Decision fatigue is likely one of the biggest productivity killers we all face today. Simply put, making decision after decision, over time, is literally wearing us out.
What does this mean? What is decision fatigue? Why is it one of the major productivity killers we might face in our daily lives?
Ever feel like it takes more and more effort to get everything done these days—much less get ahead? That you could work 20 hours a day and still be behind?
Maybe you feel that way. Yet, you also feel like you’re handling it. Sure, you’re working more than you’re sleeping, eating, spending time with your loved ones, and relaxing…combined. But you think you’re killing it. You’re kicking butt and taking names. But are you being effective, really?
Whether you realize it or not, the human brain – your brain – has limits. One brain-related mental trait is called, “Executive Function.” When you focus on a task for an extended period or just make a simple decision, you are exercising this aspect of your brain. Imagine how many times that happens in a day?!
Unfortunately, recent science has proven that this reservoir of Executive Function in your brain is not unlimited. The more you use it or tap into it, the more it is depleted for the next wave—even if the tasks or decisions are seemingly unrelated.
Therefore, making too many choices, for too long a period, is not only not effective in terms of increasing productivity, it’s might very well be harmful. It’s essentially one of the worst productivity killers out there…
According to Wikipedia:
In decision making and psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making. For instance, judges in court have been shown to make less favorable decisions later in the day than early in the day. Decision fatigue may also lead to consumers making poor choices with their purchases.
In other words, decision fatigue is the idea that making decisions all day long wears you down. Further, those made later in your “cycle” are not as wise as those made earlier.
Decision fatigue then, as a productivity killer, makes a lot of sense.
Our productivity is largely dependent on our ability to manage and make smart decisions as well as to navigate our relationships and interactions. Thus, when our decision making suffers, we reap the consequences and our productivity goes down the drain.
As explained in a NY Times article, Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue, “No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways.”
One of these shortcuts is becoming reckless with our decisions. When experiencing decision fatigue, it can be easier to just be impulsive rather than think things through wisely.
The other shortcut option when faced with decision fatigue can sometimes be better than shortcut one, and sometimes worse. With this route, the “decision” is to not make one at all. And sure, while that may seem innocuous on the surface, this means you lose any sort of power or control over the outcome. You become at the mercy of the situation or others. Furthermore, things that need to get taken care of don’t – and sometimes become worse – due to your fear of change or a feared outcome, creating further problems.
But why does this major productivity killer, decision fatigue, happen specifically?
Scientists say it’s likely due to the background “work” the brain must do when making a choice—considering the alternatives (pros and cons), weighing the alternatives, extrapolating the various outcomes of all, making the actual decision, questioning the decision, and then following through. Even if it doesn’t feel like all this is going on with every decision – especially the seemingly “quick” ones – it is. That is the very way decisions are “made” in the brain.
Not surprisingly then, all this brainwork involved in decision making literally becomes exhausting. Downstream decisions suffer and consequently, our productivity – and results – suffer too.
So what to do? There are answers. There are solutions. Yet, they aren’t easy and these answers require intention, attention, and dedication. In the next part of this two-part series, we’ll provide a few of those answers.