food and get frustrated at colleagues and family members. The culprit of these outbursts and moments of mental fog is most commonly decision fatigue. No matter how rational a person is, no one can make decision after decision without paying a price.
When our brains are tired, similar to our bodies, we subconsciously look for short cuts when making decisions. The two shortcuts most commonly taken are to act recklessly; making a decision without weighing up the options. The second is the easiest and, in business, sometimes the most detrimental: do nothing. When we feel incapable of making an informed decision we avoid risk, often causing a number of problems in the long run, yet reducing mental strain in the short term.
To avoid these shortcuts and make sure that our mental energy is devoted to effective decision making, we need to reduce the energy we exert on small, menial decisions. Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama and Ray Dalio have all publicly stated that wearing the same thing every day, or at least reducing their options to one or two things, is a simple way to overcome one fairly inconsequential decision that can drain their energy.
While a grey t-shirt and khaki pants everyday might not be your style, there are other ways to beat decision fatigue in your daily life.
1. Track your decisions
To understand which parts of your life are decision-heavy and might be draining your mental energy, spend a week, or even just a day, tracking your decisions. Consider this a self-diagnostic.
2. Understand which decisions are crucial
Not all decisions can be eradicated. Figure out which decisions need to be made and are the most consequential, and which ones can become routine.
3. Design a morning routine
We make a lot of low impact decisions in the morning: what to eat for breakfast, what to wear, how to get to work etc. Design and implement an effective routine to get you going without draining your mental energy.
4. Where possible, reduce options
Cut out the stuff from your wardrobe you never wear, make a list of your favourite meals and pick from that smaller, curated list.
5. Set objectives before bed
Figure out what it is that you specifically need to achieve the next day so you can get straight on to making decisions.
So if you notice the high-performing trader on your floor is always wearing the same black t-shirt, it might be a smart strategy to reduce decision fatigue.