The first time I really noticed a serious lack of mental energy was the final weeks leading up to my wedding. By the week before I was experiencing serious decision fatigue. I was so tired of weighing pros and cons and deciding what was best. It was extremely taxing to do so by that time. Shortly after my wedding New York Times published an article called Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? It was really enlightening. A few minutes later I realized that I was again struggling to have enough mental energy at work. As I evaluated what was going on, I found that I spent a lot of time making decisions. Since I’m in charge of my own schedule, decisions I had to make every ranged from ‘what will I do today?’ ‘what are my priorities’ ‘what should I eat for lunch?’ ‘what should I make for supper?’ on top of having intense meetings with people and speaking more and more in a second language. By November I was really tired of all the decisions I had to make all the time. I’m a really low structure person, so I love the freedom I have in my work, but I was finding it was stealing energy from my most important tasks: meeting with people.
The Power of Habits
Back in October I listed this interview in my weekly must read. It helped me figure out how to manage some of those problems I had last year. If you don’t have time to watch the interview, here’s the key thing I took away from it: your brain actually powers down when you’re engaging in a habitual activity. That’s why smoking is so hard to quit. It isn’t necessarily the nicotine so much as it is the rest your brain gets while doing that habitual activity. I bet you know where I’m going to go with this now.
Developing Habits to Conserve energy
Last year I took a step towards controlling my life and decided to do meal plans. I found that I was so tired after work that the idea of thinking of what to make was just too much, even though I really enjoy cooking! So Sunday evenings I make a meal plan for the week and go grocery shopping on Monday evening after work. Then I post the meal plan in our kitchen so I don’t even need to think. I’ve already decided what was best to eat what day based on what we were doing. Setting aside 30-40 minutes to meal plan and grocery shop every week at the same time saved me a lot of mental stress. It was a real turning point for me. This one switch had a real impact on my life.
This might mean different things for different people. Some might benefit from the meal-planning idea. Others might benefit from having a set schedule every week at work (if their jobs are like mine) where they have allotted time for their various responsibilities and keep that pattern every week so they don’t have to think ‘what do I do now?’ after an appointment. For business leaders it might mean sticking closely to your Strategic Plan, instead of changing and rethinking it every month. If you focus on executing, you’ll have more energy to do just that. If you’re a mom, maybe the habits that would be helpful to build is a routine/schedule with your kids so you have more energy to deal with their meltdowns.
The point is, when you’re not making 1000 decisions a day about what’s next or what your priorities, you have more emotional energy for the people/things that matter most.
So what about you? What habits or routines do you think would be helpful for you to incorporate in your life/work to avoid decision fatigue or wasting mental energy? Click here to leave a comment.