Decision Fatigue

Those of you with a sharp eye for detail, may have noticed that ex-president Obama, was always photographed wearing either a navy or grey suit when carrying out his presidential duties. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Barack explained that the reason for this is that on a day to day basis he tries to pare down his decisions, this includes what to wear and also what he is going to eat that day.

Research shows that the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting and why leaders need to focus their decision making energy, otherwise they could be at risk of decision fatigue.

Research carried out in the US looked at patterns in parole board’s decisions, by analysing over 1,100 decisions made over the course of a year. The patterns they spotted were not down to the prisoner’s ethnic backgrounds, crimes or sentences but in the timing of the decision. Prisoners who appeared in the early morning received parole in about 70% of the time, whilst those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10% of the time.

As leaders in business we are expected to make lots of decisions throughout the day, some small but others far reaching with possible long term consequences. Some of the signs that you might be suffering from decision fatigue include:

•   You have low mental energy, so you look for the easiest / quickest option (e.g. buy junk food at the supermarket)
•   You become reckless – tendency to act impulsively instead of expending the energy first to think through the consequences
•   Do nothing. Instead of agonising over decisions avoid any choice. Ducking the decision can however create bigger problems in the long run.

So how do the best leaders avoid decisions fatigue?
Well for a start they don’t schedule back to back meetings, they eat regularly and recognise when their blood sugar levels are low, they are well rested and exercise on a regular basis (usually scheduled in the diary) they make the most important decisions at the start of the day and don’t decide to restructure the company at 4pm!

They also don’t take on any major commitments during a cocktail party or a dinner with clients. They also practice mindfulness where they learn to ‘just be’ for 10 – 15 minutes.