Is Decision Fatigue Getting You Down?

By now we all know that our least productive time is post lunch around 2 or 3pm. Have you stopped and wondered why? Even on days when we might not have done too much of work, by around 2pm we start getting rather unproductive. This can be attributed to decision fatigue. The more decisions we take over the course of a day (what to eat, what clothes to wear, which route to take to work, which mail to respond to…), the more decision fatigued we get.


In a research finding, Jonathan Levav of Stanford and Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University examined the factors that impact whether or not a judge approves a criminal for parole. The data collected was from 1,112 judicial rulings over a 10-month period, by a parole board composed of one judge, as well as a criminologist and a social worker. They found that the likelihood of a favorable ruling is greater at the very beginning of the work day or after a food break than later in the sequence of cases. The judge was likely to give a favourable ruling about 65% of the time, but as the day proceeded and the judge was being worn out by having to take more and more decisions,  the probability of a favourable ruling dropped to almost zero. This was irrespective of the type of crime the criminal had been charged for.

So What Is Decision Fatigue?

Like any muscle in your body, willpower also gets fatigued with use. Every time you make a decision, it’s equivalent to doing a rep in the gym. As you take more decisions, your willpower keeps getting weaker. This phenomenon is referred to by researchers as decision fatigue.

The more decisions you make through the day, the harder each one gets for your brain and it simply takes the easier route – either act impulsively (without thought) or not act at all (to save energy after all the mental exhaustion). As you can imagine, neither of those two behaviours would benefit you in the long run.

You might have noticed successful people like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Simon Cowell wear the same clothes everyday. This is simply to avoid decision fatigue. They don’t tire out their decision-making muscle every morning by trying to choose what to wear. They save up that willpower to take more important decisions in the day.

Beat The Fatigue

1. Befriend the Zzzzz

There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to rejuvenate your willpower.

2. Be A Planner

Unimportant decisions like what to wear and what to eat, if planned the previous night will leave your morning free to take important decisions that matter.

3. Bow To The Morning

Take important decisions of the day in the early part of the day, preferably within 2-3 hours of waking.

4. Break It Down And Stick To It

Instead of having to decide what to do, establishing a routine and committing to it will help you save on decision-making energy.

So the next time you want your idea approved by your boss, or you want to get a client on board with your plan, do it in the first 2 hours of the work day to ensure they still have sufficient supply of their decision-making fuel.

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