February 13, 2018
I stumbled across the concept of decision fatigue whilst researching 'productivity' and it is one that really appeals to me. The premise is that in our lives we have so many pieces of information (big and small) that are competing for our attention. The amount of stimuli is infinite but, of course, our ability to attend and process it is limited. This is where stress and overwhelm come into play because simply we are overloaded with choice. There are many great resources around that deal with the tyranny of choice such as this TED talk by psychologist Barry Shwartz.
So, one strategy to eliminate stress and overwhelm is to reduce the number of 'things' you need to make decisions about. There are so many examples of incredibly creative and productive people who have reduced the decisions they need to make in different areas of their lives so they free up space for other activities that are more important to them. For example, they decide on a 'uniform' to reduce having to think about what they will wear each day.
Some of the more well-known ones are Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with his grey t-shirts and Steve Jobs with his black jumper and jeans. I also came across a picture of this guy who apparently also favoured the 'uniform' approach to getting dressed each morning.
** Note: Even though these are all men but there are numerous examples of women who dress in a simple, uniform-y way. This part of the discussion is just an example to illustrate the concept **
Now, for some Mums getting dressed each morning is a joy for them, they love clothes and putting outfits together. Therefore, these women would benefit from reducing decision fatigue in another area of their life so they can free up their time each morning to do what they enjoy. Another Mum might love to take a solitary early morning walk (if that is you, please email me and tell me how you manage to get out of the house without the kids screaming and crying at the door like they are being abandoned) so might reduce decision fatigue by deciding what to make for the lunchboxes each morning by having a bullet-proof, weekly lunchbox plan.
The point is to figure out where you want your attention to go - and accepting that you have limited capacity - and then setting up a plan to reduce the need to attend to other areas that are less important to you. Obviously, the other areas are still important. Clearly, you still need to wear clothes that are appropriate and presentable for whatever activities you have planned for the day but the point of the exercise is to limit how much you energy you invest in thinking about it.
Three ways this can this work for Mums who Study
What you do during child-free periods
A really obvious way I think this could work for Mums who Study is to decide beforehand your 'givens'. When you get a period of child-free time (be it during the day when the kids are at school/daycare or an hour or half-hour in the morning or at night, whatever you manage to get) you know exactly what you are going to do with that time. You don't waste time thinking should I fold the washing quickly? Should I tidy up the kitchen? Should I wash my hair? You get what I am talking about, those things that we are faced with that distract us (and are procrastination's best friends). Just don't even entertain them.
Other areas where this could work - especially during periods of peak demand like exam periods - could be meal planning. If you know your kids will eat certain meals make those the meals you cook for the next week or two. Even though it won't make the A-list in terms of diversity and exposing the kids to the flavours of the world blah blah blah, they will get fed and you will save a bit of brainpower. I am all for relaxed Mum = happy kids.
If you explore some of the work around 'choice fatigue' you may start noticing just how many micro-choices you are making each day. An obvious one, and perhaps an easy place to start, is with your shopping choices. Especially if you do the shopping with the kids in tow you will instantly benefit from anything that can save some time. It's amazing how much time can be spent (if you allow it) standing, staring at the shelves. Admittedly, it's more tricky when you are trying to get best value for money so might be looking for brands that are on offer/sale but in general if you can go shopping with a list - knowing exactly which products you prefer to use or generally buy - then you don't need to spend valuable time and brainpower deciding between draw-string garbage bags, lavender or lemon scented ones, extra thick, wave-top ties ... yes, that was me recently! All for something that ends up in the back of the truck anyway. Even better shop online - that way you can save your list for next time.