Decisions, Decisions

We’re in business and all day long there are decisions to make.  Which business strategies look the most promising?  How should I price my services for this project?  Is the money they want to attend this conference really worth it?  If I pay this guy to make my website more interactive am I really going to get more billable hours out of it,  or will Mr. Web Developer be the only one getting paid in this deal?  Everyone in business had better have sharp decision-making skills,  because everything we do hinges on our judgment,   including how to interpret the data used in data-driven decision-making.

Eventually,  decision-making makes our brains tired.  Our thinking gets fuzzy and we might even become irrational.  We’re unable to stay focused and we make careless errors.  We sometimes do and say stupid things.  The name of this condition is called decision fatigue.  We bring it on by making too many decisions.

By the end of the day,  we’ve waded through so many choices and options that we get punch-drunk.  We don’t realize it,  but the more choices—i.e. decisions—we make throughout the day,  the more difficult it becomes for the brain’s cognitive processes to efficiently make another,  and still another,  choice.  Return emails now or at the end of the day?  Finish the report that’s due tomorrow or listen to a webinar? Green salad or fruit salad for lunch?

Energy and willpower eventually become depleted,  we lose self-control and we screw up.  We blow off the diet and the gym and dive into a bag of cookies instead.  We forget our budget and buy shoes we don’t need.  We ignore the report that’s due and read the Onion.

To get some rest,  our tired brains prod us to look for shortcuts and we become sloppy or reckless.  We may act impulsively because we don’t have the mental energy to consider the big picture and weigh the consequences of our actions.  We are prone to taking the easy way and that can mean doing nothing—which is a decision in itself,  but it doesn’t feel that way to the brain.  Of course,  avoiding a decision can cause problems in the long run but in the here and now,  we may just decide to  “table”  the decision.

But we have work to do and decisions to make,  so what should we do when we need to do the right thing?  Social psychologist Roy Bauminster studied mental discipline at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH and at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL.  His work indicates that it’s best to make important decisions in the morning after eating a light,  nutritious breakfast.  Our brains derive energy from healthy food and that helps us to comprehend and value long-term prospects and bolsters decision-making ability.  In the morning we have enough willpower to exercise the self-control needed for making important strategic or financial decisions.

Bauminster advises that we tackle the big decisions first,  before we have to make numerous smaller decisions that will sap energy and lead to decision fatigue.  In practice,  schedule your client meetings for early in the day,  before late afternoon whenever possible.  Write and pitch proposals early in the day.

But then again…Bauminster’s findings indicate to me that it’s possible to get a proposal slipped into the budget late in the day, when your client is a bit tired and defenses are down.  You may alternatively have a good proposal rejected because the client is too tired to decide and it’s easy to turn you down.  It’s a roll of the dice,  I suppose.

Also,  where does this leave the night people?  The energy derived from nutritious food holds the key.  Bauminster found that decisions and choices made immediately before lunch were often less than optimal,  so if you’re more of a night person,  making decisions and seeing clients in the two hours after lunch may work.  Discussing business deals over lunch or dinner can also be beneficial  (for any of us, actually,  even morning people like me).  You must decide.

Thanks for reading,



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