Geeking Science: Decision-Making Fatigue and Mental Load

Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash

New year. Same energy levels.

A lot of it has to do, not with work and effort, but making decisions, especially for women. If both partners are working full-time, and come home and only one is making all the decisions there, someone has two full-time jobs even if the other partner is helping out when asked. Often putting together enough energy to ask for help takes as much energy as doing it yourself.

Sit down with your partner and split the decision-making and the task work. When I had a partner, I figured out making meals (making the meal plan, creating the grocery list, shopping and stocking the food, cleaning the cooking area, cooking to schedule so all the dishes come out at the same time, setting the table, clearing the meal dishes and cooking pans, doing the dishes, and putting everything away) took as much decision-making and task energy as THE REST OF THE HOUSE COMBINED (yard work, laundry, and clearing & cleaning).

If you have a partner, find time to sit down and state how to help with various tasks. Like “I’ll do the laundry and put things in baskets by the door, and you take them and put them away when you see them out.” If cues can be set up to let the other person know when and how to help, the decision maker doesn’t need to make another decision of asking each and every time (becoming a nag). “After the last kid leaves the table, can you get it cleared immediately while I work on the kitchen, then jump in with the kids and get their homework started.”

And both sides need to say thank you.

Emma’s “You Should have Asked” – – is such a shout out to how women are buried under the combination of full-time work AND house work. And, no, it isn’t the case in every house – I know two homes where the male partner is the stay-at-home parent – but in the vast majority, it is the case and that needs to be changed. And as we know change comes only two ways – preparation (talking and planning) or disaster. Don’t wait for the person doing double-load on the decision making to collapse. Have the conversation and find out what are the hidden tasks and decisions you might not be noticing.

Men outsourcing mundane decision making to women and causing decision fatigue – meanwhile they get to preserve their brains for work. (Anne 2022)

If both are working outside the home, it doesn’t matter how “high-powered” the job is, both are constantly making decisions for work. Stocking shelves depends on which needs to be stocked when (say morning coffee needs to be out first, but school supplies by three, and dinner makings by six), how much, and where. In a partnership (marriage or living arrangement), one of the couple is not the home manager.

Okay, now to focus on the GEEKING SCIENCE part of this.

decision fatigue … is a state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions (Berg 2021)

The pandemic has made this worse for everyone. A simple run to a store now has four or five additional decisions, especially when COVID-19 started in impacting life in 2020 – mask or not mask, which store, what has the least risk, do we really need this, who is the house is best suited to go. People were exhausted learning how to zoom, work from home, deal with the home stuff – heck, how to dress for the day! Nothing was the same anymore. That first year everyone was in a haze. Most thought “shock”, but a lot of the exhausted-haze was being buried under decision-making from the lost of routines.

It used to be a joke of a woman “can’t decide what to eat.” That was because she was buried under the house-management and the day-job together and used up all her decision-making ability. During COVID, even the previously protected privileged from double-decision-management, started “binge-watching” Netflix at night … not so much from “I want to see this entire show in one sitting” as “I sat on the couch and stared at the black screen and pushed a button out of habit. I couldn’t get the energy to make the decision to turn it off and go to bed.” People started skipping meals, not because they weren’t hungry, but because they couldn’t decide TO EAT, let alone WHAT to eat, or HOW to make something to eat.

As the brain exhausts its decision-making through the day, it starts doing shortcuts – impulse, avoid, procrastinate, and just don’t decide at all. One of the reasons expensive decisions should be made early in the day; shopping for food at night rather than in the morning will have a lot more impulse buys. Fast food buys happen more at night. The shopping channel sells more at night.

Doctors recommend making lists before shopping to reduce decision-making in the store. You cut out entire aisles of choices with a list in hand. (Berg 2021)

Become aware of mental load and decision fatigue. Maybe some of the New Year resolutions should focus on reducing decisions. Things like “I will create a routine of setting out my clothes at night.” and “Me and my partner will make meal decisions for the week on Saturday and post it on the fridge.”

Take care of yourselves y’all. Work together and support each other.

(Interesting side-note – Anne is Kenya and Emma is France. This is not just an American or European thing.)


Anne (AuDHD Electrical Engineer. @W_Asherah). “Someone has asked me what else I’ve observed. And oh boy – there’s another really messed up one. Men outsourcing mundane decision making to women and causing decision fatigue – meanwhile they get to preserve their brains for work.” 6/14/2022. – last viewed 12/13/2022. (see below for extra)

Berg, Sara. “What doctors wish patients knew about decision fatigue.” AMA (American Medical Association). 11/19/2021. – last viewed 12/13/2022.

Brusie, Chaunie. “Moms’ Decision-Making Fatigue is More Real Than Ever.” 7/8/2020. – last viewed 12/13/2022.

Chandler & Alexis. “Your wife is your partner not your mom!!!” 9/22/2022. – last viewed 12/13/2022.

Emma. “You should’ve asked.” 5/20/2017. – last viewed 12/13/2022.

Twitter post

Since Twitter is having a meltdown, I’ve retyped the screen shots for (Anne 2022) below. (Bolding is my emphasis.)

  1. Someone has asked me what else I’ve observed. And oh boy – there’s another really messed up one. Men outsourcing mundane decision making to women and causing decision fatigue – meanwhile they get to preserve their brains for work. Let me look for the thread (June 14, 2022)
  2. Autism and gender. Do you have a woman in your life who knows everything, plans everything, thinks for everyone, helps solve all problems? Does everyone depend on that woman so much they would be lost without her? Her friends, family, colleagues?
  3. Then joking about “how women can’t decide what to eat” like it’s a cutesy thing. Sir, your (insert) has been making so many decisions that her brain has shut down and won’t let her make any more. She’s literally struggling with comprehending the stuff on the menu. Help her!
  4. The human brain doesn’t have limitless decision-making capacity – it has a bandwidth which when exhausted, someone struggles to think even the most basic thoughts. It’s why you’ll get shouted at for asking “where can I find the spoon.” That “I don’t know” is honest.
  5. The brain, at that moment, doesn’t have the bandwidth to figure out where the spoon is – even when it’s something they put somewhere ever day. It’s super easy for Autistics to realize this in themselves because our social bandwidth is near non existent – we guard the little we have.
  6. (next several tweets are links to articles about decision-making fatigue – some are behind paywalls, but (Berg 2021) is part of the bibliography)
  7. If you relate with both threads – you need a mental health regroup. It’s bad bad. You need to collect yourself before you’re on several sets of antipsychotics for people reasons. If you’re already on them, see if you’re medicating the symptom and try dealing with the source.
  8. It’s 1 pm in Kenya. Off I go.
  9. (thread date changes to June 15)
  10. I don’t know why anyone thinks I’m interested in debating things that impact women’s mental health. Like okay, your sensibilities have been offended and you’re emotionally hurt – learn emotional regulation, sir. I’m here talking to people who are literally breaking down healthwise
  11. And do you know what happens when women show up sick in hospital? They are told they are anxious. They are told “it’s all in your head“. Then when we talk about things that make women anxious and affect their mental health, there’s clowns who want to center themselves.
  12. This isn’t about me. Repeat that to yourself enough times. It’s about people who should start caring for themselves as much as they care for others. Because few people ask “how is the person caring for me doing?”. They just take and drain. And that causes health problems.
  13. We are anxious. We are fatigued. Some are burned out. Some are severely burned out. Someone decides to tweet likely explanations to other women. You get offended because “that’s not the case in my life as a man”. Well, great. Clap for your exceptional self and keep moving.
  14. (Retweet from OziomaOnukogue.eth: Another name for this is: Mental Load. This book by Emma explains it all. We end up making <so many> small tiny decisions that’s there’s barely space to focus on big ones. Yes, the brain freezes from overwork, just like a computer. That’s why it’s not helpful to call women multitaskers.)

Some responses (not copying the twitter tags on these)

  1. On the verge of tears because my God all of this! I’m so tired that by the end of the day I’m literally only capable of staring at the wall.
  2. Yes and once I get the baby to bed I just want to sit and relax but get flak from my SO for not showing interest in him. I’m so tired.
  3. Funny, I still had to make all the decisions in my house even when I ALSO had a full time job.
  4. I’m a single mom now and still make all the decisions. But at least no one criticizes me for them now. Somehow it’s easier. (RESPONSE: Makes sense. If he wasn’t a partner in making decisions, then without him you have one less mental/emotional dependent.)
  5. The number of men I know who “don’t know where things go” in their own drawers/kitchen/refrigerator/house. (RESPONSE: And if you ask them to put it away anyway, they will choose the single most ridiculous, obviously wrong place for it and then do the “but you wouldn’t tell me where to put it.”
  6. I started answering the “whatever you want” with “I want not to have to decide”