While anyone can struggle with decision fatigue, for those with ADHD, it can feel like a constant state of being. While someone who doesn’t have ADHD may reach a point of fatigue towards the end of the day, after making choices all day long, people with ADHD often feel like they wake up that way. Decision fatigue is a phenomenon that occurs when the mental energy required for making decisions is depleted after a series of choices; folks with ADHD reach that depletion point faster, or after “smaller” decisions, than those who do not have ADHD.
For people with ADHD, decision fatigue can be especially draining due to the inherent difficulties in organizing thoughts, prioritizing tasks, and regulating attention and impulsivity. A key component in this issue is that we make decisions in one of two ways: either by methodically weighing out our options or by following instinct. For people who have ADHD, decisions that awaken instincts can be easier to make. This is why, for example, folks who have ADHD are often great in a crisis.
Ways Decision Fatigue Can Manifest in ADHD
- Procrastination: delaying making the decision until the last possible moment.
- Impulsivity: avoiding considering decisions and choosing blindly.
- Ineffective Time Management: decisions can be forgotten about until it’s too late, or choices can be made without considering all the factors.
- Overthinking: going back and forth, trying to determine which course of action to take.
- Forgetfulness: losing track of what needs to be decided and when.
- Avoidance: evading situations and/or activities in which one will have to make decisions.
The Impact of ADHD Decision Fatigue
ADHD decision fatigue can have a significant impact on an individual’s life. It can lead to a cycle of stress, anxiety, and reduced self-esteem, as individuals may feel overwhelmed and incapable of managing their daily responsibilities. This can affect personal relationships, work, and overall well-being. As my practice offers ADHD therapy in Woodland Hills, I see a lot of this show up in sessions with people of all ages and backgrounds.
5 Ways to Manage Your Decision Fatigue in ADHD
1) Simplify Your Choices:
Minimize the number of decisions you need to make daily. There will always be circumstances in which you are surprised by a decision. In order to counteract those occasions, you can reduce some of your daily decision-making. Establish routines and systems that lessen the need for constant decision-making.
For example, plan your outfits for the week or create a meal plan. The odds are good that you have an idea of what you like, whether we’re talking about a sense of style or dinner meals. You may worry that you won’t like the outfit you chose or that you won’t want that food when the time comes. However, if you choose to plan things you already know you enjoy, you greatly lower the chances of that happening. Over time, the relief you feel when you don’t have to decide what to make for dinner, but instead just have to go to your fridge and heat something up or throw together the recipe you chose for the day will give you the positive feedback you need to keep going.
A handy trick for simplifying your decisions is to practice making them. Take small decisions (your coffee order, which salad dressing you’re going to get from the grocery store, etc.) and make them quickly. At first, “quickly” may mean that you have five minutes. As time goes on, you may give yourself four, then three, then so on. Practice makes progress, and decision-making is no exception.
When we look at simplification, we also need to determine what things really need to be decided upon. For example, if you are genuinely neutral about something where the outcome doesn’t matter, ask someone else to choose for you, clip a coin, or download a randomizer app on your phone to decide for you. The red shirt or the brown one? The tacos or the chicken wrap? The black shoes with straps or without? Your brain doesn’t need to expend energy determining these choices, so why force it?
2) Prioritize Tasks:
Use tools like to-do lists, calendars, or task management apps to prioritize tasks and break them down into smaller, more manageable steps. This can help reduce the mental energy required to make decisions about what to do next. You may decide to set rewards for yourself or make the to-do lists fun, such as creating a sticker chart. If it makes you want to use it and keeps you on track, it’s useful.
How you prioritize is up to you. You may establish a set of parameters that align with your highest values and/or goals. When you look at tasks, you may determine that some are imperative and some are not. Many people with ADHD struggle to prioritize; can you recruit a friend to help you sort out your to-do list? Try to think of someone who can sit with you and talk it out. Perhaps that person likes to make lists and is good at extrapolating information. Where you might feel like every choice is of equal importance, a person outside yourself might be able to say, “It sounds to me like you’re saying a, b, and c are your top priorities.” We can all use help getting perspective from time to time. You can start with your therapist if you cannot think of anyone you feel comfortable asking for help. A therapist isn’t solely in place to suggest modes of therapy; therapy is a great space in which to problem-solve whatever might be weighing on you. If you attend therapy for ADHD, this is the kind of task you can bring to a session if you need to!
Make the most important decisions first. Whether that’s daily, weekly, or some combination, make the big choices when you feel the most fresh. These choices might include a purchase for the home, how to handle something at work, a location for a trip, how to handle a personal situation with a family member, and more. These “big decisions” may also influence your ability to decide in lower-stakes situations, as you may experience the relief of having the big choice off your mind and let go of some anxiety around what else you have to decide.
Be mindful of your need to rest, even if you must set aside time. Taking breaks between projects, tasks, or decisions can allow your brain to re-energize, readying you for the next set of circumstances.
3) Set Time Limits:
Allocate specific time blocks for decision-making. For instance, limit yourself to ten minutes to decide what to have for lunch or how to respond to an email. This prevents overthinking and impulsivity. Time limits also help encourage you to actually get down to making the decision, as procrastination can be a common hurdle for people with ADHD. The stress of knowing you will have to make a call can hang over you like a cloud, weighing you down and adding to your anxiety. Think of your time limits as ways to clear your plate.
You may spend the time you’ve allotted for yourself going over everything you want to consider about your decision, or you may spend it doing something else. You might decide to sing along to some songs for a while, go for a walk around the block, work on a different project, or something else. Which method you employ will likely have to do with what kind of decision you are trying to make and how you best feel you should approach it.
Utilize your circumstances to facilitate time management. For example, if the decision you are trying to make involves someone else, schedule time with that person to deliberate, discuss, and/or share your decision. That person may have small windows of time in which to decide, such as a busy schedule or an earlier date they need to have their decision by.
If you have trouble setting a time limit and truly investing in its urgency, try scheduling your decision-making in between activities you can’t change or promising someone you will tell them your answer by a specific time. Many people with ADHD find that being on the go or having a countdown helps them take the steps they need to take in order to get things done. This may be a tactic you find more useful for lower-stakes decisions; it’s okay to approach different situations from a different point of view.
4) Delegate and Recruit When Possible:
Do not hesitate to delegate tasks or seek help when needed. Sharing responsibilities can reduce the cognitive load and help prevent decision fatigue. Having someone to talk your decision-making process out with can also be beneficial. If your thoughts are swirling in your mind, talking out loud may help you get focused on what really matters. Yes, you can do this on your own. But you can also direct your energy to a friend, family member, or coworker. That person may weigh in with ideas or may just be a willing recipient of your ideas. If you are at work, you may be in a position to ask someone on your team to make certain decisions in exchange for you taking on a task that utilizes one of your strengths. Teamwork and compromise can help to strengthen a positive work environment; you don’t have to feel that you are “less than” if you and a teammate each take on tasks suited to your strengths.
It might make you nervous to reach out for help. If you are in a romantic partnership, you may worry about asking “too much” of your partner. It is a natural response to try to keep your ADHD from unduly impacting your relationship, as you are likely hyper-aware of all the ways it does. However, your romantic partner is supposed to be just that: a partner. A partner will want to see you succeed. A good partner will not want you silently anguished in shame and anxiety. Yes, ADHD affects your relationship. But that doesn’t mean it can’t create opportunities for problem-solving together. The teamwork and communication required to do so can bring you closer if you approach the situation with patience and mutual respect. It’s not you vs. your partner; it’s you and your partner vs. your ADHD. That doesn’t mean you require your partner to decide for you or “solve all your problems.” As you probably show up for them when they are having a tough time, they likely want to show up for you. Working together to make decisions and set routines is the kind of collaboration that a partnership is built on.
5) Practice Mindfulness:
Sometimes, we can get caught up in making “the right choice” and put pressure on ourselves to do so. This can be very stressful, even when the decision in question isn’t related to a high-stakes situation. Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can help improve focus and reduce anxiety, making it easier to make decisions.
As an ADHD therapist in Woodland Hills, I help many people find their way to mindfulness. At its core, mindfulness is about remaining in the present moment and observing what is occurring as neutrally as possible. This means that what we observe about our emotions, thoughts, the physical sensations in our bodies, and the world around us aren’t the subject of intense scrutiny; we don’t assign moral value to them or judge whether they’re “good” or “bad.”
Mindfulness can come in handy when trying to make a decision, but also in general. If you can reduce your general anxiety level, you provide more rest for your nervous system. That makes you more prepared for the times when you need to gather up your strength and do something challenging, like making a big decision. Everyone experiences life more positively when they don’t feel burnt out and/or at the end of their rope. This is no different.
Decision fatigue will always factor in when it comes to how you manage your time. When things in your life become exceptionally overwhelming, when your stress levels rise, or when you have surprise changes that you couldn’t foresee, decision paralysis is more likely to occur. There will inevitably be days where you struggle with the motivation to make a choice and need to utilize tools that help you feel differently. No two days are identical, which means new decisions that take you by surprise will arise sometimes. This is where streamlining as many of your decisions as you can will come in handy. Being kind to yourself about how your ADHD impacts your ability to make decisions, the energy it takes, and the planning it requires is a good place to start. You may find over time that your approach changes as you do. You may encounter situations that feel impossible – reach out for support from loved ones, your therapist, or an online or in-person group. No matter how your relationship with decision-making evolves, stay attuned to your highest values and priorities.
ADHD Treatment at Embracing You Therapy
Living with ADHD can make taking actions and decision-making more complicated or overwhelming. ADHD Treatment in our offices in Woodland Hills is designed to teach you daily time management and stress management skills so that you can see an improvement in your productivity and overall task completion.