In a now-famous experiment, researchers looked at whether judges gave different sentences at different times of the day. They found judges gave defendants more jail time when it had been longer since they’d had a break. This was a breakthrough in the study of a phenomenon called “decision fatigue.” It’s the idea that making decisions is mentally taxing and people get worse at it the more they have to do it. Athletes perform worse as they tire. It’s not a stretch to assume decision makers might also wear out over time.
Here’s a brief overview of the research on decision fatigue and how you can reduce the number of decisions you have to make in a day with just one click in your work calendar.
What is decision fatigue?
Decision fatigue is a popular idea, promoted by productivity gurus like James Clear. “Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car,” John Tierney wrote for the New York Times.
More recent studies have cast doubt on the idea that making decisions tires your brain more than other tasks. Perhaps making decisions isn’t like pole vaulting. Our brains aren’t muscles, after all. Studies by Stanford University Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck have shown that decision fatigue primarily affects people who believe that willpower runs out quickly.
What’s happening is that, after eating, your brain slowly runs out of glucose. As your brain runs low on sugar, it starts to discount the future and engage in more short-term thinking. The reason market forecasters become less accurate over the course of their workday is less about the fact that they’re making decisions and more about the fact that they start to get hungry for dinner.
Whether making decisions is tiring or not, studies show effective people often limit the number of decisions they have to make. Former United States President Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg cycle between one or two outfits to reduce their daily decisions.
How to easily make fewer decisions in your workday
The average employee spends 4.8 hours every week just scheduling meetings, according to Doodle.
It takes an average of eight emails to schedule a single meeting, according to Dennis R. Mortensen, CEO and Founder of x.ai. Once you finish the back-and-forth with every participant and get a meeting scheduled, chances are high it’ll be canceled, forgotten, double-booked, or rescheduled.
Since many of us started working from home due to COVID-19, we’re spending more time in meetings than before. By the fifth week of March, the average knowledge worker spent 5% more of their work day in meetings, compared with February 23rd, the last relatively “normal” week.
One of the best ways to reclaim your time and to make fewer decisions is to automate as many manual processes as possible. The Clockwise Scheduler scans every attendee’s calendar and suggests the time that doesn’t conflict with any other meetings and will preserve the most Focus Time for everyone. When your whole team is on Clockwise, everyone gets to spend less time on scheduling meetings.
Another way to save time scheduling is to integrate your work and personal calendars. That way you can be sure the Clockwise Scheduler doesn’t book something over a personal calendar event. For extra privacy, set your work calendar to display your personal calendar events as “busy” with no other details. You can also consider color coding different events so you can see what kinds of events you have coming up at a glance.
Whether making decisions is tiring or another thing you get worse at as you get tired (and hungry) is still up for debate. Outsourcing more decisions to smart calendar assistants like Clockwise saves you time and effort that you can spend on decisions you can’t yet automate.
If you’re not already using Clockwise, try it free today. You can also check out the Clockwise Scheduler You’ll find it on the sidebar at the bottom in green.