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Make Better Decisions by Only Making Them Once

By Jay Harrington

Every decision we make throughout a day progressively depletes our ability to make good decisions. This is called decision fatigue.

decision fatigue

Most mornings, I’m a model of productivity. I get up early, make coffee and am typically at my computer by 5:30 a.m. I get important work done, make a to-do list for my day, and fit a workout in before my kids get up. I eat a healthy breakfast, get the kids off to school, and then it’s back to work. In other words, I have a good morning routine.

However, by the time the sun sets, things typically start unraveling. By the time the kids get to bed around 9 p.m., I’m usually exhausted and, more often than I’d like to admit, I’ll default to a cold beer and Netflix. I may also complete the gluttonous trifecta with a salty snack.

Decision Fatigue Is Real

It’s pretty obvious: My evening routine, if you want to call it that, is lacking.

Of course, I’m not alone in making suboptimal decisions, especially late in the day. And that’s largely the result of having to make SO MANY decisions throughout the day.

For example, one study found that we make an average of 217 food-related decisions alone in a single day. Is it any surprise, then, that I’m reaching for chips instead of an apple at night?

Every decision we make throughout a day progressively depletes our ability to make good decisions. This is called “decision fatigue.” We run short on mental energy. The more decisions we make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for our brains. We start defaulting to easy, comfortable choices, which helps explain why my morning routine is solid but my evening one is lacking.

One-and-Done Decisions

The antidote to decision fatigue: Make a decision once, so you never have to make it again.

Here’s a small example of how one-and-done decision-making works.

In October 2019, I decided to post content on LinkedIn every business day, despite previously posting sporadically. After making the decision, there have only been a few days over the last three years that I’ve missed. And in the process, LinkedIn has become the No. 1 source of developing new business relationships for me — by a longshot.

Had I decided to post on LinkedIn “more often” or “three times a week,” every day I would have been confronted with the decision of whether or not to post. That would have made it easy to decide that tomorrow would be better or that I didn’t have anything interesting to say.

By making the decision once, now I don’t have to grapple with it every day. I don’t have to rely on willpower. I just do it habitually. It’s automatic.

The desire to make fewer decisions, especially on trivial things, and reserve brainpower for what’s most important, drives many successful people to streamline different aspects of their routines. One example is Steve Jobs’ decision to wear the same outfit every day.

Undoubtedly, there are people who have greater willpower and discipline than I do for whom a one-and-done approach isn’t necessary. But for me, and perhaps for you too, if I leave the door open even a crack, I’ll find a way to make an exception despite my best intentions. It’s far easier for me to shut the door completely so that I leave no choice but to take some beneficial action. I remove the variable of my fatigued decision-making.

This principle can be applied to things big and small in life, from exercise and investing to snacking and website browsing. And, yes, marketing and business development.

  • Do you find yourself struggling to find time for marketing and business development? If so, don’t wait for time to magically appear. Put a 30-minute time block on your calendar every day instead.
  • When it comes time to engage in marketing and business development, are you unclear what steps to take? If so, choose two to three tactics (posting on LinkedIn, reaching out to one key contact, making progress on a long-form article, etc.) that become your daily routine.

In other words, keep it simple by reducing the variables.

That’s how to stay consistent.

And consistency is what leads to success in this and every other endeavor.

Nobody is perfect. Willpower rises and falls. There’s no way to get around the fact that decision fatigue will result in Netflix binges and maybe one too many beers after a busy day at work. But it’s possible to take some small, positive steps forward by taking more decisions off the table, especially when it comes to marketing and business development. “One and done” is an approach that can help you make fewer decisions, and therefore make those decisions better.

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Jay Harrington Jay Harrington

Jay Harrington is the owner of Harrington Communications, a leading thought-leadership PR and marketing agency that specializes in helping law firms and lawyers build awareness, influence and new business. Jay is the author of three books for lawyers on issues related to business and professional development, including “The Productivity Pivot,” “The Essential Associate” and “One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Practice.” He podcasts at The Thought Leadership Project and writes a weekly email newsletter. Previously, he practiced law at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner. Follow him @JayHarrington75.

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