This week J. Thorn and Crys Cain talk about decision fatigue, an issue that plagues most of us, but especially those of us running our own one-person businesses. How does it happen, and what can we do to handle or prevent it?

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Crys: Hello and welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost J Thorn. 

J: What’s up Crys? 

Crys: Oh, just a good productive day. I like those days. 

J: What are you working on? 

Crys: I am actually working on a project that we have in the works. That was my focus today. I had a really good co-writing session, co-working session, with a few friends where we put Zoom up and do sprints of like 20 minutes and then talk for 5 or 6 minutes and then go again.

Those are always really helpful for me. It was a group of friends who lives about seven hours ahead of me, so the times when they are normally co-working, I don’t get to participate in unless I’m up at three o’clock in the morning. So that was a pleasant surprise, and definitely helps my productivity.

J: Awesome. I started working on JP and Abe’s manuscript today on book two. That’s a lot of fun. I did a book one for them and and book two is already better than book one was after I went through it. So I feel like  they’re really upping their game and it’s just a fun story. 

They’re great guys and great writers. I was really excited to jump into that this week. 

Crys: JP told me that he was digging into the book one edits and I was like, “And after you go through, then do I get to read it?” Cause he wouldn’t let me before. So I’m excited. 

J: Nice. Nice. 

Crys: We do have a couple of comments this week.

Back on episode 14, How do I support other writers when I have low energy? Roland Denzel said this, “I don’t want this to sound harsh or uncaring, but so many authors seem guilted into supporting community to the point that it takes away from their own support.” And he has a longer comment, but I thought that was definitely part of what we were trying to discuss is that taking care of yourself, put on your own mask, not gas mask, put your own mask first.

He said it just a little bit more clearly. 

J: Yeah. And I think too, in that comment, there was a bit of a distinction made between, say, a free Facebook group and a private paid community. And one of the nuances that I didn’t really get to in the comment, but I thought it might be worth bringing up here just for a minute is that I think another, we’ve talked about the difference between Facebook groups and paid communities and we’re obviously biased. 

We think the paid communities are better because there’s skin in the game for people there it’s an investment. And I think because it’s an investment people make, they take it more seriously. They get more out of it.  

I think the flip side for them is that if it’s a paid community, I think there’s less of an obligation for you to participate all the time. You’re paying to be in there. So if you only want to peek in Slack once a week, or if you don’t want to come into Slack at all, you don’t have to. 

Whereas with a Facebook group, because it’s free, the price you’re really paying is engagement. There’s an expectation of engagement because we’ve all been in those Facebook groups where no one engages and it’s like crickets and the group’s not really worthwhile. That was a distinction I wanted to make that I thought was worth bringing up  on the podcast and not just in the comments.

Crys: I think that’s very pertinent. You’re always paying. Nothing ever is truly for free. You’re always paying something right. 

On episode 15, our own Christine Daigle said how she gets through the dip: she binges Netflix, switches to another thing, and then kicks her own butt. Which I think is a pretty good series to go through.

J: Yes. I like how she put bingeing first. Then she did the butt kicking. 

Crys: Let yourself just do the thing that makes you feel good in the moment, then try and move forward on something else. Get a little success, hopefully get a little bit of the motivation from completing something, and then push forward with that fuel.  

Okay. My question for this week actually comes from our group and we had a really good conversation on decision fatigue this week.  I just wanted to extend that conversation here. And first of all, can you define decision fatigue for us, J? 

J: This is not my concept. I’ve heard this around enough now that I think it’s just in zeitgeist, but the idea with decisions is that a decision to require some mental calories. 

At a physiological level, you to make a decision, you have to engage your brain. And every time you engage your brain, scientifically speaking, you are using energy to do that because intellectual activity is it’s an energetic process. It requires fuel.

So the idea with decision fatigue is that you have a ceiling on how many decisions you can make in a day before you start getting tired, because it does require this mental energy.  

A lot of the best productivity experts, James Clear comes to mind immediately, what they talk about is to build systems and habits. The underlying reason for that is when you have systems and habits, they remove the need for decisions.  

Therefore the best way to avoid decision fatigue is to not have to make the decision in the first place. 

If you get to the end of the day and you’re mentally drained and you can’t even decide if you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream for dessert, like you are a victim of decision fatigue.

And then there are other things that can tire you out. Kids, definitely. Pets for sure. Significant others. But even if you lived in alone in a cave, as you make decisions throughout the day, you just get tired. 

Crys: The reason this came out specifically in our group is that indie authors, we have so many decisions we have to make in our business, not just about how we write our story, but how we publish it, how we market it, how we format it.

 The decisions are endless. You can always decide something new at any point in the day. There’s a million things you can be doing with your intellectual property and every time one of those options comes up, and we talked about this a bit in the oh-shiny, that’s a decision, whether you say yes or no. So decision fatigue comes along very easily. 

J: Yes. 

Crys: How often do you say you face decision fatigue these days, J?

J: I don’t think I deal with it at all anymore. I get tired when I try and do too many things in one day. It’s a very similar type of fatigue, but it’s not because I’m making a lot of decisions. It’s simply because I’ve overestimated the amount of things I can accomplish in a day.

My solution for that, I think what works for me is that I have a very clear process or system for just about everything. And so not only do I not have to use mental calories to make a decision, but I don’t have to think through process either.  

I’ll give you an example. Whenever I do a podcast episode, I pull up a checklist and that checklist is is numbered 1 through, whatever, 10 or 11 or however many steps there are. It documents everything I have to do. 

Now, I’ve done like literally 800 podcast episodes. And you would think you pretty much know what you’re doing by now. Not really. 

You know from doing a podcast that from the time you decide to on an episode topic until the time it publishes, there are anywhere from 5, 10, 15, 25 steps that are involved depending on where it’s being published if you’re pushing it on social media, if there’s a transcript. 

Even if you’ve done it like 800 times, if you don’t have a checklist, you still have to think through every single step. And so even though it’s not technically a decision, you’re using precious brain power for something. You could just look at a list and not have to think about it.

I think part of my response in the Slack group was it takes an investment. It’s an upfront investment because writing those lists or checklists, that’s not fun, no one likes doing that. It’s tedious and it’s detail oriented and it takes time to do it. 

You can just do the thing. It will take you three times as long to create a list, to explain how to do it. But once you’ve done it, once you then have it, you have it for yourself. It’s easy to tweak. 

 If at some point down the line, you hand off that responsibility to someone else, whether that’s a partner or a VA or an employee, you don’t have to train them. You now have that list that you can hand to them. At first it’s a big investment and no one wants to do it, but if you, the more checklists and systems you can make in your life in the long run, they will definitely pay off 

Crys: I 100% agree. I still get decision fatigue quite a lot. And a lot of that has been because my life has been fairly chaotic for the last four years.

Part of that’s just having a small child and then the last couple of years have just been extra everything. I know that my lack of systems is one of the things that wears me out. 

One of the ways that I have dealt with that is simply handing off the task to something, someone else. Thankfully I have enough disposable income right now that I can hand off a lot of things.

Sometimes that’s food making. I know that I want to eat dinner at 6:30. That’s when I like to have Smalls to eat dinner. And so if it is too much decision to decide what I’m going to make, I know exactly what restaurants are open and can deliver me food at 6:30. And I will just default to whichever one is open and order to eliminate the decision and cut out stress.

I have someone else do my laundry. And thankfully it’s cheap here. I also don’t own a washer and dryer. I cut as many decisions and tasks, because you have to decide to do the task, out as possible. So those are my systems for a fairly systemless life at the moment. 

J: Yeah. I love that. Those are all great examples.

I like how you talked about things that weren’t really related to writing. I think it’s just as important to streamline your life as it is your writing life. I know one example that I’ve somewhat adopted, although not completely, but Zack, not too long goes, Zack said “I’m just going to buy 10 black t-shirts. I’m just going to wear black t-shirts.” And then, he just, he doesn’t have to think about what he’s going to wear.

 I know that he’s not the only one that’s done this. There are countless stories on the internet of people who like, they buy one or two plain t-shirts or one or two different kinds of pants or shorts, because they don’t want to have to decide what they’re going to wear. 

It sounds insignificant and it sounds small, but it really isn’t. 

Meal planning is another one. It seems like, oh, what a chore! Why would I sit down and plan out what I’m going to eat every day for the next seven days? 

It’s because if you invest in that 30 minutes or one hour, once you don’t have to think about it for the rest of the week, you don’t have to think about what you’re going to buy at the grocery store.

You just know, and you don’t have to make the decision. So I love that you talked about these things, not just from the writing life, but just from regular life too. 

Crys: Absolutely. Because decisions are not limited to our business. And a lot of times the decisions we make in our business are the ones we need to make, so as many of the decisions we can script out from our daily life, the things that just need to happen and they don’t really change. So if we just take the decision to do a thing out of the process, then we decrease that decision fatigue so we have the energy to make the decisions on the things that matter.

I do want to add, cause this has been my situation for a while, that a lot of people have chaos influences in their life that mean that they can not systematize things. 

Often it’s a partner who rebels against your desire to systematize things. I honestly don’t have an answer for that other than therapy. But see what things are 100% within your control, even if there’s not much, and see if you can systematize there. Whether that’s just, how your clothes are laid out so that you don’t have to look for things very quickly.

Almost any level of systemization is going to help decrease the decision load. 

J: You’re absolutely right. People have varying levels of time or energy or circumstance where they can systematize things.

But I feel like there are certain things that everyone can do, to some degree. So even if it’s something really small, like you said, it’s only impacting you just taking advantage of any of those little opportunities will create a cumulative advantage over time. And when the opportunity arises for creating systems for bigger things, you’ll be well-trained in verse how to do it.

Crys: The only last thought I have is, this is something I’ve struggled with, is that a system that works at one point in my life does not generally work for ever. And I get really angry about this sometimes, because when I have a system that works, I just want it to stay that way forever. 

But life around me changes. Particularly with a young child, his system needs change rather quickly at this point. And that is just something that you need to be aware of. To not get mad at yourself when a system stops working and simply evaluate what needs to change in the system. 

J: Yup. So true. And I can tell you firsthand that the systems I had 10 years ago when… 10 years ago, my kids were there were eight and six. The systems I had 10 years ago for them are not the same ones that I have now. 

But I think the skill transfers. So if you create a system in one stage of your life, and then you outgrow that system or circumstances change you’ll be good at building systems. And then you can just build a new one or adapt one to fit your new situation.

Crys: Indeed. 

I have a question for our listeners this week, and that is:

What systems do you have in place, and what systems would you like to have in place?

Thanks for joining us this week! Drop your answer below, and if you would like to be part of the conversations in real time, you can join us at The Author Success Mastermind.