Do you have decision fatigue? This might help.

Have you had a long and tough term? Let’s talk about how to survive the stress.

Sometimes the holidays just feel like breathing room before starting the next big push.  Life can feel a lot like a pendulum swinging – you just get the balance between work and home right and then it all moves again.

If you’re anything like me, you probably have a bit of trouble putting work down at the end of the day, or possibly find yourself awake at midnight suddenly fretting but not sure what about.

At the end of semester with marking and reporting piling up the pendulum tends to swing heavily in the work direction.  It’s important to balance that out and holidays are a great time to do that, however, relaxing alone is not going to help us survive the next term in better shape.

Decision fatigue:

A couple of years ago I was introduced to the term “Decision Fatigue”. It’s when you just can’t face making one more decision – like at the end of the day when you really can’t decide what to eat. I think teachers are in decision fatigue a lot of time time, particularly at this time of the term.

Decision fatigue comes when the differences between choices are not clear, yet we are still internally driven to make the BEST POSSIBLE DECISION. As a simple example, choosing which jam to buy used to be simple (berry, plum, apricot or marmalade). Nowadays we have to choose from chunky, smooth, with a hint of ginger… and that means that there are just too many choices for us to deal with. So I buy vegemite instead!

I definitely have decision fatigue. I find myself making shortcut decisions instead of thinking through the options properly. Sometimes this is just fine – like when I need to just pick something to wear to work. However, sometimes I need my brain to be committed to figuring out what works and what does not. That means that I have to “save” my thinking for the things that matter to make sure that I am not too tired to think clearly.

Here’s some of my suggestions that might help. The holidays are a great time to put them into play:

  1. Remove any clothes that don’t fit, you don’t like, or are only useful on very special occasions from your immediate line of sight (dump them, box them up or put in a different cupboard). That way you don’t have to consider them as options when considering what to wear each day. Personally, I have only black or grey trousers and buy shirts that go with those, however I recognise that I am a little extreme on this front.
  2. Work out which days you can realistically cook on, then come up with a plan for what to do on the others. Can you cut up the veges on the weekend to make it easier? Can you cook and freeze? The aim is to have to do less thinking about food on your tough days, not less cooking of food.
  3. If you haven’t read “Getting things done” by David Allen, then I would recommend it. It’s a great system for getting jobs out of your brain and into a workable system. For me, the best bit is having a “today” job list which is separate from my “next” job list and my “someday” job list. Each day I can look at my list just for that day and tick the boxes as things get done. It doesn’t feel so overwhelming.
  4. At the end of the day, record three things that you did well. For me, having success criteria to achieve (no matter how simple) and acknowledging that I did them, is very important for staying happy and feeling productive. When I don’t do this then I tend to fall into the trap of thinking that I’m not doing anything well. It’s not true, but that doesn’t stop it feeling very true. Recording my successes helps me to stay focused on the good parts and keeps everything in much better balance.
  5. Work out a way of adding reminders to your phone verbally. If you have an iPhone, you can add them by saying to Siri “Remind me to …”. They will turn up in your “reminders” app. Mine also sync with a to-do app called “Things” that I use regularly. That means that when I need to remember something I can tell my phone what I want to be reminded about and then relax as I can’t forget it. It’s a great way of downing tools on the drive home from work, and a simple way of getting jobs into a system that I trust so that I can clear my mind.

As you use these holidays to relax, plan a day to have a good think about preparing for the term ahead – not for the teaching – but for your own survival and sanity.

And of course, have a great time off too!

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