decision fatigue

Motivation Monday: Keeping A Weekly Routine

A couple of weeks ago when we discussed decision fatigue I talked about how decision making abilities wane as your brain becomes fatigued. Personal experience says that it’s true for our motivation levels throughout the week as well, at least for me.

On Monday morning I wake up refreshed from the weekend and ready to tackle the week. I spend most of Monday getting my things in order to ensure the week is successful. Something about Monday brings to mind the iconic training scenes from Rocky. I can just hear the soundtrack in my head now. I am motivated to get things done and have no problem tackling the hard stuff; hard work now brings rewards later on!

Tuesday is when things get tough. I put my head down, determined to survive the week. Wednesday isn’t any better.

On Thursday I’m just barely holding things together and by the time Friday rolls around I really don’t care about much of anything. At all.

Somebody pour me a beer.

I suspect this is true for everyone else too, based on a totally non-scientific observation I’ve made at the gym over the past several months. I work out Monday through Thursday at our local YMCA, at the same time each day. On Monday, the gym is packed full of people. On Tuesday there are fewer, Wednesday even fewer still. By Thursday it’s practically a waste land and everyone who is there looks like they’ve been attacked by a pack of angry dogs.

I have no idea what it’s like on Friday because even I don’t go to the gym on Friday.

What can we learn from this? Everyone starts the week with good intentions but as stress and exhaustion from the week build, our desire to do any nonessential tasks disappears (as my husband so eloquently puts it “our give-a-shitter is broken”). Can we do anything about this? Not really but we can use this knowledge to our advantage and schedule our recurring weekly tasks to maximize productivity.

When we discussed creating a daily routine last month we talked about building habits and creating a schedule to keep those small household tasks from taking over your day. This easily translates to routine weekly tasks as well.

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We all have recurring weekly tasks that need to be completed. Laundry, grocery shopping and cleaning the house are all things that, around here anyway, need to be done every week. Those tasks can easily be broken up and assigned to specific days of the week and specific people if you so desire.

There’s several advantages to creating a weekly routine.

First and foremost, when you have tasks assigned to a particular day you know exactly what you need to do that day immediately upon waking up. Chores, especially ones that are easy to put off are less likely to fall through the cracks and by completing chores on the same day each week you always know the last time something was done. Lastly, you can schedule your tasks to take advantage of higher motivation levels earlier in the week making them less likely to get procrastinated.

My weekly routine looks like this:

Monday: laundry, change the pet water
Tuesday: laundry, take out trash
Wednesday: change sheets, pick up house
Thursday: laundry, sort & file mail
Friday: take out trash
Saturday: NOTHING
Sunday: clean out fridge, grocery shopping, laundry prep

I keep a copy of my weekly tasks taped to the inside of my calendar just in case I need a gentle reminder of what needs to be done.

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Creating a weekly routine is easy. Write down a list of everything you’d like to get done on a weekly basis. Consider your schedule, the amount of time you have available and start filling in tasks to get done each day. Pick the stuff you hate the most and get it done early in the week. The week should get easier the further into it you get. Try to evenly spread out your chores so that no one day is overloaded with things to do.

Make sure to give yourself a couple of days off. You need a break from housework to keep yourself from getting burned out. On Friday I only have one simple chore and Saturday I do nothing outside my daily routine.

If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of creating an entire weekly routine at once or you just don’t have the time, try picking one task you’re likely to put off and doing it on the same day each week, as you conquer one you can add another.

Does each task on my weekly routine get completed every week? No. Most of the time the mail only gets sorted every two weeks and occasionally I get busy on Wednesday and I forget to change the sheets. Sometimes we’re busy on Sunday and I don’t make it to the grocery store and will do it Monday instead. Much like the monthly meal rotation I use this as a guideline to keep things on track and I rearrange tasks as needed.

Your schedule will look different from mine. We all have unique needs so no one routine will be like another but by sharing what works for me I’m hoping to give you ideas and motivate you to organize your mundane chores so you’ve got less to think about. That’s right, we’re talking about decision fatigue prevention – again.

By creating a weekly routine you can free up your brain to think about other things – like running your business, managing your job or educating your children – and you’re less likely to feel fried at the end of the day. It’s a win for everyone!

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Decision Fatigue

Last Tuesday was a tough day. Nothing bad happened but nothing came easy either.

For the first time in over a month Alvy slept until almost 7 AM, I slept through my alarm and didn’t wake up until Alvy woke up – at 7 AM.

Instead of having my usual morning full of habit and routine, I found myself running around the house like a crazed lunatic trying to get the kids dressed and fed before I had to take Evelyn to school.

Nothing went well after that. I ran late to Alvy’s hearing test (I’m never late), I did three loads of laundry that never made it out of the laundry room (totally uncharacteristic). By the time dinner rolled around, I realized I had never made the bed or unloaded the dishwasher (the cornerstones of my morning routine).

Coincidentally, around that same time, Jason called me to tell me he was on his way home from work and asked what was for dinner. I was honest and told him that everything I needed to make dinner was in the fridge but I was emotionally drained. The thought of spending another hour and a half cooking and cleaning was the absolute last thing I wanted to do.

What’d we end up eating for dinner? Chinese take out.

It wasn’t until about 8 PM that I realized I’d never fed the the dog – something I normally do immediately after breakfast – sorry Baxter.

So what happened? What led to such a spectacular derailment?

Decision fatigue.

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What is decision fatigue? I read a great analogy written by James Clear that describes decision fatigue to the T.

“…your willpower is like a muscle. And similar to the muscles in your body, willpower can get fatigued when you use it over and over again. Every time you make a decision, it’s like doing another rep in the gym. And similar to how your muscles get tired at the end of a workout, the strength of your willpower fades as you make more decisions.”

The second you admit that willpower is nothing more than a decision to resist temptation, it all makes sense.

By sleeping in, I threw off an entire day full of habits, routines and schedules I worked for months to build. All of a sudden I found myself having to make decisions that I don’t normally have to make, starting with deciding how to get the kids fed and dressed without Evie being late to school.

It all went downhill from there. Instead of writing in the 5-6 AM hours I had to decide another time to get that done and without a schedule I found myself constantly distracted and having to use my willpower to keep myself on task.

To add fuel to the fire, on Monday Evelyn and I made Halloween themed sugar cookies which were sitting on the island, in the middle of the kitchen, in a glass cake platter. Every time I walked though the kitchen I looked at them and had to make the conscious decision to use my willpower to deny myself.

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By the time dinner rolled around I wasn’t physically tired but my brain was exhausted. All I wanted to do was stare blankly at the wall in silence.

As it turns out, dinner was doomed at 5 AM when I slept through my alarm.

So what happens in our brain that causes decision fatigue? Why does our brain get so tired when forced to make multiple decisions and use our willpower to avoid temptation?

Nutrition. Our brains run primarily on glucose and unlike other parts of our body they lack the ability to store their fuel. Each decision you make requires your brain to do just a little work, slowly consuming the fuel your body has available. As you eat throughout the day, it gets a boost of energy, allowing it to continue to run. So after a day of powering through hundreds of minor decisions it’s pretty shot – especially if you’ve been feeding it crap.

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t sugar bad?

Stand by for some biochemistry.

Not all sugars are created equal – of all the different types of sugar (sucrose, glucose, lactose, everything ending in -ose) the only one you need is glucose.

The sugar we all know is table sugar (sucrose), which is broken down by your body into equal parts glucose and fructose. So of all the sugar in something like a cookie, only half will be used to power your brain (and the rest of your body) the other half gets processed by your liver and then put into storage as fat.

Therefore, eating a cookie or drinking a Coke isn’t going to help restore your alertness and ability to handle tough decisions. Instead you need glucose which is found in naturally occurring sugars, like fruit and whole grains.

No wonder I feel foggy headed when I eat poorly.

So what can we do to combat decision fatigue?

  1. Make big decisions first thing in the morning when your brain is fresh.
  2. Create routines and schedules that minimize minor daily decisions.
  3. Build habits around your most important daily tasks.
  4. Complete the most important tasks of the day first thing in the morning.
  5. Eat a healthy snack in the middle of the day when you’re starting to feel run down

What was the first thing I did after doing all this research on decision fatigue? I covered up the sugar cookies with a dishtowel.

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At least one decision fatigue problem solved!

For more information about decision fatigue read this awesome article in the New York Times.

For a great biochemistry lesson about why sugar, specifically fructose, is so epicly bad for you watch this great lecture by Dr. Robert Lustig from the University of California – it’s long (1:31) but he does a great job dumbing down some very technical information and it will forever change how you think about sugar!

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