The alarm goes off and you lie there for a few minutes. Should you go to the gym today? Or tomorrow?
You decide tomorrow is fine.
You lie there a bit longer. Should you get out of bed now? Or just lay here snoozing for another 20 minutes? If you get up now you’ll have time for breakfast. If not, you’ll have to either skip it or grab something unhealthy from the lunch bar by the office.
You decide you’ve been eating too much crap lately so you get up and wander into the kitchen.
What shall you have for breakfast? Can you be bothered making eggs? No. Porridge it is then.
Shower time. No meetings today so you wonder if you can get away with wearing jeans and a casual shirt. But then, what if someone you want to impress walks in off the street? Maybe you should dress nicely just in case.
Bus or car? If you take the bus you can read that report you’ve been meaning to get to on the way. If you drive you’ll get to the office quicker, but parking is always a pain in the butt. You don’t feel like waiting at the bus stop in the cold though. You decide to drive.
You’re building a house and you’ve sat down with an interior designer to pick all the colours and fittings. At the start you are happy to spend an hour agonising over whether you should use the half-strength paint colour on the walls, or the quarter-strength. A couple hours later, however, after you’ve worked your way through tile selections, the shape of the handles on doors, the best colour for the benchtops and what kind of shower head you should have in the guest bathroom, you’ll find yourself saying this: “I just don’t care anymore – whatever you think is best”.
Studies have shown that humans have a limited capacity for decision making over the course of a given day. Every decision, no matter how big or small, drains our energy.
[clickToTweet tweet=”The more decisions we have to make, the less capable we are of making the next decision a good one.” quote=”So the more decisions we have to make, the less capable we are of making the next decision a good one.”]
That’s why, by the end of the day, we resort to:
- Taking the easiest option available to us. (I’ll stay here at the office rather than going to the gym.)
- Making a decision that maintains the status quo. (I can’t decide between these two applicants for this role, I’ll hold off bringing anyone into that role for now.)
- Making no decision at all. (It’s too hard to decide which of these new logos I like the most. I’ll decide tomorrow when I’m less tired.)
If you’re running a business, you know that having a capacity for making good decisions at any time of the day is crucial to your success. So what can you do to ensure there are always good reserves of that precious energy on hand?
1. Have routines
Get up at the same time every morning. Have the same thing for breakfast, (I have a green smoothie). Wear the same thing to work. Routines significantly reduce cognitive load by reducing the amount you have to think about a particular task. Anything you do every single day should have a routine built around it.
2. Build good habits by making certain things non-negotiable
With things like exercise, it’s been shown that maintaining a daily exercise habit is easier than maintaining a ‘three-days-a-week’ exercise habit. Why? because there’s no decision to made about which days of the week you’re going to exercise, it’s simply something you do every single day. When something is a habit, it is the same effect as a routine, it reduces your cognitive load. It is most useful to build good habits around things that usually require willpower – things like exercise, eating well, meditation, reading, journaling, making sales calls, tracking statistics etc.
3. Don’t use a to-do list, use a calendar
As a rule we sit down at the start of a day, and have our list of things we need to get done. We spend a lot of energy deciding which of our to-dos we should get done first. And we also tend to do the easier jobs first. This means by the end of the day, making the decision to do the harder jobs requires willpower we no longer have. So don’t use a to-do list. Schedule into your calendar the exact time slot in which you will get the items on your to-do list done. This will not only help with decision fatigue and help get those things done, it will also likely show you how unrealistic your to-do list it!
Stop negotiating with yourself from the moment you wake up. By establishing sound morning routines, good daily habits and solid workday scheduling, you’ll remove most of the unnecessary decision making from your day. This will ensure that when you have to make a big decision, you will have the energy you require to make that decision a good one.