Teachers Suffer from Decision Fatigue

by | Mar 28, 2021 | Tips & Tricks

By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder

Teachers make 1,500 decisions a day. ONE THOUSANDS FIVE HUNDRED DECISIONS. If research estimates are correct, those 1,500 decisions equals about 4 decisions each minute you are teaching. No wonder you are exhausted! 

The result is that teachers suffer from decision fatigue. Are you one of the many?

Does this sound familiar?

  • Your spouse walks in from work and innocently asks, “What’s for dinner?” and you are ready to take his or her head off?
  • Your child asks if they can have a friend spend the night and you can’t decide on an answer.
  • Your principal stops by after school to ask your opinion about which textbook you like for the reading series adoption and when he leaves you burst into tears.
  • Deciding where you want to go to eat, what to wear in the morning, or which radio station to listen to seems like too big of a decision to tackle and you want someone to just make the freaking decision for you.

What you are experiencing is a condition called decision fatigue, and it was coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister.

What is Decision Fatigue?

Decision fatigue is the idea that after making many decisions, a person’s ability to make additional decisions becomes worse.

We’ve all been there. I remember complaining to my husband in exasperation,“Why can’t you just decide something for once! All I do all day is make decisions!”

At the time, I didn’t realize the magnitude of the number of decisions, but I felt every single one of them.  

According to this theory, a person’s ability to make decisions can get worse after making many decisions, as their brain will be more fatigued. The idea is that like a battery runs down with overuse, your brain will have less energy to make decisions. 

While some researchers claim this is an unproven theory, as a teacher who has experienced the sheer exhaustion of making a thousand decisions all day long, every single day, I tend to side with the believers in this theory. One easy comparison is to consider how you feel about decision making at the end of the school day compared to the end of the day during summer break. If you’re like me, there is no comparison!

Signs of Decision Fatigue 

These are signs you might be experiencing decision fatigue according to Healthline

  • Procrastination (you just put off making decisions until the last possible moment)
  • Impulsivity (you make decisions but do so randomly, impulse shopping for example)
  • Avoidance (you simply avoid making decisions at all costs)
  • Indecision (you can’t make up your mind, so you take the easy way out or go along with things that aren’t in your best interest)

Decision fatigue can lead to irritability, increased anxiety and depression as well as brain fog, headaches and even digestive issues.

Who’s at Risk of Decision Fatigue?

According to Medical News Today people at most risk of decision fatigue:

  • make many decisions throughout the day
  • feel greatly affected by the decisions they make
  • make very stressful decisions
  • make very complex decisions
  • make decisions affecting other people in a significant way

Ways to Handle Decision Fatigue

The number of one way that is recommended to combat decision fatigue is to minimize low stakes decisions. Okay, I laughed at that too! Obviously, that idea wasn’t suggested by a teacher!

While this is a factor teachers cannot control, there are some other suggestions to minimize the impact.

Prioritize Your Decisions

The first idea is to prioritize the decisions you make. Because you make a thousand-plus decisions on the fly each day, make a priority list of the decisions you know you are going to have to make. This will help relieve stress. 

Examples:

You know you are going to have to prepare dinner. Take a few minutes over the weekend and prepare a list of foods you will fix each night. That will eliminate a stressful decision at the end of the day when you are already exhausted. 

If you take your lunch, prepare it the night before to eliminate early morning decisions. Plus, think how nice it will be to just grab it and go!

Coordinate a week’s worth of clothes and hang them front and center in your closet so you won’t have to make a decision each day about what to wear. If you have children, teach them to do the same and you can avoid early morning whining and procrastination.

If possible, plan a few weekend errands and schedule them on your calendar, so you no longer have to figure out when to do them.

Track Your Decision Fatigue

Make note over a week or two of when you start to feel tension and stress from decision making. What time of day is it when you feel your patience waning? Once you know this, you can give yourself a quick brain break.

Depending on the time of day and your classroom schedule, here are a few quick tips:

  • Go breathe some fresh air. 
  • Do some squats or stretches.
  • Take 5-6 deep cleansing breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Suck on a peppermint.
  • Leave the classroom, even if it is just to take a trip to the bathroom.
  • Go find someone to laugh with.
  • Listen to your favorite song.
  • Turn on some music and dance with your class.

A second thing to track is when you make your best decisions and when are you the least decisive. Knowing yourself in this way will allow you to select less stressful times to make important decisions so you can make the best decision. It will also allow you to not make decisions when you know it is the worst time of day for you to make decisions. It’s okay to say, “I need some time to make this decision” when they hit you with a decision at the end of the day. 

Hold Off on Major Decisions

When you know you are experiencing decision fatigue, that is not the time to make big decisions. Instead, save big decisions for the weekends and breaks when you are fresh and able to consider pros and cons. 

Have you ever been grocery shopping and impulsively thrown things in your cart that you normally wouldn’t buy? Do you have clothes in your closet you haven’t worn that you bought spur of the moment?

Often those impulse buys happen when you are fatigued and not making clear decisions. Big decisions like buying a car, a house, or booking a vacation are often best served by holding off until you are not feeling decision fatigue.

Create Routines

One simple way to minimize minor decisions is to create routines both in your classroom and at home. If your students and your children know what to expect and when, it will decrease the number of questions. Hallelujah!

It will also decrease the number of decisions during the day because you will no longer have to think about them. The order you get ready in the morning or prepare for bedtime can become rote memory. Every simple step you routinely do becomes one less decision you have to make.

Conclusion

Decisions, and a lot of them, as a teacher are part of the job. You also can’t avoid decisions in your personal life. However, with a few adjustments, you may be able to overcome some of the decision fatigue you feel so you can enjoy your evenings with less stress and exhaustion.

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Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder

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