ABC’s of Dealing with Decision Fatigue

By Judi Sheppard Missett, Founder and Executive Chair of Jazzercise, Inc., and a proud Member Sponsor of the 2024 WPO Entrepreneurial Excellence Forum.

Several studies tell us that the average American makes an estimated 35,000 decisions a day. Whether functioning as Chief Decision Maker for your family or your company, most of the decisions you make are small and relatively inconsequential – what to wear, when to eat, which route to take to and from work. But many decisions are large, with significant potential impact on yourself, your family, your employees, and your business. You probably don’t need scientists to tell you (though they’re out there and they will) that the cumulative effect of all this decision-making is mental, emotional, and physical fatigue. Further, when you’re experiencing decision fatigue, your ability to evaluate trade-offs, self-regulate emotions, and make good decisions is impaired. Realistically, what can you do?

A. Understand Decision Fatigue

In a recent interview with the American Medical Association’s series “What Doctors Wish Patients Knew,” Dr. Lisa MacLean, psychiatrist and chief wellness officer for Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System explained, “The more choices you have to make, the more it can wear on your brain, and it may cause your brain to look for short cuts.” The four main short cuts our decision-fatigued brains favor, Dr. MacLean says, are “procrastination, impulsivity, avoidance, and indecision.”

“You are either putting the decision off until later, making a rash decision, avoiding the decision altogether, or battling back and forth between various choices.” Additionally, Dr. MacLean adds, there’s a recklessness factor. “You might notice that you get angrier with colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, or impulsively buy more junk food.”

B. Strategically Reduce Your Choices

Dr. MacLean and many other experts suggest a key strategy to reduce decision fatigue is streamlining your volume of choices.

Billionaire Warren Buffet, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, maintains that “the greatest commodity of all is time.” He adds, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” To get to a “no” or a “yes” decision quickly, Buffet employs his signature “5/25 Rule”: Identify your top 25 important tasks; prioritize them by importance; only focus on the top 5; ignore the remaining 20 tasks.   

Like Warren Buffet, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos claims to limit himself to just a few big decisions per day. In a live interview with Washington’s Economic Club, he explained, “As a senior executive, you get paid to make a small number of high-quality decisions.” Further, Bezos restricts the timing of his most important decisions. “I do my high-IQ meetings before lunch. Like, anything that’s going to be really mentally challenging, that’s a 10 o’clock meeting. And by 5 p.m., I’m like, ‘I can’t think about that today. Let’s try this again tomorrow at 10 a.m.’”    

Apple founder Steve Jobs famously eliminated wardrobe decisions by wearing the same outfit every day: black turtleneck, Levi’s 501 classic fit jeans, and white sneakers. Similarly, while in the White House, President Barack Obama pared down his wardrobe choices to only gray or blue suits. “You need to focus your decision-making energy,” Obama explained to Vanity Fair magazine. “You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

Dr. MacLean provides further, practical decision-streamlining advice. “Avoid random decision-making by making lists. That way when you are at the grocery store, you don’t have to decide what to buy.” Also, she suggests setting up automatic bill paying; using GPS to find your way more easily; routinely simplifying your life by cutting out things that aren’t important; and empowering others by delegating less impactful decisions to them.

C. Structure Your Key Decision-Making Process

In over five decades of shepherding Jazzercise from a single class of 15 women to a global fitness empire, l have learned that it is critical to have a plan for making big decisions wisely and with conviction. Here’s the three-step process that has always worked for me. I call it “head, heart, gut.”

Step 1: Use your head. When confronting a major decision, gather enough information to make a reasoned choice. You don’t need to know everything. Too much can get you stuck in “analysis paralysis.” But you do need a clear enough grasp of the pros and cons to assess your options and engage your brain’s creative problem-solving. 

Step 2: Check in with your heart. Tune into the way you feel about the challenge you’re facing and the potential solutions you’re considering. It’s important to process your feelings about your choice, and make sure your heart is “in the right place” on the choice your head is favoring. 

Step 3: Finally, listen to your gut—that inner voice that encompasses all your passion, experience, strength, talents, skills, mishaps, and learned lessons. If something doesn’t sit right with you, listen to your hesitation. Take the time to mull it over. Proceed only when your inner voice agrees. It will never steer you wrong.

The biggest advantage to using the “head, heart, gut” process in making a critically important decision is the confidence it gives you to move on. No need to waste time worrying or second-guessing yourself. Keep moving forward, energized by having done your best.      


About the Author

Judi Sheppard Missett is the Founder and Executive Chair of Jazzercise, Inc., the world's largest franchise dance fitness company. A renowned fitness expert and exercise pioneer, she has received numerous prestigious business awards, including the Presidential Commendation for Top Women Entrepreneurs, four Hall of Fame inductions, and the Sports Entrepreneur of the Year Award. For more hard-won insights and heartfelt advice on how to build your business and make the all-important Body-Mind-Spirit Connection, check out Judi’s national best-selling book Building a Business with a Beat.