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What Happens when You Do Not Make a Decision?

Explore the consequences of indecision and learn strategies to overcome decision fatigue.

Vicki Chen
Writer at Motion
Feb 19, 2024
Table of contents

Everyone makes thousands of choices a day, from the mundane to the complex.

However, 74% of people believe the number of decisions they make daily has increased tenfold in the last three years.

Ironically, when we are presented with too many choices, we don’t win. We often end up feeling overwhelmed and mentally freeze up. Then, we end up not deciding at all. This is the paradox of decision fatigue.

So, why is it so difficult to make up our minds, and what are the consequences of standing still at a crossroads?

Let’s explore the impacts of decision fatigue, what happens when you don’t make a decision, and effective strategies to help you get through a sea of choices.

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Why is it so hard to make decisions?

If you find yourself hesitating to make a decision because you don’t know which option is best, then you’re in the same boat as 72% of business leaders who have held off on making a decision because they didn’t know which data to trust.

Decision-making tends to become difficult when there are too many options or too many decisions to be made. This is compounded by the pressure to make perfect choices and the fear of choosing the wrong one.

These scenarios lead to what we call decision fatigue.

What is decision fatigue?

You’re standing in the cereal aisle at your neighborhood supermarket, faced with what seems like an endless wall of options. Do you go for the healthy cereal that you know you should eat or the sugary one that reminds you of your childhood?

Fast forward to work, where your inbox is flooded with emails, each demanding you make a decision — reply, delegate, or file away for later.

And when you eventually get home, the simple question of what to make for dinner feels as difficult as solving a Rubik’s Cube.

In each of these scenarios, you’re experiencing decision fatigue. It’s a state of mental overload similar to choice paralysis, which can impair your ability to make decisions effectively.

Person experiencing decision fatigue

‎When the brain is bombarded with too many choices, the quality of the decisions made gradually deteriorates. As a result, you might find yourself making hasty decisions without thinking them through — or even avoiding making decisions altogether.

What happens when you do not make a decision?

When faced with a million choices, not deciding might seem like the easy way out. However, the consequences of this are far-reaching. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Increased mental burden

The weight of indecisiveness affects more than just the moment of choice. In the same Oracle study mentioned earlier, 85% of respondents said that the inability to make decisions negatively impacts their quality of life.

The constant pressure to resolve unfinished business can lead to anxiety, stress, and even depression. It can also disrupt sleep. Since your mind is constantly occupied with pending decisions, you are less able to concentrate on or enjoy the activities you normally would.

Accumulated, unresolved issues

One delayed decision leads to another, and before you know it, you’re stuck with a pile-up of daunting, unresolved issues.

Hesitation in decision-making creates a backlog of tasks and responsibilities that become more overwhelming and difficult to handle over time, which breeds chronic procrastination.

Putting things off because you can’t decide makes it even harder to figure out what you should do first. You end up wasting time on unimportant things because it’s tough to see what needs your attention the most.

Missed opportunities and regrets

Postponing making decisions — even seemingly small ones — can become a habit that affects your bigger decisions. Your inability to act and decide promptly can cost you opportunities for growth, advancement, or personal happiness.

The worst part of missing out is that it fuels a negative self-image and creates persistent feelings of disappointment and “what-ifs.” You might find yourself looking back and questioning yourself for making the wrong decision.

Decision paralysis cycle

Ah, the infamous self-perpetuating decision paralysis cycle. Each time you’re indecisive, that indecision reinforces your fear of making choices. And this fear makes it increasingly more difficult to break free from the cycle and take decisive action.

Being decisive is a skill you need to build because it involves weighing your options, considering all possible outcomes, and committing to a course of action. The key is to focus on decisions that matter — those that will have a significant impact on your life or work — rather than trivial ones.

5 signs of decision fatigue

Recognizing red flags is the first step to reclaiming your mental energy and decision-making power. Let’s take a look at five telltale signs that you’re suffering from decision fatigue.

1. You’re a chronic procrastinator

If you usually resort to procrastination or stop making decisions outright when faced with choice overload, chances are you’re experiencing decision fatigue. These symptoms can manifest as putting off tasks or delaying responses to emails and other messages.

People tend to procrastinate because the thought of making yet another choice feels overwhelming. You develop a temporary coping mechanism to escape the mental pressure of decision-making and mitigate this feeling.

2. You make snap judgments

Making impulsive or less thought-out decisions is a shortcut where you don’t need to spend time thinking and evaluating since your goal is to quickly eliminate as many choices as you can.

Employee making impulsive choices

‎However, these snap judgments are often regretted, as they might not align with the decision-maker’s long-term goals or values. A common example would be purchasing an expensive item on a whim for instant gratification but having buyer’s remorse when you realize you don’t have the budget for it.

3. Even simple choices overwhelm you

We all know people who often struggle to choose what to eat for lunch or dinner. Having to make numerous decisions throughout the day can cause mental fatigue.

Although these choices may seem simple, even the smallest decisions feel impossible when you’re stuck in a state of decision paralysis. They demand more mental bandwidth than you have to give.

4. You question the choices you make

“Did I make a bad decision?”

Relentless second-guessing is a symptom of decision fatigue. One study found that while nurses who were severely burnt out could still make decisions, they could not do so at their usual, optimal level.

Self-doubt can hinder your ability to move forward and make future decisions with confidence.

5. You’re always tired

Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and the author of Joy From Fear, said, “Although humans tend to enjoy having a variety of choices, too many choices can lead to mental and emotional exhaustion.”

The constant need to make decisions puts your overall well-being in jeopardy.

Exhaustion manifests physically with symptoms like tiredness, headaches, or a general sense of burnout. Mentally, it can appear as brain fog or an inability to focus and process new information to make further decisions.

6 strategies to help you make sound decisions

Ready to make a change? Here are six proven strategies to help you navigate the decision-making process with confidence:

1. Prioritize your decisions based on their impact

Not all decisions carry equal weight.

When faced with multiple choices, concentrate your efforts on those that have the biggest impact. Tackle these high-stakes decisions early in the day or when you have the most mental energy and clarity. This ensures you’re applying your best judgment to them.

Prioritize important tasks with Motion

Motion automatically prioritizes tasks based on their urgency and importance, so you don’t have to stress over deciding what to do next. Instead, you make sure that your most important tasks receive the attention and energy they need.

2. Establish an effective routine to eliminate excess decisions

A consistent daily routine will help reduce the number of decisions you need to make, as it reduces the number of variables to consider. So, create a fixed schedule for common activities like exercise, meal times, and work tasks.

Let Motion take on the chore of planning and optimizing your schedule for you. Streamline your day and make the decision-making process more manageable. Instead of wasting time deciding what to work on first, which meetings to prioritize, or when to fit in your workout, you can save your mental energy for the choices that make a difference.

Plan and optimize daily schedule

‎Motion also reschedules your calendar based on your progress, upcoming tasks, and interruptions. This feature is especially helpful when you’re faced with multiple choices and need to decide on which tasks to tackle first.

3. Carve out time for decision-making

Instead of making decisions on the fly or whenever you have spare time, schedule specific “thinking sessions” in your calendar. This allows you to weigh all your options and mentally prepare yourself ahead of time. It also reduces the risk of making rash decisions you may regret later.

Time management techniques like time blocking provide a structured approach to making decisions. As a result, they prevent decisions from piling up and becoming overwhelming.

You can use Motion to schedule deep focus periods for thinking without distractions.

However, after a long decision-making session, don’t forget to take a break. Short breaks allow your mind to refresh and recharge, giving you a much-needed pause from decision-making.

Effortlessly incorporate these breaks into your daily schedule with Motion. Taking breaks ensures that when you return, you’re prepared to make thoughtful decisions again.

4. Learn to delegate

If you often feel overwhelmed and pressured by the volume of decisions you need to make daily, delegating decision-making responsibilities will significantly lighten your load.

Trust your team members or colleagues to make decisions in areas where they have expertise. This will not only empower them but also free up your mental space for the decisions only you can make.

Motion automatically delegates tasks

‎Not sure who to entrust with specific tasks? Motion will automatically assign tasks to the most suitable teammate. With our project and task manager, you can also track progress and outcomes without needing to be involved in every step of the decision-making process.

5. Ask for input

If you’re struggling to make a tough decision, ask for advice. As self-made billionaire Ray Dalio puts it, “I enjoy being the dumbest guy in the room […] If I don't know how to solve a business challenge, I just ask a mentor, or I ask an A-plus player and hire them.”

Asking for advice or help will allow you to view the decisions from different perspectives, which can simplify the decision-making process.

Keep in mind, too, that your team may be the best resource you have at your disposal. Reach out to them if you run into challenges or difficult decisions.

Motion allows teams to communicate and comment freely on project management boards, making it easier for them to give their feedback and input.

6. Set clear deadlines

Stop giving indecision the reins. Setting deadlines for making choices creates a sense of urgency and prevents the process from dragging on endlessly.

And when you’ve set a deadline, hold yourself to it. Once it arrives, you need to make a decision.

Motion notifies approaching deadlines

‎Having timely reminders makes a big difference in these scenarios by keeping you aware and mindful of impending decision points. Motion reminds you when these deadlines are near so that you’re always prepared to take decisive action.

Motion helps you make confident choices

What’s the best choice you can make today? Trying Motion and taking the first step toward becoming a more decisive you.

Vicki Chen
Vicki Chen is a content writer and marketer using proven storytelling methods to create high-quality copy and content for SaaS companies. When she's not writing, she's spending time with Taco, her rescue dog.
Written by Vicki Chen