President Obama wears the same colour suit, shirt and tie and the same brand of shoes, almost every day. In fact when he once changed to a bone coloured suit it made the evening news. He states that the reason behind his dress code is that he has enough big decisions to make every day. He states that he doesn’t want to waste brain energy on less important things. He has found a dress code that works and simplifies his daily routine around clothes. It also makes shopping for his clothes and shoes easier.
Decision making uses energy.
The bigger the decision, the more energy is required. People in busy roles make hundreds of decisions every day. Some of those decisions are critical to the future of their business. Some effect other people’s lives significantly. Some have short term consequences. The outcome of other decisions may not be obvious for years; but are nevertheless important.
Research shows that even Magistrates are inconsistent in decisions based on fatigue more than any other factor. Researchers analysed over 1100 decisions of an Israeli Parole Board and discovered that there was a pattern to the judges’ decisions. It was not aligned to race, types of crime or length of sentence. About a third of cases were approved, but the probability of being approved fluctuated wildly based solely on the time of day the case was heard. The main discernible pattern around decisions was decision fatigue. Cases considered early in the morning, and immediately after two meal breaks were much more likely to be approved than cases at the each of each session.
“The odds favored the prisoner who appeared at 8:50 a.m. — and he did in fact receive parole. But even though the other Arab Israeli prisoner was serving the same sentence for the same crime — fraud — the odds were against him when he appeared (on a different day) at 4:25 in the afternoon. He was denied parole, as was the Jewish Israeli prisoner at 3:10 p.m, whose sentence was shorter than that of the man who was released. They were just asking for parole at the wrong time of day.”
Decision fatigue is real
When we are tired, have already made a lot of decisions or are glucose deficient we are more likely to make poor decisions, and have less self-control.
It is reported that a higher percentage of domestic arguments occur in the first half hour after the main bread winner returns home from work. Couples need strategies to ensure they manage this period when both partners are tired well. I noticed when I had a 30 minute drive home from work, with time to process my day and relax my mind, re-entry to the home was smoother, even though my wife was home all day with small children. This contrasted to years later when I worked a few minutes from home. I discovered that it was better to walk when possible to regain that 30 minutes wind down time. Otherwise the stress of the day could carry over into our relationship.
Effective self-leadership helps minimise decision fatigue.
In order to overcome the potential dangers of decision fatigue I suggest the following:
- Make your most important decisions when you have most energy – To ensure your best decisions, where possible, make your most important decisions first thing in the morning. Perhaps after the first coffee has kicked in. This requires the self-awareness to be able to defer a decision when you know you are not at your best. Most decisions are easier after a night’s sleep. For those decisions that MUST be made after a long tough day, you need to trust yourself and…
- Surround yourself with great people – One of the most important helps to good decision making is to surround yourself with clever people who give great advice. These people need to have your back, understand the vision, and share the burden of affecting a good outcome. You will have good people if you think clearly about your team and make good decisions about who you hire.
- Know and live by clear core values – When you have determined the core values by which you live, it makes decisions much easier. Values are those things for which you stand, no matter what; those things so deeply part of you that to compromise them would cause you huge loss of self-respect. It would become hard to live with yourself. Clear core values give you strong boundaries for setting priorities in life and for consistent decision making. Core values mean that often the big decisions are already made; and do not need to be ‘made on the run’.
- Establish good habits and daily routines – A great daily routine to start and shape your day reduces a lot of small decisions. When you are in a high responsibility role, like President Obama, there are some day to day decisions such as what you wear that you can just do; no decisions required. E.g. Your morning routine: time you get up, shower, exercise, reading papers, motivational input, prayer/meditation, what you eat for breakfast, time you leave for the office, etc. Similarly with your bedtime routine, what you eat and wear, etc. If you want more variety then find a resourceful way to spice it up that works for you.
- Implement self-care strategies to maximise regular replenishment – No human being can operate machine-like for very long. You have to look after yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When you are in a busy role with a lot of responsibility there is an emotional drain. There is also a regular build-up of stress. The chemistry of the body becomes affected by what you do and how you feel. Some people and situations can get under your skin, play on your mind, and interrupt your sleep patterns. So it is vital that you implement self-care strategies to reduce stress, to replenish your emotional tank; as well as look after your physical body and the deeper needs you have for purpose and belonging. Effective self-leadership requires you learn to understand yourself well enough to know what you need. Often this requires a mentor who is invited into your life who will challenge you to know and look after yourself well. Busy people need to understand and cooperate with their own natural rhythm of life to ensure their world is built on a sustainable foundation.
When you lead yourself well even very busy lives become more sustainable. Decision fatigue is minimised and good things will happen through you more often. You will not only make better decisions; you will build a better life!