How to Handle Complex Decision Fatigue

Understand the impact of complex decision fatigue & learn strategies to reduce its effects for more effective problem solving
WLA - Handle Complex Decisions
Women & Leadership New Zealand
2 min read

As leaders, it is important to make time to reset and refocus. Without this, we risk becoming fatigued, which leads to problems with motivating teams, making clear, considered decisions, and feeling engaged and motivated in your work. The Vital Leadership series of blogs look at how leaders can thrive. In this blog, we look at Complex Decision Fatigue.

What is complex decision fatigue?

Have you ever noticed that your ability to make decisions dwindles as the day goes on? It’s easy to attribute this to being tired, but it’s actually more involved than that – every time we make a decision, our ability to consider our options and potential consequences depletes a bit.

Complex decision fatigue refers to the effect that decision making has on our cognitive state. The term was coined by Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist, to demonstrate the emotional and mental strain that is created by making multiple decisions throughout the day. Interestingly, researchers have found that with smaller, routine decisions, our ability to make decisions is not greatly depleted. It is when we must focus on more complex or less routine situations that our capacity to make decisions can begin to fade. Over time, complex decision fatigue can also lead to stress, headaches, irritability, and increased anxiety.

Signs of complex decision fatigue

There are several signs to look out for that might indicate that you or your team are struggling with complex decision fatigue:

  • Procrastination
  • Impulsivity
  • Avoidance
  • Indecision

Tips for overcoming complex decision fatigue

There are many things you can do to minimise your risk of experiencing complex decision fatigue.

Automate your less complex decisions

By having a work uniform, planning and preparing your meals in advance and creating a predictable routine before and after work, you minimise the amount of decisions you have to make each day. Even though these decisions are less complex, they still save brain space for more complex decision making.

Optimise your schedule
Do you feel freshest first thing in the morning? Try to keep it free, and use that time to strategise, plan and make decisions. Conversely, if you find you think more clearly in the afternoons, prioritise that time for complex thinking and decision making. Leave your more mundane or ‘routine’ tasks for times where you feel tired or need a break.

Practice positive wellbeing
While our capacity to make complex decisions is depleted BY making complex decisions, you can still take steps to proactively increase your ability to think critically and decisively. Eating well, sleeping and having rest times will help you overcome complex decision fatigue. While prioritising your wellbeing is sometimes the last thing on your mind, it really couldn’t be more important. Use these tips to reduce fatigue and increase your energy and enthusiasm at work.

Learn more about complex decision fatigue in the Decision making: leading in uncertainty masterclass. This masterclass is part of the 2023 Vital Leadership Series.