[Editor’s Note:This article and infographic were provided by Suzanne Paulinski.]

Being a DIY musician is no different than being an entrepreneur. You’re running your own business, building your own career, and the buck stops with you.

You’re responsible for calling all of the shots and, while that can feel awesomely empowering at times, it can feel incredibly overwhelming. In fact, decision fatigue is a real thing and it can lead to burnout.

You’ve been there – that feeling that if you have to make one more decision your brain will officially shut down. Or, how about when you’re in the middle of launching your new release (something that requires a lot of decision making) and you find yourself snapping at all of your friends and loved ones, crying at the most random times, and making foolish mistakes on tasks you can usually do with your eyes closed?

Yeah. That’s decision fatigue.

The NY Times reported on a study back in 2011 that found that one’s willpower and focus to make smart, rational decisions could be depleted over time. “Willpower turned out to be more than a folk concept or a metaphor. It really was a form of mental energy that could be exhausted.”

This is why, after a long day of work or after an exhausting show or studio session, we’ll eat the things that aren’t the best things to be eating, texting the people who aren’t the best people to be texting, or even tweaking that song that didn’t need any tweaking – we’re too mentally exhausted to make the right decisions for ourselves.

Additionally, adding to the exhaustion, we take in advice and information we find online or that’s even given to us by trusted sources and instead of staying on course, we hear that voice inside that says, “Well maybe I should be doing this instead,” or we fall victim to that ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’ where we lose focus and chase the next thing we’re told we “should be on top of mastering” if we want to make it in the music industry.

“Should” can be a very dangerous word and without a solid plan in place as to what you’re going after and why you’re going after it, that word has the power to completely paralyze us and keep us from making any real progress.

If you want to make better decisions more often without depleting your brainpower in order to stay focused on the goals you’ve set for yourself and not be distracted by all of the “shoulds” out there, it’s time to automate and structure your decision process a bit more with clear boundaries and expectations of what you want to accomplish.

The map below, which can be downloaded here, is an example of the questions you can ask yourself when someone asks something of you. Before immediately saying yes (because, “should”), take a moment to follow this decision map through a thought process that will take into consideration the path you’re already on and the goal you’re already working towards.

For example, if someone offers you a “fantastic gig” to play next week, stop and think who it’s “fantastic” for – if it’s not going to serve the goal you’re working towards then maybe it’s a better gig for someone else.

You would start by asking yourself if it interests you in the first place. If it did, then ask yourself if the monetary value (or other type of value – exposure, relationship-building, etc.) excites you. If still yes, determine if what’s being asked of you is currently manageable with what’s on your plate, and so on.

You can use this same breakdown method and thought process no matter what decision you’re trying to make simply by swapping out the questions that you ask yourself. It’s all about slowing down and thinking things through as they relate to your intended goal(s).

If you were choosing what to focus on next in your career you might start with one option and ask yourself, “Do I know enough about how to take these next steps?” If yes, then ask yourself, “Do I have enough resources to take these next steps?” If yes, then ask, “Do I need to delegate some of these next steps to someone else?” If yes, “Do I know someone to delegate them to?/Can I afford them?”

And you would keep going to be thinking through the situation logically. Each answer you give will inform you of what to do next.

Too exhausted to go through the process? Too short on time to go through the process? Then it’s not the right time to be making a decision about it!

Once you’re used to having more structure to your decision-making the process will soon feel automated and your brain will feel less overwhelmed because the decisions won’t feel so complex.

Breaking things down into binary (aka yes vs. no) situations can help get you unstuck in a sea of indecision and overwhelm and get you started on taking action today.

Have a situation that’s tripping you up? Tell us in the comments and let’s break it down!

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