Tech Manager—Decision Fatigue

I started the series, Secrets Tech Managers Keep, with how Tech Managers are tired of things. I will end it on another “tired” note… being tired for making all the decisions. Some call it decision fatigue. You just get tired of making all the calls. You get tired of deciding so many things. You get tired of others not wanting to make a choice. The American Medical Association defines it as, “A state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions,”.

We all feel this from time to time. Decisions are made all day long, from what to eat for breakfast, the route may take to get to the office, where to park, who to talk with first once on-site, prioritizing your work and more. All of these choices are being made by you and you haven’t even had anyone bring you their decision needs yet. When others bring their troubles to you and you must help them work through options or choices, even more decisions need to be made. The more decisions you make, fatigue starts to take a toll. By the end of the day, you are not as good at making calls as you were at the start. And if you require some research to make the decision… it drains even more energy. By the time you are deciding what to eat for lunch, you’re pooped out.

Taking a medical slant on decision strain, let’s define symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment.


When you have decision fatigue, you may find yourself putting off decisions (procrastinating) and not making a call at all in hopes that the problem will fix itself or just fade away (indecision). You could be delaying decisions hoping others will come up with an answer, so you don’t have to (avoidance). You may be making quick decisions and not giving it the pondering it deserves (impulsivity).

You may experience brain fogs and things seem to get fuzzy. You find it hard to clarify issues and remember what options are viable. You may start making trade-offs and taking one option over another based on issues that are not germane to the topic (like a time crunch forcing a choice). You may feel exhausted at the end of the day and when you look back, you think you got very little done.


You have decision fatigue, and you are making bad calls, or at least not the best calls. Sometimes it is the volume of the decisions required or the impact of the decision that causes more fatigue, but either way, you are tired. Every decision drains your “decider” battery, but bigger ones drain your ability even more.


If left untreated, you will start making bad decisions. Make enough bad decisions and people start losing confidence in your ability to make a good call. Exhaustion can set in. You can change that prognosis and be at the top of your game. Knowing the warning signs and knowing that you are getting fatigued helps. Be aware of your ability and adjust as the day goes on. You can do something to increase your ability in decision-making and your stamina as the days and weeks march on. Read on.


Make the big choices first thing in the morning or early in the day. After 3pm, put off large impact decisions until the next day if possible. Sleeping on it or thinking about it on the drive home can bring clarity. I have made better decisions just by giving a little more time to thinking.

Reduce the options. If you are trying to decide on risk or negative impacts, define what is possible, what is probable and what is predicted. Throw out the “possibles”, they may never happen. Focus on the “probables” and, better yet, the “predictables”. If you can predict a negative outcome with a high degree of certainty, it makes a decision easier.

Take a break. Take a walk. Go get a cup of coffee. Go talk to someone outside the decision loop and get some input. Just move outside the stress of the decision and breathe a little. It will help clear your mind and might turn on a light bulb or two. At a minimum, it might bring your blood pressure down.

Don’t overthink it. If you are straining to pick between fairly equal options, just pick one and move on it. If it is nearly a 50/50 choice, or even 45/55, just pick one. You can always change direction if something shows up as a negative. The delay of indecision may have greater impact than the delay of changing direction after you get started. If you get above 85% certainty that you have the right answer, move forward. Stiving for any more certainty will take more time and move the needle very little. Move on.

Delegate. Let someone else make the call. This is really the first thing you should look at. Are you the right person to make the selection? Is it within your area of authority? If not, move it to someone else. If others can make a decision as good or better than you, have them take it on. The best way to avoid decision fatigue is to make fewer decision.

Define a due date. If you really can’t decide, set a time to make the decision. Get agreement on the timeline and then circle back later and see if anything has changed are improved that adjusts the choices. And when setting due dates, don’t make things due on late Friday. Set due dates for mid-day Monday. That buys you the weekend to think and the morning to review your decision or bounce it off a buddy at work.

Making more decisions improves your decision-making ability. I wrote extensively on making decisions. You might go back and read my articles, Tech Manager—Making the Call, and Tech Manager—Making the Call, Part Two. That might also help. Don’t let fatigue push you into making less than optimal decisions. Pace yourself, watch for signs of fatigue and make some adjustments. Keep in mind that people need you to make consistently good choices.

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