After a day full of work-related decisions, the last thing I want to do is figure out what to have for dinner. My choice is to not choose, to instead leave the decision up to my friends at a meal box service like Hello Fresh or Home Chef.

Can you relate?

There’s a name for this. It’s called decision fatigue. When it hits, at home or at work, hopefully someone else can help us move off dead center so we don’t settle for a meal of chips and salsa or remain mired in inaction at work.

It’s interesting, though, that even when we are having trouble deciding something for ourselves, we usually don’t have a problem choosing an option for someone else.


“Even when we are having trouble deciding something for ourselves, we usually don’t have a problem choosing an option for someone else.


How (and when) does decision fatigue happen?

“By taking upon the role of adviser rather than decision maker, one does not suffer the consequences of decision fatigue,” says Evan Polman in a Fast Company article. Polman is an assistant professor of marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business who has studied decision making.

In our professional lives, indecision leads to no progress. We put out fires but don’t solve underlying problems. We don’t start new initiatives. Active change always carries risk, which is something we avoid when we’re stressed. But objective observers will be less risk-averse. They have less on the line. This is one reason why collaboration can lead to better decisions.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Polman reports on a recent study that identified two mindsets of decision makers, adventurous and cautious. The research found that people making decisions for themselves tend to have a cautious mindset. They consider fewer options at a time and drill down to the granular level in their deliberations. They tend to be more reserved and are clearly averse to risk.

On the other hand, people making decisions for others are more likely to have an adventurous mindset. They look at a wider array of options and consider the bigger picture. They aren’t afraid of novelty and recommend a decision with gusto.

“People are more creative on behalf of others,” says Polman. “When we are brainstorming ideas to other people’s problems, we’re inspired; we have a free flow of ideas to spread out on the table without judgment, second-guessing, or overthinking.”


“Active change always carries risk, which is something we avoid when we’re stressed. But objective observers will be less risk-averse. They have less on the line. This is one reason why collaboration can lead to better decisions.”


Three keys to making better decisions:

Enlist a “mentor or a blunt friend.” Why blunt? Polman says a high-empathy person will share the stress of your decision making, which will make them risk-averse on your behalf. That’s what you want to avoid. The best decision advisor is dispassionate, not personally involved, confident, and knowledgeable.

Step back and observe yourself. Polman describes this as a fly-on-the-wall perspective. Another analogy is to picture yourself having an out-of-body experience. As you deliberate the question at hand, he even advises that you talk to yourself: “(Your name), what about this? I think you should…” Become your own advisor.

Outsource decisions. You don’t have to go it alone. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. For instance, business owners often ask us to consult when they have marketing decisions to make. We open the creativity gates, so to speak, work with their team, and advise on problem solving and growth strategies from our experience.

The consequences of decision fatigue

Indecision is a choice that has consequences. It also carries risk. Sure, sometimes waiting makes sense. So does getting all the facts and analyzing options. However, allowing the process to cross the line into procrastination, endless meetings, and overthinking is costly.

  • What opportunities are you losing?
  • What return on investment are you not yet receiving?
  • What potential partners who are ready to move forward might choose to work with someone else?
  • What problem is continuing to harm your organization until you stop the bleeding?
  • What in your life will lead to burnout if you don’t shift your course?

Becoming aware of the costs of indecision can sometimes motivate us to make the choice. It’s something to think about.

Need help overcoming decision fatigue?

Could you use a sounding board for a marketing or communications-related decision in order to move your business toward your goals? Call us at 720-722-2987 or click the blue button below to request a time for conversation.

GET OFF THE FENCE. LET’S TALK!