I would have written this blog yesterday – but I didn’t have “it” in me. I was mentally spent. It wasn’t because I hadn’t slept well the night before or put in an 18 hour day – I had reached my decision making capacity for the day and, like any overworked muscle, my brain was out of steam and needed to recuperate.
What happens to entrepreneurs who experience decision fatigue? Decision fatigue operates much like any other kind of fatigue. Entrepreneurs suffering from decision fatigue are easily distracted, have difficulty staying focused, experience greater pessimism, and lapses in judgment. Although one may not feel physically fatigued, entrepreneurs experience a decline in mental energy – the very currency needed to remain innovative and creative to grow the business.
What is decision fatigue? Decision fatigue and its twin, ego depletion, is a term first coined by social psychologist, Dr. Roy Baumeister, based on his studies on the transference of energy during mental activities. It appears his experiments revealed we have a finite supply of mental energy. The more decisions we make in any given day, regardless of their importance, the more our will power depletes. As will power declines, our ability to make smart choices, wise decisions, and think creativity deteriorates.
What causes decision fatigue? Simply – decision making! From the time your feet hit the floor, you’re making decisions that exhaust your will power. You decide what to wear, what to eat, what project to tackle first, what color to use in your logo, what topic to blog about, what solutions may solve your client challenges… Shall I go on? And, if you’re like most entrepreneurs, you tackle the items that are easiest to check off your list early in the day to free up your mind to focus on the more critical strategic decisions that influence the growth of your business. Can you see the problem here? By the time you get to the most critical influences of your business growth, you’re out of steam! You either half-heartedly make your way through the most critical aspects of growing your business or vow to tackle it tomorrow…and the cycle repeats itself.
How can you avoid decision fatigue and its resulting ineffectiveness? According to Dr. Baumeister, any decision you make in a day – whether it’s as insignificant as the size coffee to order at Starbucks or as important as selecting the best strategy for your business – requires mental energy. Based on his studies, it appears that decision fatigue is unavoidable but controllable. You can reduce the amount of mental energy drain with habitual routines that prevent having to make a decision. Like brushing your teeth; it doesn’t require much mental energy. You just do it.
What’s the most significant habit to develop? To avoid experiencing decision fatigue on the high priority issues affecting your business growth, focus on the most critical project(s) or decisions early in the day. This is when you’re mentally energized and fresh. Your will power is strongest and you’ll make the sharpest choices. Start each day by asking, “Given all the projects I have to accomplish today, which one(s) would move the business forward? Which one(s) would I be glad I completed should I run out of steam?” It’s the one decision you’ll be glad you made!