7 ways I’m minimizing decision fatigue in my daily life.

Since I began thinking hard about people who wear the same thing every day, I’ve been examining other ways to minimize decisions in my daily life.

I’ve put this into practice in obvious ways, and unusual ones. Here are a few practices to minimize decision fatigue and maximize productivity and creativity.

Back in my Crossfit days, many of our gym’s elite performers ate the same thing every day, and I mean the exact same thing: turkey, green beans, and almonds, 5 mini-meals per day, with only dinner for variety. They aren’t alone: many successful people regularly eat the same thing to free up mental space.

For the past six months, 95% of my weekday lunches at home have been the exact same thing. Will and I are actively discussing what lunch will look like when the weather finally warms up. (It’s looking like something involving salad greens and chicken.) Breakfast is always some combination of eggs and avocados. No decisions required.

There are less drastic ways to implement the same principle. We have pizza every Friday. My friend goes further than this (and I’m thinking of following her lead): she’s made a loose weekly formula for her family’s meals to guide their choices: Asian on Monday, Mexican on Tuesday, Italian on Wednesday. (More ideas on formulas here.)

I make coffee every morning, then sit down at the computer (or grab a legal pad) and start writing. (Not facebook, not email. Writing.) Then I’m out the door to exercise.

It turns out I’m doing something right: time management experts say if you don’t know where to start, start with implementing a morning routine and evening routine. I also have a routine for the 2:00 hour, which is when I hit my daily slump.

For an amazing look at possible daily routines, check out Mason Currey’s fascinating book Daily Rituals.

This tip is from the pithy guide Manage Your Day to Day. “Set a start time and a finish time for your workday, even if you work alone. Dedicate different times of day to different activities: creative work, meetings, correspondence, administrative work, and so on. These hard edges keep tasks from taking longer than they need to and encroaching on your other important work. They also help you avoid workaholism, which is far less productive than it sounds.”

I’ve been gradually building more of these hard edges into my day. I’d especially recommend it if you flirt with burnout.

I learned this trick from 3 tiny habits and the Heath Brothers. You’re much more likely to follow through on your good intentions if you use if-then planning: if X happens, then I will do Y.  The if-then allows you to decide your course of action in advance, before you’re tired, stressed, or swamped.

For me, this looks like: If I pour a cup of coffee, then I pour a glass of water. If I’m at Trader Joe’s for the first time in a week, then I buy fresh flowers. If it’s 4:00 p.m. and I haven’t been to the park yet, then it’s time to walk the dog.

A few years ago, we dropped our Costco membership for this reason. I could never figure out when to go, and I thought about it a lot. (Now that they’ve opened a second area store much closer to where we live, this isn’t nearly as nerve-wracking.)

This is straight out of The Paradox of Choice. Too many options are just as bad as not enough: we’re happier and more productive when we consider fewer possibilities. Here’s a recent example. We’ve needed new bedding for a while. I didn’t like the options at our local bedding store, but when I started looking online I was overwhelmed by the choices. I couldn’t handle shopping the whole internet, or even the whole mall. I needed fewer options.

I explained my dilemma to my designer friend and asked her to tell me where to shop. She recommended a single store, which brought my options back into the reasonable range. (Her answer: Pottery Barn.)

I’ve been on an organizing kick lately, and the amount of organizing goods out there is completely overwhelming—so many tips and tools from so many sources. I am helpless against all of Pinterest. Last week I decided to limit my options, and resolved to focus on just one area (the pantry) and place an order from just one store (The Container Store). And now our pantry looks pretty great. Are there better, cheaper options out there? Probably. But the job is done, and that’s good enough for me.

How do you streamline decision making in your daily life? I’d love to hear your obvious and not-so-obvious tips and tricks?


Leave A Comment
  1. Jan says:

    Anne, love your tips. I suffer from decision fatigue too and fall down the rabbit hole of googling everything then get overwhelmed with too much information and give up. One question: which pottery barn sheets did you get and do you love them? (The link isn’t working). Thanks!

      • Jan says:

        Thank you! I misunderstood. I’m exhaustively researching bed sheets, not duvet covers. Thanks though, I googled the duvet cover and it’s lovely ?

        • Joni says:

          Oh gracious….may I recommend true linen….it is awesome, awesome, awesome. Far and away better than any other cotton option I have ever slept upon, anywhere.

          • Jan says:

            Joni, interesting! I have seen other people recommend linen too. Do you have a particular brand you recommend? Do you have to iron?

  2. Amy says:

    What a great post! I just wrote about decision fatigue last week myself, and after tracking my decisions for a month, I was stunned by how much mental bandwidth I use deciding what to eat, what to wear, what time to get started writing, etc. These constant mini-decisions fatigue my brain and make the bigger, harder decisions all but impossible. No wonder I spin my wheels. I’m going to get The Paradox of Choice pronto. Also, on the eating front, I made a list of healthy foods I love a few years ago and then planned simple meals from that list. It works wonders rather than trying to ‘cut out’ the bad stuff. 🙂

  3. Carrie says:

    Thank you for this! My meal habits were horrible because I hated having to decide what to make. Now I typically eat the same thing for breakfast during the week. I’ve hated eating a big meal for dinner at night and have taken to eating healthier breakfast foods for it. Quick, easy,lighter and no big decisions on what to make. When one of the kids is coming over for dinner, typically on a weekend, I will plan a full homecooked meal, usually based on decisions on what they would like to eat. Lunch I give myself a few options but it has to be something typically prepared (leftovers from weekend meals, frozen homemade soups and a few other easily grabbable foods ie, tuna). Now my eating habits are fairly regular and much more healthier. I eat out far less often so it’s a money saver too. I’ve had people question me on eating the same things so often but it works for me.

  4. Emily DeArdo says:

    YES! Definitely something I try to do in my daily life. Breakfast is always the same thing. Lunch is almost always the same thing. Partially because I’m trying to lose weight and so it’s easier if I just know what I’m going to eat, but also because, I hate thinking about it! I’m in the process of creating a better daily routine, because I know things will flow much better–I’m reading The Power of Habit right now to help there.

  5. Beth B. says:

    As far as organization, there is an LA-based business called Life in Jeneral (yes J, her name is Jen) and their instagram ideas are AMAZING. I thought I’d mention it since all the products they use in their stunning before/after photos are from The Container Store.

  6. Geri says:

    My husband says I suffer from “analysis paralysis.” I have to look at EVERY option before I make a decision. That makes even a simple task difficult. Having so much information online makes that even harder. I am aware that I do this, but have a hard time making a decision and letting go.

  7. Jes Z Smith says:

    I love these ideas! I suffer from General Anxiety and decision making is one of the fastest ways to flare up my anxiety. One of my first steps is to decide what days to do Laundry, Groceries, run errands so i am not stuck trying to fit it in. And the meal ideas were also a huge help. Most evenings I am stuck with what to make. And knowing Mondays are fish days or Tuesdays are Indian Cuisine will be a huge help.
    Thank you for all the suggestions!

    • These are such great tips! Paring down my wardrobe helped me so much with decision fatigue, and picking out clothes the night before took it a step further. Recently I decided not to watch television at all on a weeknight. It was causing me to stay up too late, and I always agonized over whether or not I had enough time. This gives me more time to read, cuts out one last decision, and keeps me from watching “one more show.”

  8. Jennifer says:

    I needed this list. Beyond clothing and food, I hadn’t put much thought into what other areas might be good for limited decision-making. Implementing decision angst and limited options would be useful places for me to start. Thanks.

  9. Kelly Paquette says:

    Breakfast is the same thing, until I get tired of it. I switch it up about once a month. I meal plan dinners and lunch is always the leftovers from the night before. When my boys were still at home I made a monthly menu and posted it. Never had to deal with “What’s for dinner.” Sometimes we had to deviate, but it made shopping and cooking so much easier. Now my goal is to get the wardrobe under control!

  10. Louisa says:

    Re “We’ve needed new bedding for a while…,” what made you decide you needed new bedding? How did you distinguish “need” from “want”?

    • Anne says:

      Because we only had one pair of king sheets, and those sheets had holes in them! And the comforter was 15 years old and unwashable. This was not a borderline situation. 🙂

  11. What I’d like to know is what time you get up 🙂 If you’re up and writing before a 6 am workout, you definitely are a morning person. That’s what I’d like to learn to do/be!

  12. Deborah Lewis says:

    I love the idea of the idea of “if x, then y” rule for setting healthy habits. I am think I will set the rule: if in bed, no social media or online shopping. The goal is to use that time to read more books!!

  13. Diana says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially with just adding a new baby! I wear the same thing every Friday and will until the weather improves (my favorite blue sweater, skinny jeans, slippers (or boots if leaving the house)). Same with Sunday – the same thing every week, post church. I eat basically the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day. I have a pretty set schedule for how the days go, until the baby throws it off! But nice to have some decisions made for me in the middle of a crazy time!

  14. Ginger says:

    Re: lunch
    We have had this (or some version of this) I can’t even count how many times since it was in our Blue Apron box a while ago.


    I’ve substituted different lettuces (but it needs a good, hearty green), and most often left out the potatoes, but the dressing here is the key. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s changed my life (when you’re dairy free, your creamy dressing options are limited, and this one is delicious).

    Consider your spring lunch fatigue solved (I hope). #lunchbossy

  15. Kristina says:

    Oh man, we are so lucky to have decision fatigue. What riches we have — too many options for too many foods and consumer goods that are available to us and that we can afford. It’s thought provoking that such blessings can create such anxiety in so many.

  16. I am also easily overwhelmed by too many choices – so I wear almost the same thing every day, and eat the same thing for breakfast. Lunch is either leftovers or a sandwich/soup from my favorite cafe. And I needed the reminder about establishing “hard edges.” Such a great post!

  17. Ann says:

    Limiting options – YES!!! I needed to hear this because sometimes I just get so overwhelmed and paralyzed and down rabbit trails. I irritate myself! Love the practical about buying from the Container store and Pottery Barn for two specific things. Yes and more yes! I get so much out of your practical and interesting posts! Thanks! And also from your readers in the comments! Great tips I will actually use!

  18. Rachel Hannah says:

    Hi Anne,
    This is a wonderful post. Planning ahead takes so much stress out of life. I too get the 2 pm slump and am wondering if you could share how you deal with this? I would really appreciate it. I’ve had a difficult time dealing with it.

  19. Andrea says:

    I’m working on streamlining as well! Loved having a peek into your day. I’d love to know what you do when you hit that 2 p.m. slump? Mine is at 3…I don’t drink coffee and I’m limiting sugar. Any ideas? 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  20. Katie says:

    I love the idea of a morning routine, but I just can’t seem to implement one, at least during the workweek! I have to be in the car, on the road by seven and I am not interested in waking before my 6:15 alarm. But maybe my thermos of coffee and NPR for the twenty minutes it takes to get to work counts as a routine?

  21. Karen Floyd Shepherd says:

    Thank you! Great post and very timely for me as I’m trying to get my life under control after the winter doldrums. My problem of being a born ruminator with ADD is compounded by having a work schedule that is not the same every day. On the days I work evenings I go to bed later which throws my attempts at a morning routine out of whack. On the other hand, I have two free mornings a week for appointments, and, now that it’s finally spring, working in my garden. I need to establish those hard edges you talk about, and also start making my lunches the night before.

  22. Pam Hopkins says:

    I match up my outfits in the closet as I put away my clean clothes. When I get up in the morning, I just put on the next outfit in line. If the first outfit doesn’t work, I’ll wear the next one in line. If I find I’ve skipped a certain outfit several times, I consider what it is that I don’t like about that outfit. It may be time to get rid of something.

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