Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Decision Fatigue and the Leadership Decision Trap

Volume: November 2017

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 when it occurred, right? Well, various studies have concluded that inmates who appear at morning hearings 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 researchers, “Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making.” Former President Obama was so aware of decision fatigue that he limited the number of different colored suits and ties he had to choose from. He did this to minimize the number and scope of decisions he made during a given day.   
In an article that appeared in the New York Times, 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 potential problems, unfortunately, do not enter into our thinking once we experience the onset of decision fatigue.
Minimizing The Decision Fatigue Trap
Often, 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 Power Time. Set aside 60 – 90 minutes on selected mornings to accomplish mission-critical work and make important decisions. If you consistently execute this you will find that your decisions will be more strategic and effective. Note: For a large percentage of leaders, the earlier in the morning they designate Power Time, the better their results.
  2. Energetic 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. (Yes, you can do this!)
  1. Savvy Salesmanship. For sales leaders or those of you in the sales world, be strategic about planning your "get a decision" meetings. In other words, if an outcome from your meeting is to have your customer or prospect make a decision, seek to schedule the meeting for the early to mid-morning. The later in the day that your prospect is making a decision, the greater the probability that you will be put-off or disappointed. 
  2. Create a Habit. 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 twice a week 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. The positive results of crushing decision fatigue are many:
  1. Better decisions
  2. More timely decisions
  3. Additional time in your day to use for coaching others
  4. Increased team productivity
  5. Improved sales results
  6. Positioning yourself as a decisive leader who can help others to make sound decisions.
Until next time, be well!

Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based leadership development consultant, executive coach, strategic planner and team builder. Contact him today about exciting programs, meaningful coaching and strategic consulting services at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 941-776-1121.

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