Are you suffering from Decision Fatigue?

by | Productivity

Do you ever feel so overwhelmed with choices you just go with the status quo?
Do you ever make a decision and later think, ‘what was I thinking?'
You may be suffering from decision fatigue.

A while back I wrote about our Willpower Bucket and explained that at the end of the day, the monkeys left in the bucket making the decisions are not the smartest or savviest monkeys hanging out.

If you are in a job or position that requires tough decisions (yeah, some decisions can make you sweat), those monkeys are jumping out at a rate your body can't keep up with. Inserting energy breaks into your day will slow down the rate of monkey-jumping, make you more productive and contribute to improved health. The thought that taking ten minutes out of your day will put you behind is outdated, ineffective and ends up costing you more in the long run.

I rarely press SEND on a proposal until I've stepped away and walked, ran, biked, danced, ate, meditated….anything to improve my decision-making. The few times I've pressed send without this break, I kicked myself later because I undercharged or made a mistake (like the time I accidentally doubled my VA's salary in a contract).

Baba Shiv from the Stanford School of Business states that morning is the best time to make difficult decisions because that's when your natural levels of serotonin and dopamine are high. You are less risk-averse and can make hard decisions like whether or not to sign a contract or purchase a house. In the afternoon, your serotonin levels drop, so you are more likely to opt for the status quo bias or indecision.

What else affects decision-making?

Sleep. Getting a good night's rest increases serotonin. Some people fight sleep because they feel like it's the only time they have to themselves. They stay up late and surf the web, shop or watch TV and consider it ‘me time.' Depriving your body of sleep has adverse effects that compound and affect more than your decision-making. It affects your weight, hormone levels, food cravings and of course, productivity. I know if I wait too long to go to bed, when I'm past the point of being tired and am now exhausted, I procrastinate going upstairs because the thought of washing my face and brushing my teeth seems like work. Now, I do that stuff earlier, before I get too tired and don't let myself get to that point too often.

Exercise. Moving your body releases a precursor to serotonin. It doesn't have to be a sweat-fest. Just go for a walk, which also increases creativity. Even a 5-10 minute stroll will do your brain good.

Breakfast. Good quality, high protein breakfasts help amino acids get across the blood brain barrier and sustains the serotonin release longer than a high-carb, high-sugar, low-quality breakfast. Eating a nutritious breakfast is a keystone habit that sets you up for more healthy choices later in the day.

Short naps. Ten to twenty minutes of sleep can increase your energy levels. Most people can't sneak away for nap, but if your company allows it or you work from home, it can be energy-producing. Set an alarm so you don't sleep too long. That can be counterproductive and put you in a groggy state.

Hunger and thirst. When you are hungry and thirsty, you make higher-risk choices. Don't let yourself get to the hangries or cotton-mouth before you go into that important meeting.

Full bladder. When you have to use the loo, you are more likely to choose low-risk options and avoid impulsive decisions. Depending on the choice you have to make, it could be a positive thing.

Proper ventilation. The higher the CO2 in the room, the more our cognitive abilities decrease. Open the windows or get outside.

Try one or all of these to combat decision fatigue. If you see something on this list that you aren't doing, but could easily implement, try it for a week and see if it makes a difference. 

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“Your Weekender Snapshot and Tim Ferriss’s Five Bullet Friday are my favorite emails I receive.”

jim west

Principal and Managing Director, GFF Architects


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