Is Decision Fatigue Clouding Your Judgment?
Need a quick decision from your boss? Have a request you want approved? Don't ask when the decision maker is tired. Signs that the timing is off is your emails, texts and phone messages never get answered. So how can you strike at the most opportune time to avoid a quick rejection or a careless, poorly considered acceptance just to have closure (but not really a true agreement)?
You may not have heard of decision fatigue, but there's a good chance that both you and your boss experience it on a regular basis. In fact, studies suggest that you probably encounter this issue multiple times every day.
What is decision fatigue?
The brain is only capable of performing so much work before it needs a break. Quality thinking consumes a lot of energy, particularly when you are making important decisions. Once you have drained your available mental energy the brain moves to a "default" of mostly ignoring or going down the path of least effort.
Not surprisingly we are just less capable when we are tired or hungry. "Powering through" just leaves you even more fatigued. A recent survey by Staples reveals that is happening more often as people often eat lunch at their desks, rarely step away for a break and are working longer than 8 hours a day (not to mention commute times).
Multiple studies have explored this issue. For example, researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel examined more than 1,100 decisions made by a parole board. The study found that, at the beginning of the day, each applicant had a 70 percent chance of parole. Over the course of a few hours of back-to-back deliberations, the odds of a prisoner receiving parole dropped to virtually zero. After the judges took a mid-morning break to rest and eat a snack, the rate jumped back to 70 percent. The same pattern played out again before and after lunch.
Ever wonder why you bought that extended warranty and rust job for your new car? Another study found that German car buyers were more likely to accept suggestions (that they regretted later) by the car salesman at the end of a long string of decisions.
How can you beat decision fatigue?
Take a break:
A quick walk is especially revitalizing (ideally outside in the fresh air and sunshine). Even just getting up from your computer and going to a break room helps. 58 percent of respondents in the Staples study said a well-stocked/comfortable break room encourages breaks, and 76 percent said break rooms allow them to unwind and relieve stress. Drinking a glass of water also boosts energy. Dehydration, even at minor levels, can cause your brain to feel sluggish. Some companies have even found napping rooms improve executive effectiveness.
Having a meeting with one or two people? Invite them for a walking meeting. Step outside and converse in the sunshine. It is amazing how much better your thinking is while walking and talking in the fresh air.
To your brain there is no such thing as multi-tasking. You may get more proficient at recovering from interruptions as you change focus but it will sap your energy. For an important decision, push everything else aside for a designated block of time and make the decision to give it your full attention. You will be amazed at the quality of work and the energy boost from completing the task.
Make the most of times when you're at your best.
If you have a task that you know will require a significant amount of brainpower and decision making, try to complete it during the part of the day when you have the most energy. For some that is early, for me I kick in about 3 pm.
Remember that your colleagues are affected by decision fatigue, too
Dumping a key decision on a fatigued co-worker may lead them to give you an answer without fully considering the situation. If possible, wait until the next morning so they can look at the issue with fresh eyes.
Connie Meyer is President of Performance Partners. She supports her clients in creating the organization culture and leadership styles that support high productivity and well being and quality decisions. 301.270.0558