Do You Have Decision Fatigue?

by Krantcents · 47 comments

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Do you have decision fatigue?  What is that?  In MIT Sloan Management Review, I learned that parole boards approved paroles 70% of the time in the morning versus 10% of the time in late afternoon.  What is the lesson?

The problem

Don’t go to the parole board in the afternoon!  Most of us will never appear in front of a parole board, but there is something to learn from this.  Whether you are a high powered executive, parent, rich or poor, you may not make your best decisions near the end of the day.  Unfortunately, we have to make decisions all day long.  We do not get to pick and choose when we make decisions or do we?  I recently wrote an article about successful vs. unsuccessful people that illustrate at least 50 decisions we make in our lives!

Most surgical operations occur first thing in the morning.  I do not think we want the surgeon who will operate on you tired and suffering from decision fatigue!  Surgeons and doctors are trained in such away to deal effectively with fatigue, although I rather have them well rested.  Most professions do not undergo training in the same way.  What do you do?

How your brain works

I think it would help to understand how your brain works.  We make small and big decisions all day long.  When our brain can longer handle the difficulty of the decision, it takes shortcuts.  As you understand this, you should try to defer big decisions, if you can.  Why?  The first shortcut is not thinking about the consequences.  Big decisions such as buying a car, home, money or career change should probably have more time and avoid the end of the day.

If you missed that clue, the next shortcut is avoiding the decision entirely.  Instead of thinking through the decision, you avoid any choice.  Remember, this is not what you are having for dinner; it is when you are fatigued to the point where you do not feel you can make a choice.  Have you ever felt that way?  Do you avoid making decisions at the end of the day?  Have you ever felt overwhelmed making choices?


Car dealers always seem to have long negotiations with customers.  I think it is to wear you down so your resistance is low.  How do handle decision fatigue?  I teach six classes a day, I find that my fatigue factor affects me near the end of the day.  Can I defer my choices until the next day?  No, I have to deal with circumstances as they come up!  It is similar to parenting; you cannot defer many decisions to the next day either.  What do you do?

This is where your experience, training and skills come into play.  You go to your bag of tricks and pull out that magic bullet that has worked in the past.  You give your child a time out so you have the time to deal with the issue.  In my class, I remove the problem temporarily so I have the time to deal with it too.  Recognizing that you have fatigue helps you make a better choice.

Final thoughts

Now that you understand how your brain works, you can set your priorities.  You know, arrange your day as much as you can where you handle the important or difficult decisions in the morning.  If you cannot, take the time to mull it over when your brain is not fatigued with making difficult decisions.  You probably do this naturally, but now you know why.  Big decisions about money should always require more though, but what do we do?  We go shopping for things after work!  Grocery shopping should always have a list and stick to it!  Hopefully, you made your choices when you were not fatigued!  Do you have decision fatigue?

Photo by:  Mike Licht

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