Have you ever had those days when your brain feels like the spinning wheel you see when your computer has too much to process? Twirling, twirling, twirling on your screen while you wait for it do something. Anything?
Our brains, much like computers, can only process a limited amount at a time. Making decisions is one of those functions. Termed “decision fatigue,” research shows our brains can only process an average of 200 decisions in any given day.
But most teachers must make that many decisions in the first two hours of the day—more than the majority of professions—we make more than rocket scientists! And so many of those decisions are unanticipated—you have to fly by the seat of your pants when you work with students. In fact, teachers on average make 1500 decisions a day!
When our brains have processed too much, we’re going to be stymied or make a poor decision when we give feedback, adjust instruction, have a behavior issue, or handling a bloody nose in the middle of a lesson.
No wonder we feel so overwhelmed sometimes!
The true beauty of learning about this research though is that once we know how our brains work, we can adapt accordingly—and be proactive. There are so many tips and strategies we can use to counteract decision fatigue.
I’ve been experimenting with my brain to discover what it takes—as a teacher—to eliminate (or at least reduce) decision fatigue. Here are my top 3 discoveries (or in scientific terms—observations)and the strategies I use.
- Plan in one sitting.I have to plan at one time instead of spreading it out over multiple days. Creating plans only on one specific day a week is essential. So I set aside a day each week when I can plan alone and uninterrupted.After that, I make a list of everything I need to do to implement those plans. I have my plan in my plan book, make the copies, and put them in an organized tray for each day.This system saves me decisions every morning. I only must get out my materials, look over my plans, and I’m ready to go. No decisions needed!
- Wear black.It sounds a little off maybe but bear with me. Many of us make too many decisions when it comes to our clothes. While we need to look professional, we don’t have to go overboard.You can either lay out your clothes for the week or just wear black. I’m a huge fan of black, grays, and whites during my busy weeks. I mix and match throughout the week so I don’t have to do much else but throw on my clothes.You can actually do this with your wardrobe the entire year—while still remaining professional and fashionable. Here’s what you’ll need:
2 pairs of pants (black, grey)
3 scarves (need to match black or grey)
3 shirts (black or white)
2 cardigans or a jean jacket (for cold months)
1 pair of black shoes
I literally mix and match that list together throughout the week (and sometimes through two weeks—with washing, of course). I add jewelry to make each day look unique, but the scarves make it stand out.
You could wear the same black pants and a white shirt all week with a different scarf, sweater, and jewelry and it would look like a different outfit. And if you can get by with wearing jeans at your school, you can dress them up with a shirt, cardigan, and scarf.
- Systems and procedures.If we have solid systems and procedures in place for classroom management, turning in work, grading, planning, and all the day-to-day practices in a classroom, we do not have to make the moment-to-moment decisions that clog our brain.I create, revise, and perfect my procedures during the summer. I learn throughout the year what works and doesn’t work, then revise in summer when my brain is fresh. The first few weeks of school are focused ONLY on modeling, practicing, and implementing those decisions. This is the single most valuable discovery I made as I’ve observed my brain versus decision fatigue.