Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke

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Decision Fatigue & the Decision Fatigue Trap


By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com


If you were in jail and found yourself scheduling a parole board hearing, what time of day would you choose? (If you are ever faced with this grim prospect you obviously missed reading our series of newsletters on ethics!) Back to the hearing, you probably would be so happy to have a parole hearing you would not care what time it was, right? Well, various studies have concluded that inmates who appear at hearings in the morning are paroled with a much greater frequency than those who appear in the afternoon. It turns out that the reason for this odd occurrence is a syndrome known as decision fatigue. According to Wikipedia, “Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making.” President Obama is well-aware of decision fatigue. So much so that he limits the number of different colored suits and ties he wears so as to minimize the number and scope of decisions he makes during a day.   


In an article that appeared in the New York Times, the writer (John Tierney) stated that “No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price.” Mr. Tierney went on to say that decision fatigue is different from physical fatigue because you become low on mental energy as opposed to physical stamina. Further, Tierney stated that “The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain…. eventually [your brain] looks for shortcuts.” The shortcuts come in the form of either making impulsive, often poor decisions, or in simply shutting down and making no decision. Either path can potentially create a problem. The problems that may occur, however, do not enter into the equation when we are suffering from decision fatigue.


The Decision Fatigue Trap

Often times, leaders who are experiencing decision fatigue become short-tempered or irritable. If you find yourself falling into the decision fatigue trap, consider embracing these steps to avoid or minimize potential problems.

  1. Morning: Set a designated time (60 – 90 minutes) in the morning in order to get mission-critical work accomplished and to make your most important decisions. If you consistently execute this you will find that your decisions will be better thought out, as well as more effective. Note: The earlier in the morning that you set a designated time, the better your results.
  2. Lunch & Snack. Seek to rejuvenate during lunch by exercising for 20 minutes. A brisk walk will do the trick. This will build energy (not deplete it) and help to “reset” your decision-making clock. Also, eat a salad. This will minimize any carbohydrate induced crash that you may experience in the mid-afternoon. Note: Eat a snack (apples, hummus, etc.) around 2:30 pm in order to stay energized.
  3. Repetition: Seek to repeat this routine for the next 16 work days in order to create a habit. If you are unable to commit to 16 consecutive days, consider making this a Tuesday & Thursday ritual.


Bottom Line: Decision fatigue is real. All leaders experience it to a greater or lesser extent. If you find yourself a bit irritable during the day, be wary of falling into the decision fatigue trap. Catch yourself, and change a couple of your behaviors in order to minimize any ill effects.


Good luck, be well, and make solid decisions!


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Please do so, as long as you do not alter the content or embedded links. Also, please include the following information: Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based leadership and collaboration consultant, executive coach, and strategic planner. To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching and consulting services, visit www.leadershipsimplified.com. 

© 2013 Leadership Simplified. All rights reserved.

Posted by Doug Van Dyke on 2013-12-31 at 05:08 PM
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