Why we can only make a certain number of decisions per day

If your brain feels so ‘full’ that you feel mentally paralysed, you’re probably suffering from decision fatigue.
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Do you ever get the feeling, after a busy day at work or running around after children, or both, that if you’re asked to make another decision your brain might just explode? It’s sometimes the reason why having to decide what’s for dinner can be a step too far.

Well, it turns out it’s a real phenomenon – it’s called decision fatigue.

According to experts at Florida State University, it’s the reason so many normally logical, rational people end up making silly, snap decisions when things end up in the too hard basket.

Feeling overwhelmed? Turns out it’s a real phenomenon. (Image: Getty Images)

We’re lacking the mental energy for our brain to go through the convoluted process it has to negotiate each time it has to make a decision, so it starts taking shortcuts instead. Either we make a rash decision, because it’s quicker, or we fail to make any decision at all.

READ MORE: How to look after your mental health at work.

A series of controlled tests took place with participants in a series of decision-testing situations: grocery buying at the supermarket, bargain hunting at shopping malls, and weighing up which car to buy at a car dealership.

The evidence was easy to see: we have a finite amount of brain space dedicated to making decisions – so use the brainspace early on, for the decisions that matter.

Try introducing a few ‘non-negotiables’ into your weekly schedule. If your Saturday morning yoga class is a non-negotiable, or Sunday brunch with the kids, the decision is already made for you!

We only have a finite amount of brain space. (Image: Getty Images)

Five tips to help you out

1. Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings.

2. Tackle your big tasks in the morning.

3. Have the same breakfast every day, and organise your lunches in advance.

Need a hand getting started with meal prep? Watch the video below.

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4. Have a ‘work uniform’, where you wear the same outfit every day, or a ‘work week’ collection of five outfits you wear every week – like fashion designers Emilia Wickstead and Vera Wang.

Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of healthcare company Theranos, whose own uniform is a black turtleneck, says, “It makes it easy, because every day you put on the same thing and don’t have to think about it – one less thing in your life. All my focus is on the work.”

5. Set up regular appointments to exercise at the same time every day or week.

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