Decision Fatigue – A Silent Killer of Productivity (and Common Sense)

March 22, 2018

With few tips and tricks on how to beat it

It’s morning. A new day has come and you are (almost) awake.
It’s time for some decision making.
What to eat?
What to wear?
Hair up or down?
Shaving or no?
On foot or by bus?
And so it goes. Never-ending decision-making line. One can get really tired. And when he does, there is a name for it.

Decision fatigue.

Ever heard of it?

If you ask people around you, they will most probably say that poor choice is a result of a “lack of willpower.” And they would be right. As it turned out, a willpower has a lot to do with decision fatigue.

How come?

Each decision we make, starting from the early morning and all through the day is eating our willpower as we have to switch task very fast and very often. As a result, we experience a lack of energy and focus, and hence the poor decisions.
We all know that the best decisions we make are made on a foundation of knowledge and sound reasoning. But, do we have the luxury to pull that out every time?
No, I guess we don’t.

DECISION FATIGUE – A SILENT KILLER OF PRODUCTIVITY (AND THE COMMON SENSE)

And this is why we sometimes make unhealthy and unproductive choices, even when we know we should do better.

Decision fatigue is to blame. This pretty new discovery engages a phenomenon called ego depletion, first mentioned by the social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister. The term is coined as an homage to a Freudian hypothesis. He speculated that the self, or ego, depended on mental activities involving the transfer of energy.

As our energy resources are limited, from the time we get up, we are making decisions that exhaust our willpower and thus, our energy level goes down.

By taking care of the entire daily routine – we try to tackle the items easiest to check off our list early in the day, so we can free up our mind to focus on the more critical strategic decisions that influence the serious issues.

Unfortunately, by the time we get to the most critical issues, we are already out of steam!
So, what do we tend to do?

Most of us simply make our way half-heartedly through the most important aspects of the day, or we just reschedule it for the next day. And the next day, the cycle repeats itself.

Let’s focus now on the relation your job has with a decision fatigue.

No need to say that the wise decision will lead you into long-term prosperity and not-so-smart-ones (made on the base of emotions, flawed logic or incomplete information) will “help” you go down.

DECISION FATIGUE – A SILENT KILLER OF PRODUCTIVITY (AND THE COMMON SENSE)

Don’t worry. Every businessman knows about the painful necessity of a choice. Even though indecision is an essence of a choice itself, it is the one thing you can’t let get out of control. The more you prolong the choice making, the closer you are to indecision and by that, to the decision quality deterioration.

Selection made after a long session of decision making is now considered one of the most common causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making.

The paralyzing effects of decision fatigue can also result in low self-control and willpower. To put it simply, the willpower can be compared to a muscle. But, instead of getting stronger of too much use, it gets weaker. We all have a limit on our willpower. The moment we spend our daily reserve, we find it extremely difficult to focus and resist succumbing to temptations.

The most common defense mechanism in those situations is to conserve the energy by making impulse decisions. Or even not to make a decision at all. Do you know all those situations you simply go with a flow? It’s your urge not to make any decisions, so you just let it go and save your mental energy.

And what are decisions made of?

Every decision, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant may be, can be broken down into what psychologists call the Rubicon model of action phases.

DECISION FATIGUE – A SILENT KILLER OF PRODUCTIVITY (AND THE COMMON SENSE)

The name comes from the famous historical event when Caeser with his troops reached the river separating Italy from the Roman province of Gaul (now would be the time to think for a second of a brave little Asterix). Waiting on the Gaul side of the river, he was in the “pre-decisional phase” as he contemplated the risks and benefits of a forbidden general returning to Rome, which could be considered as an invasion of the city. At one point, he simply stopped calculating and crossed the Rubicon, reaching the “postdecisional phase,” which Caesar defined in his own words “The die is cast.”

And that is the less painful and less consequence-bearing way.
There is a great number (if not all) of companies that put their managers at risk of decision fatigue. They are doing it by creating performance management, compensation, staffing and development processes.

How come?

Well, all those actions require appraising multiple people, based on multiple factors and on top of that – in a short period of time.

And that can be very exhausting. Just like when you suffer from the lack of sleep, decision fatigue results in a lack of emotional intelligence, multi-tasking ability, as well as the initiative to produce innovative solutions to problems, to assess risks, and to anticipate consequences.

So, it appears that decision fatigue is unavoidable.
And, the good news is that it is controllable.

It’s a trick.

And the very good one, actually. You will find below much more on tricks how to avoid decision fatigue, this one is a lonely rider as it is so simple and so widely excepted.

To save yourself from the mental energy drain – try creating habitual routines that will actually prevent you from having to make a decision.

Example:
You do brush your teeth every day, right?
Do you plan it, do you think about it before you do it? Of course not.
You just do it.
You could, by now, discover the secret connection between overthinking and decision making, right?

And what do experts say?

It seems like there is a link between decision-making actions, self-control, and willpower.

When some activities that include decision making are repeated over time, our self-control deteriorate. With the excessive repetition, willpower is also subjected to the exhaustion.

DECISION FATIGUE – A SILENT KILLER OF PRODUCTIVITY (AND THE COMMON SENSE)

With making one decision after decision, we are draining our ability to control our impulses.

What are the ways to avoid decision fatigue?

Well, first way would definitely be to focus on the most critical projects or decisions early in the morning. When you are really fresh and well-rested. After a good night sleep, your willpower is strongest and you can make the sharpest choices. That’s basic.

And now for the rest:

  1. KEEP IT SIMPLE
    Have you ever see Steve Jobs wearing anything else but his turtleneck and blue jeans?
    We didn’t think so.
    Well, there is more to that than just being so rich, famous and eccentric. Actually, it has nothing to do with eccentricity. The idea is this: with so many important decision to make during the day, why bother with one, clearly unnecessary, like what to wear? Keep it simple and save mental energy for other, much more important decisions. We don’t suggest you to start dressing like late Jobs. But, try to implement that philosophy onto something else that will clear some room and provide a little rest in your head.
  2. BE REALISTIC WHEN IT COMES TO PRIORITIZING
    Try to do as many important things you can at the beginning of your workday. Do not procrastinate. Ever.

Classify your priorities and stick to the schedule.

  1. FOCUS ON MOMENTUM
    Decision fatigue can sometimes make us feel out of control. To fast regain command over your job, build momentum around your tasks. Group similar tasks together, for starters. When you do so, you already started working on them – so you will be avoiding making the decision to get started. And, when you align complementary tasks like that – the complete work itself will be easier.
  2. THINK LIKE A BABY – TAKE POWER NAPS
    Power naps (short naps, up to 15 minutes) have the power of ironing and flattening most of the batch the busy day builds up in our mind. Do not underestimate the power of power naps. Babies know best.

DECISION FATIGUE – A SILENT KILLER OF PRODUCTIVITY (AND THE COMMON SENSE)

  1. OPTIONIZE
    For the issues on your to-do list that have lower priority, when making a decision – just choose the simpler option. The one that makes feel less overpowered. For those issues, simply do what comes easier at the moment. And do not let the guilt trip settle in.
  2. EAT
    Don’t make any decisions when you’re hungry. As simple as that. When you are hungry, your stomach produces a hormone called ghrelin, which negatively impacts decision making.
  3. GO MINIMAL
    Minimalism is a current trendy and mentally very healthy lifestyle movement. The aim is to possess only truly essential items. Implement that philosophy in your thoughts. Concentrate on important ones and deal with the small ones as they come (using the 4. Item of this text).
  4. GOOD ENOUGH IS PERFECT
    Do not set high goals for yourself. You do not have to do everything perfectly. You know why is that? Because you can’t! Bravely face it, then aim for “good enough” instead of perfection. This will save you a bunch of decision making and hence, decision fatigue.

If you are working on something that is not helping you achieve your final goal or task, just leave it well done. Not perfect.

  1. DO NOT CHEAT ON YOUR TO-DO LIST
    One list of the task should be enough. Feel free to turn down some things that pop in on the way. You know what happens when you put too much food on your plate.

DECISION FATIGUE – A SILENT KILLER OF PRODUCTIVITY (AND THE COMMON SENSE)

Hope you made the right decision and just finished reading this blog. We would like to add just one more thing. Ok, two things.

First: Never ignore the signs of overwhelming or fatigue of any kind. You count, so take care of yourself as you don’t have other body and mind. And those you have should last.

The other thing: Do not go to sleep now justifying it with the item number 3.

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