How Many Micro-Decisions Do You Make in a Day?

Making decisions all day long — as judges and referees and bond traders and chess players will tell you — is exhausting. “Decision fatigue” is a real thing. Decision-making depletes the limited resources in our executive brains, reducing us to cataleptic meat sacks by the cocktail hour. 

But what many people don’t realize is that even seemingly trivial decisions can be a colossal energy suck if you string enough of them together. Ask any work-from-home mom about the “emotional labour” they do that doesn’t even make it onto the scoreboard. Having young kids in your charge is practically an Olympic sport in terms of the decision fatigue it produces.

Not long ago Emma Marris, a science writer and mom based in Klamath Falls, Oregon, decided to devote an entire day to documenting every micro-decision her kids required her to make. Not every question qualified as a decision prompt. Some questions are just idle musings – Marris didn’t include those. “Recording ALL the questions two kids ask in a day would be completely intractable,” she notes. Only questions that demanded an answer made the cut.

The list (you can read it here) is by turns hilarious and terrifying. Everyone who’s ever been a caregiver will twitch in sympathy.

Here are the decisions she was faced with before the end of breakfast. (The first one seems particularly diabolical. Hitting your mom with questions before she’s even conscious is … cold.) 


Can I play on your phone until you wake up?

Will you make a creature on this kids app?

Can we have breakfast now?

Can we have waffles?

Can I use my own money to buy candy and ice cream at the corner store when we go to buy eggs to make waffles?

Will you help me count my money?

Can we have chocolate chips in the waffles?

Can I mix it?

Can I measure the baking powder?

Can I mix it now? It is my turn.

Can we listen to Dynamite by Taio Cruz instead of this podcast about the Mueller investigation while we make breakfast?

Can we listen to bouncy music instead of this podcast about the Mueller investigation while we make breakfast?

Can we listen to anything besides this?

Can we listen to music from the Hayao Miyazaki film Ponyo while we eat?

Will you turn up the Ponyo music?

Will you peel this orange for me? The skin feels weird since you used it to make orange zest for a recipe a couple days ago.

Will you pre-chew my gumball since it is too large to fit in my mouth?

Will you open this package containing a gross looking gummy pizza?

Should we save this mostly uneaten waffle?

Will you open this other gross looking gummy pizza?

Will you play Quirkle with us, a color and shape matching game that takes forever?

Will you play this flower card game with us?

Can we play the dice game afterwards?


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