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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to the final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison and granted parole, or a change in the parole terms.

While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges’ mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

Proportion of rulings in favor of the prisoners by ordinal position.... | Download Scientific Diagram

     

    Does the time of day, or the judges’ level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

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    The research went on to show that earlier in the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

    However, as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

    However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

    This is no coincidence, as according to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges’ lunch break.

    This is just one of the negative effects of decision fatigue.

    Are You Suffering From Decision Fatigue?

    We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

    Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily small decisions and weekly or monthly big decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right headspace.

    Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine-induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue, which can lead to poor choices. Just like every other muscle, your brain starts feeling drained after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

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    Looking at the chart below, it may look quite similar to one of your average days[2]. Considering that this is just a handful of the decisions one has to make throughout the day, it’s easy to see how decision fatigue begins to manifest.

    Decision Fatigue

      The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

      When you are in a position such as a judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does.

      According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day-to-day stresses at work and in their private life.

      When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. Once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues, such as impulse shopping, poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after-work relationships.

      You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

      How to Make Decisions Effectively

      Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks to avoid decision fatigue and make better decisions.

      1. Make Your Most Important Decisions Within the First 3 Hours

      You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so do so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

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      Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[3] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

      Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals and make good decisions?

      2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

      You don’t have to choose all the time.

      Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut out that step of your morning.

      If you can’t decide what to wear, pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

      Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limit their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision fatigue.

      By choosing to make less decisions throughout the day, you’re choosing to free your mind for the most important decisions.

      3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

      You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks to improve your mental energy. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

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      The reason for this is because the belly is now full, the hunger is gone, and you likely have a bit more energy. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[4] found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

      Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh.

      Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

      One study found that the ideal work day consists of work periods lasting around 50 minutes, followed by a 15-20 minute break[5]. Try to follow this pattern for a more productive day.

      The Bottom Line

      Instead of slogging through your day and succumbing to decision fatigue, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break and eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

      More Tips About Decision Making

      Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      1 8 Reasons You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions) 2 Why You Need to Say No! More Often 3 The Gentle Art of Saying No for a Less Stressful Life 4 How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus 5 How to Eliminate Distractions for Achieving Your Goals

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      Last Updated on January 27, 2021

      8 Reasons You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

      8 Reasons You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

      What were you doing when this article caught your eye? Chances are, you were having trouble concentrating on another project.

      Even before COVID-19, balancing your work, family, and social life made concentrating a challenge. These days, it can seem downright impossible.

      Don’t let a little bad news—or good fun—break your focus. Here are eight reasons why you might have trouble concentrating, each with its own solution for getting back on track:

      1. Digital Distractions

      Right now, do a little experiment. Pull up your browser history, hit Ctrl+H, and see where you’ve been all day. Frightening, right?

      You jumped in and out of email. You bounced from social media to digital publication and back again. Oh, and look at those half-dozen retail sites you scrolled through looking for a new pair of shoes.

      Then, there’s your smartphone. Every few seconds, you get a new notification from Twitter, Instagram, or CNN. Each time, your eyes dart from your computer screen to your phone. You’d hate to miss something, right?

      The Fix: Schedule Your Day

      Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, you can put together a daily schedule to help when you have trouble focusing. While a little flexibility is important, you should set aside blocks of time for tasks you know you’ll need to complete.

      Schedule time to:

      • Read and respond to work emails
      • Make headway on your top two or three work projects
      • Engage in professional development
      • Do household chores
      • Help the kids with homework
      • Run that Zoom tutorial with your partner again

      Leave short gaps in between as buffer times in case something goes over the intended time. Everyone needs to unwind with a good distraction now and again. The key is controlling when you do so, rather than letting it control you.

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      2. Daydreams and Memories

      Remember that little café where your spouse proposed to you 15 years ago? Wouldn’t your dining room look great with the same little tables and subway tile on the floor?

      Everyone loses themselves in daydreams and memories sometimes. Your mind wanders to the future or the past because those places are more pleasant than the spreadsheet you’re struggling to fill out. This causes you to have trouble concentrating on what you need to focus on.

      Nonetheless, you have a deadline to meet, so how can you keep yourself focused when you have trouble concentrating?

      The Fix: Stay in the Present

      Daydreaming isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Imagination can provide a spark of creative genius or visualization of what you want in life. You just need to do it when it makes sense, not when you should be focusing on work.

      Stay in the present by keeping your daily to-do list on your desk. When your mind starts to drift, pull yourself back to what’s right in front of you. Ground yourself by focusing on something real, like your breath, before turning your attention back to the task at hand.

      With that said, make time to let your mind wander on occasion. Allow yourself the luxury of dreaming when it’s not pulling you away from something you need to get done.

      3. Headaches

      Nearly everyone has had a headache at some point during their lives. While you might be able to power through a mild one, a splitting migraine can destroy any hope you have of concentrating.

      Headaches and migraines are caused by a wide range of issues, including stress, lack of sleep, diet, eyestrain, and medications[1]. Throw a global pandemic on top, and it’s no wonder your head is pounding.

      The Fix: Use Your Head

      Like that bottle of hand sanitizer, keep your headache and migraine medications on hand at all times. If getting to the pharmacy is a challenge these days, migraine services like Nurx can diagnose you and deliver medication to your door.

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      If your headache isn’t severe, try a medication-free approach. Some people find relief simply from drinking water, applying a cold compress, or inhaling essential oils.

      4. Racing Thoughts

      When is that project due? I’ve got to get something for Jane’s baby shower. I’m almost out of shampoo. I need those audit figures. What do I make for dinner tonight?

      Does that sound familiar? Racing thoughts are common, especially among busy people, but they aren’t conducive to keeping your brain on track and focused and often cause you to have trouble concentrating.

      The Fix: Meditate and Be Mindful

      If you’re like most people, your mind is lost in thought 47% of the time, causing concentration problems.[2] Meditation is a great way to clear the clutter and focus on the present.

      The good news is that meditating is easy. Simply sit somewhere comfortable, take off your shoes, and set a timer for ten minutes. Then, just focus on your breathing. Don’t try to control it; simply notice your inhales and exhales, and let thoughts pass unjudged.

      Mindfulness meditation, described above, is just one type. Mantra and movement meditations are also popular. Figure out what works for you, and keep those racing thoughts at bay.

      5. Unresolved Issues and Arguments

      Life is messy, and if you’re like me, one of the greatest concentration-killers is unresolved disputes.

      Maybe you argued with your partner last night. Perhaps you both went to bed angry, and it’s been bothering you all morning. Or maybe you’re fed up with a co-worker who always talks louder than is necessary because they want everyone to hear about their latest date.

      Your anger and annoyance won’t solve these issues, but they will distract you from your job.

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      The Fix: Get Some Closure

      Instead of leaving an argument up in the air, try to solve it. Stick to the point, stay calm, listen, and bring the disagreement to some sort of resolution.

      If a co-worker does something to irritate you enough to interfere with your ability to concentrate, pull them aside and tell them. Be rational—not angry—and try to understand what might motivate their actions. Otherwise, nothing is going to change, including the fact that you’re having trouble concentrating.

      6. Lack of Sleep

      Poor sleep isn’t just a health issue. It also hinders your ability to concentrate during the waking hours. There are medical reasons for poor sleep, like diabetes, sleep apnea, respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders. For those, you need to seek medical advice and treatment.

      For most people, poor sleep is the result of mental health struggles and anxiety about finances, kids, parents, or maybe that job change you’ve been considering. You have a lot on your mind, and this causes you to have trouble concentrating.

      The Fix: Have Some Sweet Dreams

      Losing as few as 16 minutes of sleep can throw you off your game the next day. Getting to sleep might be as easy as changing your mattress or your pillow, but the bigger culprit may be your routine. Key steps include:

      • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on weekends.
      • Control your exposure to light at night, including smartphones and computer screens. Use that time to confront those weighty things on your mind by making a list of concerns or updating your to-do list.
      • Avoid overeating. Large meals close to bed can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.
      • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine. Both substances interrupt your natural sleep cycle.
      • When you do lie down, turn off the lights and close your eyes. Take some deep breaths, and drift into dreamland.

      7. Lack of Exercise

      For many people, exercise lands at the bottom of the to-do list. When they run out of time, they skip it—at the cost of their concentration.

      Even moderate, regular physical activity benefits your physical health, improves your sleep, lessens anxiety, and increases mental acuity. If you aren’t making time for exercise during the day, you’re hurting your ability to stay focused.

      The Fix: Get Moving

      Not everyone is an athlete, and not everyone wants to work out under the scrutiny of their fellow gym-goers. At the end of the day, what matters is sustainability. Rather than launch into that soon-to-fail New Year’s resolution approach to exercise, start with literal small steps, like walking the dog or taking the stairs.

      If it only takes you five minutes to eat that protein bar at your desk, use the rest of your lunch break to take a walk. Even if it’s around the block, you’ll come back feeling refreshed.

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      8. Boredom

      If you’re bored with a work project, it’s easy to fall victim to even the smallest distraction. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you’ll have trouble concentrating on it. If you’re bored with life in general, you’ll find it difficult to focus on much of anything.

      Boredom leads to a lack of motivation, which leads to fatigue, which leads to scrolling through your Facebook feed for hours, killing your ability to focus. Depression and boredom are tightly linked.

      The Fix: Get a Fresh Perspective

      The pandemic has put a stranglehold on our social lives. Despite the restrictions on seeing other people and going out in public, you need to find a way to put the “social” back in your life. Work-life balance is important, especially under these circumstances.

      Even if you’re not comfortable with eating at a restaurant or visiting Grandma, there are things you can do. Zoom and Facetime are good options, but you might also think about having a couple of friends over on your patio while maintaining social distance. Keep it short so no one even has to use your bathroom.

      And about that boring work project? Tweak your attitude by thinking about how it will benefit your client. Find a way to make it fun, perhaps by discussing it with colleagues who make you laugh. You can check out more ways to make boring work interesting in the following video:

      If all else fails, just muscle through it. Mark it off your list, and move on to something more engaging.

      The Bottom Line

      Concentration requires a lot of energy, motivation, and focus. That’s why most people have trouble concentrating. When there are all sorts of sounds, lights, and people competing for your attention, that combination can be elusive.

      Do your best to remove distractions, clear your mind, and take care of yourself. Those work projects will practically check themselves off once you get into a groove.

      More to Help You Concentrate

      Featured photo credit: Rabie Madaci via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Harvard Health Publishing: Headache: When to worry, what to do
      [2] Columbia University: How Meditation Can Help You Focus

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