Plan and Invest campaign

The decision dilemma: the everyday decisions that eat up our time

30 September 2020
  • Making daily decisions - what to eat, wear and watch - takes up 2.5 hours each day, with bigger life decisions taking 60 days
  • Two in five suffer stress and anxiety when faced with decisions, with many left feeling physically sick
  • Age matters - over 65s were half as likely to find decision making stressful compared to 18-24-year olds (24 per cent vs. 55 per cent)
  • An expert team at UCL have come together to create some simple rules of thumb to help people make better decisions

New research reveals that Brits spend a staggering 148 minutes each day deliberating over everyday decisions - from what to wear or eat, what to watch on TV or how to tackle their to-do list.

The study, conducted by Barclays Plan & Invest in partnership with researchers at UCL, set out to explore the challenges faced when making decisions and uncovered that, by sweating the small stuff, we don’t leave enough time or energy to tackle life’s more important questions.

The full extent of modern-day decision dilemmas is revealed by the one in five who make to-do lists, but then spend half an hour deciding which item to tackle first. This choice paralysis doesn’t stop when we’re ready to wind down either – on average it takes around 20 minutes of flicking through channels before deciding what to watch on TV and just under an hour (54 minutes) deliberating what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

When it comes to choosing what to wear, women are – on average – two minutes quicker than their male counterparts (18 vs 20 minutes). However, the tables are turned when it comes to special occasions, as women will take a staggering twelve times longer (6 hrs vs 29 minutes) to find the perfect outfit.

Whilst these daily decisions take up time, the research also revealed that financial concerns consistently rank top of the list when it comes to the hardest decisions, including choosing where to buy a house (32 per cent), how to invest your money (25 per cent) and how to spend your hard earned savings (25 per cent).

Dr Peter Brooks, Head of Behavioural Finance at Barclays Plan & Invest says: “With daily decisions eating up so much time, it’s no surprise that we struggle to make the big ones – particularly regarding our money. How to invest for your future is one of the most difficult, and most personal, decisions to make – but also one that it is easy to avoid – so it’s no surprise that that one in four people struggle.

“It’s one of the reasons we launched Plan & Invest, to alleviate the pressure and give people better support as they start out investing.  And the best part is, our team of experts make all the tough investment decisions, so you don’t have to.”


Where to buy a house  

32 percent

Whether or not to change jobs

27 percent

How to invest your money

25 percent

How to spend your savings

25 percent

The impact of decision-making fatigue

By wasting hours deliberating over the small decisions, by the time people come to making big and important life decisions – like changing jobs, choosing a partner or deciding where to buy a house – they feel burnt out and take an average of 60 days to make up their mind. In fact, the study suggests that the choice paralysis we experience when making everyday decisions can impact our ability to make the more important ones.

Dr Bastien Blain, Research Associate at UCL, who co-authored the study, explains: “Making difficult decisions requires a lot of brain power. Studies have shown that having many decisions to make and lots of options to choose from can produce internal conflict, anxiety and reduce people’s satisfaction with their choice. Being mentally fatigued in this way makes us more impulsive and prone to choosing small, immediate rewards over larger, delayed ones.”

With so much energy expended on everyday decisions, it’s no wonder that two in five of those polled for the study reported feeling stressed (40 per cent) or anxious (39 per cent) when making decisions. A further 21 per cent feel overwhelmed and 10 per cent physically sick. However, age matters, as over 65s were half as likely to find decision making stressful when compared to 18-24 year olds (24 per cent vs. 55 per cent).

The key to better decisions

The good news is that Dr Bastien Blain and Joseph Marks, who conducted the research at UCL, have come up with some simple rules of thumb to help people make better decisions.

1.     Avoid making big decisions when you’re tired, or ‘pause’ for thought

Cognitive fatigue leads to more impulsive decisions, so it is better to make big decisions over the weekend or in the morning – avoiding busy periods of work or exercise. If you are under pressure to make a decision when you’re felling drained, take a 15-30 minute break, as this gives the brain time to regain some energy.

2.     Know your own body clock

The key to making better decisions lies in knowing your ’chronotype’ - whether you are a morning person or a night owl. ‘Morning people’ have more cognitive capacity in the morning, while ‘evening people’ have more in the evenings – so try to make your big decisions at the time of day when you’re at your most alert.

3.     Learn to ‘satisfice’ or ask for help

Decision making is even harder for over thinkers – in other words, those who are concerned about always making the ‘right’ decision. Learning to satisfice - or accept the first satisfactory decision - may help reduce anxiety. Or if all else fails, get someone else to help make the decision for you. If it requires certain knowledge, delegating to an expert can help decrease the negative feelings associated with making a difficult decision – and leave you reassured that it’s in capable hands!

4.     Know that it will get easier

The good news is that decision making, like many things, gets less difficult with age and as your experience grows. This is due to ‘crystallised intelligence’ – years of accumulated knowledge and wisdom. Secondly, as you get older, you’re more likely to maintain positive emotions for longer and are less likely to focus on the potential negatives of your decisions, or the impact they might have.





Buying a sofa

24 hours 5 mins

What colour to paint a room

18 hours 53 minutes

What to buy someone for their birthday

11 hours 49 minutes

What to wear for a special occasion

3 hours 40 minutes

What perfume to buy

3 hours 12 minutes

Whether to buy the items in your online shopping basket

1 hour 37 minutes

What to do at the weekend

1 hour 8 minutes

What to tackle on your to-do list

27 minutes 11 seconds

How to manage your daily spending

26 minutes 42 seconds

What to eat for dinner

22 minutes 44 seconds

Notes to Editors:

The ‘Science of Decision Making’ research was commissioned by Barclays Plan & Invest to explore the challenges faced when making decisions and answer the question “why is decision making so hard”. UCL Research Associate, Dr Bastien Blain and Doctoral Researcher, Joseph Marks reviewed almost 200 studies into the factors that affect decision making, supported by consumer research that identified the decision Brits find most difficult.

The study revealed that one of the hardest decisions Brits face is how to invest their money. With its new digital advice service, Plan and Invest, Barclays creates a personalised investment plan that’s tailored to people’s financial goals.

Consumer research was conducted with a UK representative sample of 2,000 respondents by Mortar in September 2020.

To learn more about Barclays Plan & Invest, visit: barclays.co.uk/investments/plan-and-invest

About Plan and Invest

Plan and Invest is a new digital advice service that will create a personalised investment plan that’s tailored to a customer’s goals, with Barclays then managing the investments on their behalf – traditionally known as discretionary portfolio management.

Customers will complete an in-depth questionnaire on their circumstances and what they want to achieve by when, along with a personality assessment on how they respond to risk. Barclays will then use the latest technology to combine this information with their expert team’s pick of investments, to create a personalised plan that can follow over 10,000 investment paths.

It’s free for customers to create their initial personalised investment plan and they will only be charged once their accounts are set-up and their money has been invested. Once a portfolio is set-up, Barclays will charge an ongoing annual fee of between 1.39 per cent and 1.59 per cent, which is charged based on the value of their investments and split into two types of costs – service costs and product costs.

About Barclays

Barclays is a British universal bank. We are diversified by business, by different types of customer and client, and geography. Our businesses include consumer banking and payments operations around the world, as well as a top-tier, full service, global corporate and investment bank, all of which are supported by our service company which provides technology, operations and functional services across the Group