Brighid Gannon is co-founder of Lavender and an award-winning nurse entrepreneur known for building innovative healthcare businesses.
In startups and small businesses that are growing and evolving rapidly, there are so many decisions to be made on a daily – even hourly – basis. As businesses start to grow, old systems stop working, and new ground and opportunities are constantly popping up. It can be very overwhelming and lead to poor decision making and serious fatigue.
This isn’t just a theory: multiple studies have been done on decision fatigue and its impact on business. In recent research published for Royal Society Open Finance, scholars Tobias Baer and Simone Schnall looked at the financial implications of making too many decisions. Their report, “Quantifying the cost of decision fatigue: suboptimal risk decisions in finance,” revealed that people making tons of decisions every day will eventually get tired and start defaulting to the easiest choice. As any entrepreneur knows, that’s not the best way to run a startup business.
Another study, published in Health Psychology, noted that nurses made less efficient and more expensive clinical decisions the longer they worked without a break. Again, not the most effective way to run a business.
It’s important to note that the larger the decision, the faster a person’s energy depletes. And as the number of decisions increases as a business grows, the more cognizant entrepreneurs and leaders need to be as they make each individual decision.
The Washington Post sums up the potential pitfalls well: “When decision fatigue kicks in, you may feel like you just don’t have the mental bandwidth to deal with more decisions. This can lead to decisional paralysis or depleted self-control, causing you to avoid making certain choices entirely, to go with the default option or to make ones that aren’t in line with your goals or values.” Startups are already in a tenuous state, and adding decision paralysis simply won’t help.
There are many strategies to deal with decision fatigue. Here are some ways to help ease anxiety and make each decision with confidence.
1. Take regular breaks.
The Economist states the best way to fight decision fatigue is to take regular breaks. While taking a stroll or closing your eyes for a minute might be seen as slacking on the job, it can actually end up saving the business money. The more clear headed and rested you are, the better your cognitive function and decision making will be.
2. Try not to rush.
Ask yourself: “Is it absolutely necessary to make this decision right now?” If not, put a pin in it. You can always revisit the decision at a later date. Far too many times, I have made a decision too quickly, and there were unexpected, poor outcomes I didn’t anticipate.
Understand that it may be better to pause on making a decision right now, and sit with some uncertainty. Use the mantra “I have made it through uncertain moments like this before, and I can make it through this.” Don’t make a decision just to “get over it,” and reduce the anticipatory anxiety you are having.
3. Resist perfectionism.
If it is necessary to make a decision in real-time, accept that sometimes you might only be able to make a “good enough” decision based on your current capacity, team and the information you have – and that is okay. Accept there may be downstream consequences you did not anticipate. Keep in mind that even if it goes poorly, the learnings will have a positive impact on your growth forever.
4. Be kind to yourself.
Give yourself some slack and accept that you may make a mistake. If you are a leader and entrepreneur, it is likely you are very high-performing and have high expectations for yourself, and it’s hard to think we might fail ourselves or our team. But the best business lessons we learn are from failing, not from success.
5. Listen to your gut.
Your intuition has brought you this far. Don’t ignore that spider sense. Every decision is the right decision because there will always be learnings, one way or the other.
Decision fatigue is a real thing, and something affecting entrepreneurs every day. Take the time to understand how you deal with making a decision – and how you can be better prepared in the future.