5 Ways I cope with decision fatigue in veterinary medicine

Copy of Why start a blog about veterinary mental health_.png

Date night had arrived!  I was excited that the babysitter was coming and that I was going to be able to eat a warm dinner and spend some time with my husband.  Then, this text came through:

“Where do you want to go to dinner?”

I sat and stared at my phone.  A wave of annoyance, irritation, and rage was hitting me hard.  In that moment all I wanted to do was scream at the phone that I didn't give a tiny rat’s ass where we went to dinner as long as they had gluten free food and I didn't have to play I spy for 30 minutes while we waited for our food.   

Instead, I waited.  I recognized my emotions as the warning that they were (that I was about to step in a big pile of doo doo if I reacted in that moment) and got a grip on myself.  I got to a better feeling place by realizing that my husband wasn’t trying to trigger me with his innocent question, he most likely thought that I already had somewhere in mind or somewhere I wanted to go and that his intentions were good.  

Once I got to that better feeling place, I made my ten thousandth decision that day and told him where to meet me.

As veterinarians it seems like ALL WE DO is make decisions. ALL DAY LONG! Do we give this vaccine or that one.  Do we use this antibiotic or that one. What dose do we use, how long do we use it for, do we need to recheck this, when do we need to recheck it? It just goes on and on and on.  By the end of the day we have made thousands of decisions and sometimes making just one more seems impossible.


This, my friends, is decision fatigue.  Get to know it because it is never going away.  I learned about decision fatigue when I went through Allie Cassaza’s Your Uncluttered Home online course. In her course she discusses decision fatigue and its effects on our children when they have too many toys.  When they have to make so many decisions in a day their brains become fatigued and they can become irritable and less able to make decisions as the day goes on.  This is why they can have a room full of toys and still claim that there is nothing to do or that they are bored! They simply cannot look at all the toys they have and decide what to play with.  

Learning about decision fatigue gave me a huge insight into why the decision of what to make for dinner was paralyzing to me.  I was simply suffering from decision fatigue! Now that I knew the name of the beast I could figure out how best to deal with it.

Here are the top 5 ways that I cope with the inevitability of decision fatigue:

  1. I automate as many decisions as I can in a day so I don’t have to think about them.  For me this means lots of things! First of all I only wear scrubs to work. I made the transition back when my hospital became a 24/7 facility.  ERs tend to be messy and my clothes were taking a beating. With scrubs I don’t have to decide what to wear. I have only 2 colors and I have a pattern for which days are which colors.  I drink the same tea every day and have a simple breakfast made the night before. I plan out my lunches the Sunday before my work week and meal prep them when I can. The same goes for my dinner recipes.  We have the same main dishes each week which are planned on Sunday and the veggies will differ. By automating all of these little decisions I can save my brain power for my day which is full of decisions to be made.

  2. I make my hardest decisions in the morning when I can.  First thing in the morning I look through my schedule, familiarize myself with my patients that are coming in for the day and make a tentative plan for what I’m going to do.  Then I look through my lab work results and make my long term and short term plans for those patients. I don’t often call these first thing as that takes too much time but I’ll write out my plan so that it is already done when I have time to call.

  3. I have a snack when I am done with my appointments before I sit down to make phone calls or write notes for the day. As we make more and more decisions our brains actually get fatigued.  Research has shown that having a snack helps to fuel your brain by providing a fresh wave of glucose which will help you to feel less decision fatigue.

  4. Delegate decisions when I can.  In order to do this I really have to let go of my perfectionism. Trust me, this is a hard one for me. In practice this means not returning every phone call myself. This means leveraging my staff to do the blood draws, the urine collections, the ear cleaning, the nail trims, the anal gland expressions etc.  At home this means delegating meal planning or grocery shopping to my husband or a paid shopper (totally worth it). All of these things require even more decisions to be made. By letting go of needing to do these things myself I am able to delegate happily and free up my thinking power for when I need it.

  5. I limit distractions when I am making decisions. This includes distractions from the outside world as well as internal distractions. It’s amazing how much we ignore our own needs within a day. But having a full bladder, being hungry or thirsty, hot or cold are all distractions too. By taking care of my physical body I can decrease the amount of chatter in my brain so that I can be more productive in my decision making abilities.

So take a good look at the vast number of decisions that we make in a day and see where in your life you can begin to implement some of these tips. Even if you put only one of these into action the benefits of decreasing your decision fatigue will be noticeable. Trust me, your brain will thank you!

This is important work we do.

You go this.