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How to Combat Decision Fatigue and Improve Patient Care

The human brain is capable of making thousands of decisions in a day, but each choice we make comes at a cost. As we move through our day, we are constantly presented with decisions to make, both large and small. From what to eat for breakfast to whether to take on a new responsibility at work, the sheer number of choices we make can be overwhelming. This mental exhaustion caused by decision-making is known as decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue is a phenomenon where the quality of decision-making deteriorates as a result of mental exhaustion. It is a real and recognized phenomenon that can have a significant impact on our daily lives. When we experience decision fatigue, our ability to make decisions becomes impaired, leading to poorer choices or even decision paralysis. This is why, by the end of the day, we tend to make poor choices in our nutrition. We ate healthy food all day and suddenly we find ourselves picking up fast food on the way home.

woman eating cookie and saying shhhh

So Many Choices

One of the reasons decision fatigue is so prevalent today is the abundance of choices available to us. In the past, choices were limited, and decisions were simpler. Today, we are presented with an endless array of choices in everything from what to eat, wear, watch, and do. With so many options, it’s no wonder our brains can feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Even just scrolling through social media creates hundreds of decisions – where to focus your attention, what to “like” or “love,” what makes you mad, what you should click on, etc. 

Decision fatigue can also be exacerbated by stress and anxiety. When we are under stress, we tend to become more indecisive and have a harder time making choices. This can lead to a cycle of decision fatigue. The more decisions we have to make, the more stressed we become, and the more difficult it becomes to make good choices.

Unraveling the Impact of Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue can have a significant impact on nurses, who are required to make a large number of decisions every day. Here are three examples of how decision fatigue might affect nurses:

Medication errors
  1. Medication administration involves a complex set of decisions. Nurses need to choose the right medication, the right dose, and the right time to administer it. They need to be aware of possible contraindications. When nurses experience decision fatigue, they may become more prone to errors,
Patient assessment
  1. Assessing patients is an important part of a nurse’s job, It helps to identify any changes in a patient’s condition that may require intervention. However, assessing patients involves a large number of decisions, Nurses make decisions such as which assessments to perform, what the results mean, and what interventions may be required. When nurses experience decision fatigue, they may become less thorough in their assessments. Or they may miss important details that could affect a patient’s care. They can be led astray by distracting findings.
Prioritization of tasks
  1. Nurses are responsible for managing a wide range of tasks, from administering medication to coordinating with other healthcare providers. When nurses experience decision fatigue, they may struggle to prioritize tasks effectively, leading to delays in care or missed opportunities for intervention. For example, a nurse may become overwhelmed by the number of tasks they need to complete and miss a medication administration or forget to follow up on an important lab result.

The good news is that there are tactics we can use to prevent decision fatigue and make better choices.

nurse giving medication to pediatric patient

Strategies to Boost Mental Stamina and Improve Patient Outcomes

Limit the number of decisions you make
  1. One of the simplest ways to avoid decision fatigue is to limit the number of decisions you make each day. For example, you could plan your meals for the week ahead of time so you don’t have to decide what to eat every day. You could also limit the number of choices you make when shopping by sticking to a list and avoiding distractions. Have you ever considered that meal planning could make you better at your nursing job? Crazy to think about!
Make important decisions earlier in the day
  1. Our ability to make good decisions declines as the day goes on, so it’s a good idea to tackle important decisions early in the day when our minds are fresh. This way, you’ll be more likely to make a good decision and avoid decision fatigue later in the day.
Use routines to simplify your day
  1. Routines can help simplify your day and reduce the number of decisions you have to make. For example, you could create a morning routine that includes exercising, showering, and eating breakfast in the same order every day. This way, you don’t have to decide what to do first each morning, and you’ll save your decision-making energy for more important choices later in the day.
Prioritize your decisions
  1. It’s important to prioritize your decisions and focus on the most important ones first. This way, you can avoid decision fatigue by only making the most important choices and delegating or postponing less critical decisions.
Take breaks
  1. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of decisions you have to make, take a break. Taking a break can help you recharge your mental batteries and come back to your decisions with a fresh perspective. Sometimes taking a break can be as simple as sitting down, closing your eyes, and taking a few deep breaths.
Outsource decisions
  1. Finally, consider outsourcing some decisions to others. For example, you could hire an assistant to help with meal prepping or a personal shopper to help you with wardrobe choices (I use StitchFix for this). By delegating some decisions, you can free up mental energy and reduce decision fatigue.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, decision fatigue is a real and recognized phenomenon that can have a significant impact on our daily lives. With the abundance of choices available to us, it’s no wonder our brains can feel overwhelmed and exhausted. However, by implementing tactics such as limiting the number of decisions we make, tackling important decisions earlier in the day, using routines, prioritizing decisions, taking breaks, and outsourcing decisions, we can bring some peace to our lives and decrease the chances of making a mistake.

You can read more about What Doctors Wish Their Patients Knew About Decision Fatigue

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