Decision Fatigue


I thought I should title this “How to make effective decisions ?”, but sounded like click bait. But rather true to the content of this article, I mentioned, “Decision Fatigue”. This is real and many don’t realize this.

Do you know why Mark Zuckerberg wears a monotonous grey t-shirt, or why Steve Jobs used to keep his morning routines almost the same ? They are all trying to avoid making decisions when then can. so they can make important ones. They are avoiding Decision Fatigue, one where your decision degrade as day progress.

Decision fatigue is “the idea that after making many decisions, your ability to make more and more decisions over the course of a day becomes worse,” said Dr. MacLean, a psychiatrist. “The more decisions you have to make, the more fatigue you develop and the more difficult it can become.”

“I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,” Zuckerberg said, after clarifying that he had “multiple same shirts.”

Productive people focus on optimizing how and where they spend time. They avoid doing things when they can (distractions). It is also a form of productivity.

Why do something when you can avoid it in the first place.

Decision making is so essential for people especially who are up in the ranks. They live and breath decisions. Both mid level execs to CTOs, CIOs, CEOs. They all are trying to spend their time better on important ones. You optimize as you go.

Steve Jobs: Oh no I wish I did. No, you see you can’t. If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to, you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay. Source

As you age, life’s demands increase. You will be making many decisions each day. You will worn out as the day progress. You are hitting up your limits. After a while, your body starts to optimize,by channeling its resources( like blood supply and oxygen ) to brain. So it can do it’s critical functioning. This is when we start feeling weak and our ability to make decisions decline.

Recently, I was to drop a new prescription for my daughter for her antibiotics. But when I hit the pharmacy, there was a long line in front of me. While I was waiting, pharmacist told a lady to try another store to fill her prescription. She was asking why ? she said, “Hey! I am here in this line for last 40 mins and all you say is to fill this in another store ?”. The pharmacist ( this was happening at 7 pm ) gave an impolite response, " There are 100 others with problem, please try another one”. Since I fill this prescriptions in the same store for few years now, I know this guy. He is always polite and helpful. But after working long hours, he got impatient He made a poor choice of words. I wish he had more of an automated process to help him make decisions rather than he making every single time.

But if you note, quality of decision falls when tired. Sometimes you repent you made those choices. This explains why normal,sensible people get angry at co-workers, buy junk foods at store, does impulse purchases. There is something stores know much early than we realize. Why Supermarkets tend to have candy and sodas near the registers ? Tired Shoppers from their shopping decisions, tend to look for bout of glucose spikes.

With the shoppers willpower reduced, they’re more likely to yield to any kind of temptation, but they’re especially vulnerable to candy and soda and anything else offering a quick hit of sugar. Researchers discovered this recently, but stores figured this much earlier.

Rubicon Model - Phases in Decision Making

Researchers were trying to figure which part of decision making is tiresome. Oh yes, there are phases.

  • Pre-Decision - You consider your options available
  • Post-Decision - You plan out on implementing your decisions
  • Action Phase - Executing or acting on your decision that you made
  • Post-Action - Feedback on implementation.

Rubicon is the river Julius Caeser crossed with his army and initiated the civil war. In crossing the river, Caeser made decision win or lose the battle. It is the point of no return. You are all in. Crossing the bridge is the action phase and it is the draining part of the decision. Many tired judges dont offer paroles as they dont want to cross the Rubicon. Meaning, they dont want to lose their options. To keep options open, many differ making decisions until it has to be made. It is due to the fear of losing options by making decision early.

Delaying Decisions

Say you want to you move to a new technology in your organization, moment you invested enough on this it is hard to move to a new one as people think to avoid distruption to existing processes and knowledge gained. Key people who make these kind of critical decisions where lots of money and time is spent, they try to push them out. So by delaying decisions you are inherently hurting the outcome and quality of life in general. When we are tired, we try to save energy. We can’t effectively evaluate the tradeoffs. So we fall back to defaults, like mimicing what others have done before, following good practices without evaluating which one works for you.

You can see this in action when you follow exercise routines from youtube. Those routines are guidelines but when you start a routine, you need to be evaluated and customized for avoiding injuries and better outcome. So, when you are tired and overwhelmed, you delay these tradeoffs and fall back to defaults.

Glucose and Self-Control & Decisions

There is a research to understand impacts of glucose, willpower in decision making. Decisions and choices require self-control and emotional regulation One such I found explains relation between how self control and glucose.

Let me cite the abstract here.

Past research indicates that self-control relies on some sort of limited energy source. This review suggests that blood glucose is one important part of the energy source of self-control. Acts of self-control deplete large amounts of glucose. Self-control failures are more likely when glucose is low or cannot be mobilized effectively to the brain (i.e., when insulin is low or insensitive). Restoring glucose to a sufficient level typically improves self-control. Numerous self-control behaviors fit this pattern, including controlling attention, regulating emotions, quitting smoking, coping with stress, resisting impulsivity, and refraining from criminal and aggressive behavior. Alcohol reduces glucose throughout the brain and body and likewise impairs many forms of self-control. Furthermore, self-control failure is most likely during times of the day when glucose is used least effectively. Self-control thus appears highly susceptible to glucose. Self-control benefits numerous social and interpersonal processes. Glucose might therefore be related to a broad range of social behavior.

In area of decision making, when you are tired glucose levels in your body falls. This pushes your body to refrain from decision making or low quality decision that can come back to bite you later.

Social Media Fatigue

I personally noticed, more I swipe Instagram, more I am tired to do other things. I kind of like to keep scrolling only to realize I procrastinate decision making and I am unable to think clearly. When it comes to social media, my approach is

  • Be delibrate
  • Be selective
  • Step away if you can

Few Tips on avoiding Decision Fatigue

  • Make critical/important decisions early in the day
  • Eat enough and sleep well
  • Establish Routines
  • Keep yourself active or at the least keep moving
  • Avoid meetings ( especially if decisions are involved ) after 4 pm if you start your day 8-9 am.
  • Limit Social Media during your active hours to think better
  • Keep things simple
  • Block distractions to keep yourself focused when you can


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