I met Ada Barlatt when we were on the same panel at the Beyond the Professoriate conference. She had a lot of smart things to say on that panel, so I invited her to write a guest post here. The post is below, and you can also find out more about Ada and her work helping people make decisions at sumptu.com.
Does this sound familiar? After arriving home at the end of a long day, someone asks you a simple question like: “What do you want for dinner?” But you are so tired that you respond: “I don’t care.”
If you have been in that situation, then you have experienced decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is the “deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making.”
Decision fatigue is a huge problem for your productivity. A research study in Israel found that prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time. Yikes! Just think, your freedom could depend on nothing more than the time of day you met with the parole board. The study showed that the decision was not based on the men’s ethnic backgrounds, crimes or sentences. You can read more about decision fatigue and this study in this NYT article from 2011.
This research (and the example I started with) both illustrate that you have a finite amount of decision making energy in one day. If you use up all of that “decision making energy” in the morning, you will not have anything left in the evening and thus the quality of your decisions (and your overall productivity) will suffer.
So what do you do? How do you avoid decision fatigue?
Here are my three tips:
1. Make sure that you are living a healthy lifestyle. The quality of your decisions is greatly impacted by your general health; is it important for you to get enough sleep and eat well. There is actually science that shows that postponing that big decision until “after a good night’s rest” may be just what you need.
2. Conserve your energy for the important decisions. If you want to avoid decision fatigue, you have to save your decision making energy for big and important decisions. To do this, consciously reduce and/or remove less significant decisions from your life. A quick way to implement this tip is to consider reflect on the importance of the outcome before you start brainstorming options. If you are indifferent about the outcome, then do not spend the time debating the options — go with a default choice or let someone else decide. US President Barack Obama described how he does this in a Vanity Fair article: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions.” He then goes on to say: “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
3. Have a decision making process handy. Having and implementing a structured decision making process can help you save time and energy when you are making your important decisions. A structured process can remove the stress, worry and frustration from your decisions. A good decision making process will:
- Break down your important decision into easy to manage components
- Consider both quantitative (e.g., costs) and qualitative (e.g., opinions) decision criteria
- If you have questions about this please contact me, I would love to chat about decision making with you!
Try implementing these three strategies to increase your decision quality and to boost your productivity!
Ada Y. Barlatt, PhD is your cheerful and trusted Decision Consultant. Ada founded Sumptu. Sumptu is a six step decision making process that empowers you to be a calm, clear and confident decision maker. Follow Ada on Twitter, @ada_barlatt.