Have you ever said, “Help! There is a limit to how much my brain can handle”? Well, you were right, and you’re not alone. Research indicates that our brains can handle a set amount of information before becoming over taxed, not just with the big life changing decisions, but with the tons of the minutiae we must deal with on a daily basis. There are lots of articles about decision fatigue and business owners, but its something that most of the moms I know have struggled with at one time or another.
Moms are the ultimate multitaskers. Constantly making decisions without a break can make us feel at least a little cranky if not downright overwhelmed. See if any of these sounds familiar…
Mom, what’s for dinner?
Where are my jeans?
What time is basketball practice?
Where is my science book?
How do I do this math?
Did you pick up my dry cleaning?
Did the dog get his heart worm pill?
Did you take your mom to the cardiologist today?
Do you have time to edit my paper after dinner?
Moms are the glue that often holds it all together and some days its harder than others.
According to a book by Daniel Leviitin, Called The Organized Brain, we can all feel overwhelmed with information. http://ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/books/heres-why-your-brain-hurts-too-much-information-and-too-many-decisions According to this article, “Take a simple case of emails that come in. When you hear that little beep you have to make a decision: ‘Do I tend to this now or not?’ And then once read, you have to decide: ‘Do I answer this now or not?’ “Do I forward it to somebody, do I file it, do I need more information? Do I put it in the trash?” “Each of those questions constitutes a decision and unfortunately the biology of the brain doesn’t distinguish very well between little decisions and major decisions.” “Anybody who is being asked to make more decisions in a small space of time than the brain can make is going to have impaired judgment,” Levitin says.” “He has investigated decision-making in the White House and they do have a system of filtering information that protects POTUS from overload.” Well, then we should ask, what can we do to protect moms from overload?
Consider what used to be required by parents 25 years ago. Now add emails from the world, not to mention every child’s teachers and coaches, voice mails, texts, Face Book, Twitter, Instagram, volunteer work – and consider there is no pay for this job. What can we do to simplify – even just a little bit? Levitin says, “There are all these successful people and there are things that they do that really work.” “For example: Externalizing — get things out of your head if you can. The famous behaviouralist B.F. Skinner on hearing a weather report predicting rain would take an umbrella out of the closet and stick it by the front door right away. There are dozens of ways to do that. Write notes, put the information on a calendar. Getting it out of your head is good because your head has a limited capacity.” Our brains are easily distracted by digital shiny objects.
“Understanding decision fatigue and overload would suggest one should tackle the most important tasks early in morning when our neurochemistry is at its best. It’s also important to know which questions to ask when trying to make a decision. Great leaders know which question to ask to move things forward.” All of this matters because the part of our brain that governs immediate working memory is actually limited to four thoughts at a time, Levitin says. That’s why we lose keys or reading glasses. “I do believe we are confronted with more information than we can handle and I believe there are simple things that any of us can do to help us better filter the onslaught of information. Ultimately we can reach a point where we are more productive in our work with more time for loved ones.”
It goes back to the old adage – work smarter not harder. Here are a few examples of simple things I’ve done to help with Mom Decision fatigue.
1. I designated one night a week “take out night.” It can be pizza, Chinese food, Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A, whatever the family agrees on. It’s one night nobody asks me what’s for dinner? Or what’s in whatever it is I’ve made:) This was done at our house (honestly out of frustration) when the kids were in elementary school. Pizza was our go to because it was inexpensive and everyone loved it, and it has become a tradition.
2. Start spending one hour a week planning meals and writing out a grocery list. The key is – go to the store once for the week. (This will require a written list and checking your pantry for ingredients like spices before you leave.)
I was SO tired of running to the store every other day for things we were out of, things I forgot, or something the kids wanted. I realized it wasn’t just the time in the store I was losing, but driving to the store, driving back home, the stress of being late to pick up one of my children at a practice, the additional cost of gas for the car – it was frustrating. So, I started making my list on Sunday mornings. I decided what I would cook for dinner Sunday through Thursday. That meant at least three complete meals. I cooked enough on Sunday so that Monday we had leftovers. I cooked on Tuesday and Wednesday was leftovers, or some version of it. I usually cooked on Thursday but if there things left in the fridge and the kids would rather have that, we called it “Shipwreck” and all was fair game;) Friday was designated “take out night” as I explained above. Saturdays we usually went somewhere to eat as a family as we were running between sporting events or music.
Meal planning and organizing my shopping list eliminated the dreaded “what do we feel like having tonight?” every night, which would require me to run to the store, at the last minute, hungry and rushed. It’s not a perfect system. Sometimes we still run out of milk…but its much rarer these days.
3. Plan kid’s school lunches. Before going grocery shopping I had the kids tell me what kind of sandwiches they wanted in their lunch boxes that week – ham & cheese? Turkey and cheese? Peanut butter and banana? Peanut butter and jelly? It was their choice, but they couldn’t change their mind once I went to the store. I chose what else went into the box, usually a piece of fruit, a granola bar or a home made cookie and a water bottle. My kids hated buying lunch at school – at least partly because standing in line for 10 minutes ate up too much of their 20-30 minute lunch period. With buy-in on the sandwich, I didn’t have to deal asking what they wanted every morning before school. Honestly, they never complained. (Bonus, they started making their own lunches by middle school and understood the need to have items on hand!)
4. Simplify clothing options. When you find a shirt or jeans or pants you love, but two of the same or a few in different colors. Make these your go to outfits. Apparently successful business and political leaders have made the conscious decision to wear the same clothes almost every day, to eliminate the need to make minor decisions, saving their brain power for more important decisions. Who am I to argue? I tend to wear a lot of black, which makes things easy. I have several black t-shirts and two pair of the same jeans that get worn OFTEN! For days I’m home writing, running errands, dropping kids off (at the airport these days) these are my go to outfits. I can toss one in the laundry and have a second to wear without thinking. You might already do this. That being said, if you like to get dressed and do your hair and makeup every day, don’t let this advice stand in your way. Choose what’s right for you!
5. Try to automate purchasing decisions where you can. One of my problems is I like to change things up. But changing things up requires new decisions to be made. Here is an example: I used to like to try different laundry detergents, to see if I thought they cleaned better, or if I liked the sent better that what I was using, etc. I even made my own detergent for a while to see if it would save money. I stopped changing things up in this category when the kids were in middle school. I made a conscious decision one day. I like Tide detergent with April Fresh downy. I decided I would no longer think about detergent because I was happy with it. (BTW -I use powder in my HE front loader because liquid used to gunk it up and it got a horrible odor.) Walmart carries the Tide I like at the best price. To this day, I order 3 boxes of detergent online at Walmart for pick up, when I am down to one box. I don’t think about whether I should buy it or not, or what else is new on the market that I might want to try, etc. Ordering online has the added perk of eliminating a wasted trip if the store is out of the product. I only go when it is waiting for pick up. This saves me a decision, we never run out of detergent, and I free up brain power for something important. You can do with this most things you purchase at the grocery store. I’m sure when I check out at Walmart with three boxes of detergent they assume I take in laundry for people…well…I guess I do.
6. Ask people to text instead of call. There are far too many ways for people to reach me these days – including by phone, voicemail, text, several email addresses, flagging me down at a school, or grocery store, etc. These days when people ask for my phone number, I give it to them and ask them to text me. I’m not being rude. I just find it easier to manage, and there is less chance I will miss their call. I see a text come up on my phone, and it sits there with the little blue dot to remind me to address whatever it is. It also leaves a record of what we’ve discussed so I don’t have to write things down on a separate piece of paper or wonder if I should delete the voice mail. If find it helpful.
7. Start keeping a large calendar with everyone’s appointments on the kitchen counter. It doesn’t travel. In addition to writing everything down on this calendar I also highlight in yellow if I need to be somewhere. This way when I look at it the yellow grabs my attention and I know I’ll need to plan for travel time.
9. Use the alarms on your cell phone to keep you on track. Face it, although our cell phones make us available 24 hours a day, they also provide us with some pretty powerful organizing tools! One of my favorites is the alarm. Program alarms to go off before an appointment, or with enough of a buffer that you know you need to get in the car to make it on time. program it to go off when the kids need their antibiotics so you don’t forget to give it to them twice a day when they have strep. There are a million uses!
What are some of the things you do simply and combat decision fatigue?