We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run over. ~ Aneurin Bevan
Entrepreneurs and managers have to make a continuum of decisions. Others are dependent on these decisions to be right for their own well-being and even their family's well-being. However, there is more research coming out showing that making too many decisions can lead to poor decisions.
Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have more in common than both being CEO's of dynamic companies as they both wore the same clothes to work each day. When Zuckerberg was asked, "Why do you wear the same T-shirt every day?" He responded by saying, "I want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible "
A recent study by the National Academy of Sciences researchers, looked at 1,112 decisions made by a parole board judge over a 10-month period. They found that based on time of day -- or before decision fatigue sets in -- the judge was likely to give a ruling favorable to the criminal 65 percent of the time. However, as the morning wore on, the probability of the criminal getting a favorable ruling dropped to almost zero. Then after lunch would jump back up to 65 percent and then fall as the back to the zero level at the end of day.
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What was happening here, the researchers suggest, was that as the judge got tired or lost his willpower to make the correct decision, the judge would reject each of the parole applications. The judge knew this was an easier decision and did not require much debate about whether the criminal deserved to be released. The judge reached the point of decision fatigue and was no longer willing to make the tough decisions. Now of course this is just one judge and the concept of decision fatigue needs to be further studied.
I cannot tell you the number of times I have been out with a group of people and have said, "You guys make the decisions as I just do not want to be in charge."
Given that decision fatigue is real, what can you do about it?
The first thing you can do is to make sure you plan to make easy decisions early. Some of these things will be what should I wear in the morning, what should I have for breakfast, and what do I need to do after work. Obviously, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg got this point.
The second thing you can do is use great time management and cut out interruptions. One neat thing to help in this is to ask every staff person who comes to you for a decision what they would do. This puts the onus on them to come up with a solution before they see you and this will drastically cut interruptions and decisions.
The third thing is to keep your blood sugar up by constantly eating something (every two hours). This will stop you from getting tired and loosing your willpower.
Finally, the fourth thing you can do is simplify your life. I think there is a difference between important tasks and urgent issues. Try to delegate as many urgent items and try to concentrate on just the important items. Ask yourself as much as possible why you are doing a specific task. If the reason does not fit into your corporate or personal goals then jettison the task.
Decision fatigue is real and there is much you can do to help yourself through this process.
Jerry Osteryoung, a business consultant, is a Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.