In Celebrating Sabbatical, I said, “Decision fatigue is real.” It was one of the dawning awarenesses I enjoyed basking in during my sabbatical. There were long, consecutive days where the biggest decision I had to make was what to attempt to fix that wasn’t working or what to fix that I had broken while attempting to fix it (thank goodness for YouTube). I had to make dramatically fewer decisions (and especially significant ones) over those two months, and I grew into the awareness of how tired I was from decision making.

I was both tired of and addicted to decision making. It’s an unholy coexistence.

I’m a Type A, Type 1, initiator, go-getter, status quo questioning, and coffee-fueled kind of guy. When I chose sabbatical, my status quo abruptly changed. As the quiet descended like a down blanket, I found my mind still pedaling and preparing for next as if I was engaged in a triathlon. It took almost three weeks for the mental/spiritual treadmill to stop. The funny thing was that I kept walking on it, forcing the belt’s rotation, even after it had been unplugged.

When everything stopped, one day it hit me. “I’m tired of making decisions.”

The Idolization of Decision Makers

People who will make decisions become idolized by those who won’t. The person who is able to make a wise, quick (they’re not always mutually exclusive) decision becomes the organizational go-to. I think in our church leadership, I had either anointed myself (needing to justify my existence) or allowed others to default to me on decison-making by virtue of my positional authority. I didn’t notice the danger.

When people come to you and ask, “What do you think about this… color, design, wording, timing of event…” consistently, you learn to do something crazy – you answer them. You give an opinion. Strangely, your opinion winds up becoming the decision. And so a decision is made. Events are set in motion. Things are checked off a list. Products are ordered. Etc. And the responsibility rests at your feet because you made the mistake of… making a decision.

I began to ask myself how many decisions I had been making that others should have been making without my input. How many decisions did I really need to make? What had I cultivated and enabled in our culture that led to my becoming the default decision-er? What responsibilities was I assuming (and preventing others from assuming) by making decisions?

I also began to wonder if those who make decisions confidently and thoughtfully are being taken advantage of?

It’s not just the decision, but the responsibility for the decision that is weighty. Many people don’t like being ultimately responsible.

Responding instead of leading

In addition, a constant flow of decision-making moments required me to live in response mode. I began to see that making decisions could be wrong when they weren’t necessary decisions for me to make. The fleeting mental effort required for menial decisions adds up. And the thoughtfulness required for significant decisions, when multiplied, takes a toll. When I expended constant energy in decision-making brought to me by others, I could not chart a course forward in vision and strategy. I found myself living from one needed decision to the next, filling up time in-between with routine administration, answering emails, meetings and follow-ups. Even in  the few weeks that I’ve been back in the office, I feel pulled again toward making decisions I don’t need to.

It’s extremely difficult to lead when you’re responding to others. I’ve heard it said and agree, “If you don’t make your own agenda, it will be made for you.”

The Weight of Daily Decisions

“It felt like I was reacting to external influences rather than proactively deciding anything,” said Mark Macdonald in his book Be Known for Something. He says we make almost 5000 decisions in a 16-hour day. Big, small, routine. Decisions add up. I felt the truth of it before I read it. Decision-making drains.

My friend, former business partner and college roomie, Mitch Bettis has a unique approach to eliminate one type of decision-making in his day. He always wears red socks. Bright red socks. Part of why he wears them is due to his color-blindness, but his decision to buy all red socks was essentially to eliminate the waste of time in trying to figure out if his socks matched. He reduced his daily decisions by making one overarching decision. Genius.

Did you know that former President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg basically wear the same outfit every day to cut down on making decisions? Obama either wore a grey or blue suit. Zuckerberg usually wears a grey t-shirt. As Obama told Vanity Fair in 2012, managing your life as a president requires that you cut away the mundane, frustrating decisions. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing, because I have too many other decisions to make.” (source)

Electronics/technology trap

During my sabbatical, as things slowly got quieter and my brain’s rotation spinned down, I noticed something. My iPhone seemed to have an invisible tether to my eyes. I found great encouragement in going for an hour or more and not looking down at my phone. I had long ago eliminated all notifications on my lock screen. I don’t see texts and such there. My phone is always on silent/vibrate, and it’s become very easy to ignore as a result. But technology trains us. Like Jim trained Dwight in The Office to reach for an Altoid at the chime of Windows starting up, we too are conditioned to reach for our phones far more regularly than we realize.

That’s a decision that begets a hundred more. Be wary. You decide to tap Instagram. You decide to “heart” an image. You decide to leave a comment on a post. You decide to open Facebook. You decide to play that game. You decide to check your email after work. Your smart phone is a decision factory. Be wary, friend, be wary.

Today’s decisions

I made the decision today to finish this blog article. I enjoy writing. I enjoy being helpful (hope this is). And I’m enjoying deferring decisions. I’m still in growth mode, still learning. I welcome your input and suggestions as to what you’ve found most helpful. In the meantime, if you’ll decide to share this post, I’d appreciate it, and it will help you become more accountable with others about your own decision-making and begin a journey away from fatigue into purposeful, paced, life leadership.

More reading

If you want to know more about decision fatigue, try these articles:

On this day...

Follow Me
Latest posts by Jeff Noble (see all)