On more than a few occasions, I’ve told friends and family that the gift I most want on my birthday or Mother’s Day is to NOT be asked to make a decision. I make what feels like a million decisions in managing work and family, and it’s exhausting. This respite from my “decision fatigue” is a real gift.

Your decisionmaking ability is like a muscle – when you use it too much, you get tired and your performance wanes.  That’s when “Decision Fatigue” sets in. The fatigue compounds when you have lots of options to choose from every time you are presented with a decision to make.  And you get to the point where You. Just. Can’t. Even.

Think about the enticing items at the grocery store counter: candy bars and gossip magazines that you would normally avoid. But after you’ve just made a hundred decisions up and down the aisles (just how many varieties of granola bars do Americans really need?), you are weakened and pick up the Snickers and the Us Weekly as you stand there waiting your turn.

This happens all the time in nonprofit marketing and fundraising too.

There are so many different approaches, so many different “best practices” and not enough time or resources to work through them all. You make hundreds of little decisions about your communications work every single day (which shade of green, how big should the logo be, do we include that link in that post, should this be an email or a Facebook post, and on and on). You are pulled in lots of different directions. The overwhelm adds up, and we fall into a few less than ideal scenarios:

  • We avoid the decision, and we try to do it all, resulting in a mediocre job at best.
  • We avoid the decision, and keep doing what we’ve always done, missing opportunities to real growth.
  • We make bad decisions in haste.

How can you structure the way you approach your work to minimize the amount of decision fatigue? Here are four strategies to make nonprofit communications decisionmaking less exhausting.

Make the Big Decisions Early.

If you have an important decision, best to make it in the morning, or toward the beginning of the meeting agenda. Save the less important stuff for the end of the day or later in the agenda.

We’ve all been there. You finally get the communications strategy on the agenda for the board meeting, or the staff retreat, but it’s at the end. Your time not only gets cut in half because other sections ran over, but everyone is tired and ready to get out of there, so they blow through it. It’s not that they don’t care about your communications strategy; it’s that they are worn out by decision fatigue.

Can’t get on the agenda early? The next best position is right after a nice long break, like lunch. People are more likely to be temporarily re-energized then.

Create Routines and Habits So You Can Make Fewer Decisions.

Create more Simple Rules and routines to automate decisionmaking. This is why you often see CEOs wearing the same outfits and eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch. It’s one less decision they have to make about something that really doesn’t matter that much to them.

Delegate Decisions that Really Aren’t That Critical.

Know what’s really important, and what really doesn’t matter so much.  Let other people make some of those decisions. Or automate them using various productivity programs that do things like sort your inbox for you. FOMO – fear of missing out – is a potential problem here. Acknowledge the trade-off (keeping more of your decisionmaking energy instead of having your hands in everything) and move on.

Limit Analysis to Three Options at a Time.

When you do need to make a decision with lots of options, chunk it. Don’t try to fully analyze 10 different approaches, or even 5, at once. Make your first decision the one that narrows your options down to three. Explore those. If you decide that none of those three works, then ditch them all, and look at three more.

How do you hold off decision fatigue? Share in the comments!

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