Let’s decide to do something about decision fatigue

You are not alone. We are all navigating anxiety, loneliness, fatigue and grief, and it’s exhausting.

By Kathy Coffey / Leadership Snohomish County

Another decision? I’m hearing a lot about decision fatigue.

We all make hundreds of decisions each day. That’s not new.

But now, during the pandemic, the volume has gone up and the stakes are raised. Stress goes up. Mental energy evaporates. We get irritated. We start making snap decisions, or decide not to decide. Or maybe you just start saying no to everything. You feel physically weary. You might get headaches or start having digestive issues. You might feel anxious or depressed.

Our professional decisions affect our colleagues and employees, our financial, physical and mental health, our daily activities, and the long term sustainability of our businesses.

We’re especially stretched when even everyday personal choices are complicated. Getting groceries? Decide whether to shop online or in person. Decide where to go. Decide when to go. Deciding if it is safe to go.

There have been days when I feel like I cannot decide what to watch on TV or what to make for dinner. When I ask for a suggestion from my person who states that they don’t care and it is up to me. I want to cry. Really? Cry. Yup. I think this is decision fatigue.

As leaders, what do we do about all of these high-stakes decisions?

First, know that you are not alone. This is a communal experience. We are all navigating anxiety, loneliness, fatigue and grief in varying degrees. And most Americans have never experienced anything like this before.

Then you might think about who you are sharing this experience with. Are you comparing your decisions with others who are making very different choices? Are you constantly looking for compromise or feeling pressured to decide one way or another? Where do you find the information you need to make “good” decisions? Those in your immediate community can have a great influence on how you make decisions.

I talked recently with my friend Bob Stilger. He has a Ph.D. and is the author of “AfterNow: When We Cannot See the Future, Where Do We Begin?” He’s also the founder of NewStories, a non-profit collective that helps leaders, communities and organizations flourish in chaotic times. Bob’s a great person to talk to anytime, but his insight is just phenomenal right now. He said by email:

When COVID-19 hit Spokane, we quickly saw that most businesses were confused, overwhelmed, frozen in place — just like what happens in just about any disaster. But the story was different for some businesses. Those were the ones that knew how to connect and learn. Connect with their employees, their community and their customers. They were aware, agile and adaptive.

So I am focusing now on being open to listening and learning. I am working to show up with curiosity and an open mind, with no need to be right. This goes back to Bob’s recognition of being aware, agile and adaptive.

My friend Bob also raises the idea of “community of practice.” A community of practice is basically a group of people who are united by a cause or value or objective and who work together to advance that shared concern. Do you have a group with which to connect, learn and adapt? If you did, what might change? We can’t do this work alone. Why would we even want to try?

Leadership Snohomish County is launching a lot of our program efforts now. Our Leadership for Racial Equity cohort begins on May 26 and is accepting applications now. The one-day racial equity event Step Up: Moving Racial Equity Forward is coming up on April 30. Step Up is a vehicle for all to become more aware and unlearn and rethink so much of what we think we know. In March, we open up nominations for our Young Professional and Signature programs. We are working to amplify our non-partisan platform to bridge judgment, bias and misinformation and take the left, right, red, and blue out of so many of our conversations.

I encourage you to decide to invest in becoming more aware, agile and adaptive. Yes, it is one more decision. Examine and grow your network, get curious, optimize your ability to manage, see and question. Let us know how we can support your journey to unlearn what you think you know.

Kathy Coffey is executive director of Leadership Snohomish County, the local organization that connects, ignites and develops leaders to strengthen our communities. To learn more about Leadership Snohomish County, visit www.leadershipsc.org.

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