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 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:
Does the time of day, or the judges’ level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.
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.
Looking at the chart below, it may look quite similar to one of your average days. 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.
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.
Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours 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.
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 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. 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