This Thing Called ‘Morning Decision Fatigue’

Getting Rid of It Is the Biggest Productivity Leap You’ll Ever Get

The pre-pandemic urban mornings were beautiful and busy. Every day had a pattern. After the alarm strikes, I’ll lie awake trying to decide whether I should get out of bed at that instance or sleep for 5 more minutes. After thinking about it for 15 minutes, I’d get up.

An hour and morning rituals later, I’ll sip my first glass of water. And I’ll look outside the window thinking about what to make for breakfast. Midway through making toast, I’ll wonder whether oats would have been a better choice. By the time the food is ready, my husband would have finished helping our son with his morning routines. Our toddler would be then handed over to me. Choosing matching clothes for our little man’s pre-school day is yet another decision process; one cute t-shirt, tiny pants, a sweater, his monkey-cap, jacket and socks. Shoes are the same every day during the cold months. So that’s one less decision to make.

After breakfast, I rush to get ready. That’s when I face the toughest decision serious of the weekday mornings — What to wear to the office? Of course, nothing too flowery, nothing too pink; nothing too flashy yet something unique. And then there is my hair, my earring, my shoes.

Now, with the at-home culture, as I look back, I realize that I was wasting those mornings and taking the time for granted.

The Gem called Morning

Tons of research has been done investigating the relationship between time-of-day and cognitive ability.

Long story short, the first two hours after you wake up are the most productive hours of your day.

Even if you wake up late, your first two hours are still the best time to get your work done. The word ‘early’ is a relative term. An hour that is early for me, maybe late for you. If you have slept well, you wake up with an alert mind irrespective of when you wake up. Still, people who do wake up at dawn have one extra advantage. The ‘most productive hour’ for them happens when the city sleeps. This means fewer disturbances and more focus.

While having a good sleep and waking up early is good, just doing those two won’t make our mornings productive. The way we utilize time is also critical.

The Decision Fatigue

Decision Fatigue is a term that has become popular in the realms of psychology and management in the last few years.

“It is the official term for that feeling when you’re overly stressed by the endless amount of decisions you’ve had to make throughout the day.” — healthline.com

Each decision that we take, makes us mentally tired. This makes the next decision harder to interpret and process. The more tired we get, the more we are prone to make decisions without analysing the pros and cons. For example, a study at Princeton University observed court judges and their decision patterns. The researchers learned that as the day progress, judges were more inclined to make easier decisions like declining parol without considering the plea. Sounds unfair, but that’s how all of us behave if we face decision fatigue.

We are bombarded with many choices in every aspect of our daily life. Having to choose from multiple options for everything single thing is actually bad for us. It is not the presence of choices that affects us. The repetitive decision process is what that makes us tired. It eventually leads to poor decisions, bad temper, and stress.

Morning Decision Fatigue

I’ve heard of decision fatigues. I understand the correlation between productivity and mornings. But it actually took me some time to put two and two together. My pre-pandemic mornings didn’t really need to have that many decision making events. I was wasting the most productive hours with unnecessary thoughts and choices. The earlier in the day, I was exhausting myself with decisions, the more early I would need a break. If I don’t take a break, I’m unknowingly making bad decisions.

Keeping It Simple

Years ago, when I was in college, we had a professor who used to wear only white outfits. Students used to make fun of his choice of white shoes, white pants, and white shirt. He wasn’t wearing the same outfit every day. Instead, he had an entire wardrobe that was white. Now I realize that it wasn’t just him, but many successful people wear the same thing every day.

For people like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg, what they do is more important than what they wear. If you look through their photos and videos available online, each of them has their unique style which they repeat every time. Except for a court hearing where he had to wear a suit, we have never seen Mark Zuckerberg in anything other than grey T-shirts and jeans. In an interview with the business-insider, he clarified that he has multiple same shirts. He also added the following.

“I really want to clear my life to make it simple so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,”

I frankly don’t think I can do it to the extend Mark does. I love colour. I love wearing different styles. However, there are a few things that could be done to avoid early morning wardrobe decisions.

  1. Have a specific style for work clothes. A simple pants/skirt, shirt/top, and coat. A pair of work shoes that go along with everything. A default work hairstyle, watch, and jewelery. (Check out Richard Branson’s style)
  2. Buy clothes only if it goes along with the items that you already have.
  3. Don’t buy too much.
  4. Prep your style beforehand. Some people spent an hour every Sunday evening to prep dress for the entire week. They choose six outfits along with all the necessary accessories and keep it in a specific place. Each morning, they take it, wear it and go. At least, prep it the day before. Morning search for the right dress not only takes away time, it can lead to early decision fatigue on that day.
  5. If you have school-going young kids, do it for them as well. Maybe involve them too in the Sunday dress prep.

Similar rules can be applied to any kind of time-wasting, repetitive decisions that you may encounter every morning. Breakfast, for instance, can be planned early so that you can just pick the ingredients and cook each morning. An idea that I recently read about was to have a plan for each day of the week throughout the month. Something like every Monday toast and avacado; Tuesday oats etc. So each morning, depending on the day of the week you can just grab the ingredients and cook. No decisions needed. This idea was initially popularised by dieticians as a way of balancing meals and knowing what you actually eat. But, it also helps with avoiding morning decision fatigue. Cooking in itself doesn’t need any of decisions in it. And it’s good to cook fresh in the morning.

Each of us might have different things that need to be sorted in our daily life. And all decisions-tasks can’t be avoided. The repetitive and useless tasks, however, needs to go and needs to be replaced with important tasks.

Don’t Forget To Take a Break

There are people who are lazy, people who are productive, people who fall in between and then there are people who are too productive that they don’t rest. The idea behind avoiding decision fatigue or any productivity tip for that matter, is to make the most out of work and then enjoy your day. All work and no play will indeed make Jack a dull boy.

Avoiding unnecessary decisions is only one step towards minimizing decision fatigue. The other critical step is to take breaks.

While it is important to sleep well to be alert in the morning, we need regular short breaks too. Those old water-cooler-conversations were indeed important. It is also critical to stop working after a point of time in the evening. Quality time with family, while chatting, cooking, cleaning or doing anything together is essential for your mental sanity. If they are away, call them. We live in a world where distances can be made shorter through telecommunication.

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” — Dumbledore in ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’

Success does not come with just hard work. Our decisions are equally important. Decision fatigue often goes easily unnoticed and can have major impacts on our future. It is necessary to eliminate unwanted decision processes that can exhaust us. We need to prioritize what, when, and how our energy is used up. We also need to understand that utilizing the best productivity techniques alone won’t do us any good. Rest is important. Quality time with loved ones is essential. They all contribute in helping us make the best decisions and leading a good life.

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