Today’s guest post is by Brad Wayland. Brad is an entrepreneur, Chiefs fan and the VP of Business Development at BlueCotton, an on-demand t-shirt printing company.
Do you feel exhausted after hosting an event or after working on a big project? Feel like your brain is just tired or worn out at the end of the day? You’re likely encountering something known as decision fatigue. Here’s how to get rid of it.
In 2011, researchers at Columbia University published a very, very interesting study. Over a ten-month period, they examined over one thousand judges, paying close attention to their rulings in parole hearings and the time of day at which those rulings were made. It didn’t take long for them to notice a pattern.
“At the beginning of the day, the judge would give a favorable ruling about 65% of the time,” explains James Clear. “As the morning wore on, the judge would become drained from making decisions. The likelihood of a criminal getting a favorable ruling steadily dropped to zero. It didn’t matter what the crime was; a criminal was more likely to get a favorable response at their hearing if it was scheduled in the morning or immediately after a food break than if it was scheduled at the end of a long session.”
In this case, the researchers noticed a phenomenon called decision fatigue. Every profession involves making decisions to one degree or another. However, we aren’t meant to make decisions over long, uninterrupted stretches.
We grow bored. We become irritable. We care progressively less about the choices we’re making, until it starts to feel like a titanic struggle to complete even the smallest tasks.
Every day, in one form or another, you apply willpower toward decisions. Maybe you resist the urge to eat a donut for breakfast and opt for oatmeal instead. You work on the expense report instead of going on Facebook. When you make a decision, your mental energy is drained.
In short, the more temptations you resist, the harder it becomes to resist future temptations. Makes sense, right? But…how can you deal with this drain of your mental energy?
This is a question that everyone has asked at some point in time. A growing body of experts have thought of specific, actionable ways to help you maximize your willpower. I’ve laid out a few here. See if you don’t feel like you’ve more time and energy to spare once you incorporate them into your day-to-day.
- Take On Your Biggest Decisions First. This is similar to how a judge should have their most important parole hearings earlier in the day. Arrange your schedule so that key projects and your most important decisions are completed before anything else. When you do this, you’ll be fresh-faced when tackling your biggest challenges.
- Simplify Your Life. If you follow business leaders like Steve Jobs, then you probably noticed that many of them seem to have only one outfit. There’s a very good reason for this. These individuals reduce clutter—in this case mental clutter—in their day-to-day lives in order to ensure they have fewer decisions to make throughout the day. This allows them to be more decisive—and often more successful—with the most important issues in the workplace.
- Turn Your Tasks And Decisions Into A Game. Do you have an important project due next week? Use a productivity tool like Habitica to turn that project’s completion into a game. Reward yourself every time you make progress, and keep yourself on-track by gamifying even the smallest choices you make.
- Know When To Take A Break(And Take Care Of Yourself): One of the most important elements of being decisive is recognizing when you’re too exhausted to accomplish anything important. Everyone needs to take a break every now and then. Eat and sleep regularly and exercise, too, while limiting your exposure to unhealthy food and drink. Trust me—your health impacts how decisive you are in your day-to-day.
- Set Time Limits (And Penalties): Limit how long you’re allowed to take before making a decision, and put a solid time limit on how long you’re allowed to spend on each task. When you have a solid deadline looming over your head, you are much more likely to make a decision instead of procrastinating.
Its normal to have decision fatigue from time to time. Whenever you feel the brain strain of making another choice, just follow the advice I’ve lined out here. This will help you limit the strain decision fatigue has on both your personal and professional lives.