Skip to Main Content
Filter By +
Topic +

3 Ways Executives Can Combat Decision Fatigue

Business leaders of today not only have to contend with a new generation of employees and an ever-evolving technology landscape, they’re also coming up against a vague, yet powerful foe to productivity: decision fatigue.

A Cornell University study estimated that the average person makes 221 decisions a day just concerning food alone, and widely circulated research estimated adults make close to 35,000 total decisions per day. With the proliferation of an “always-on” business mindset, those decisions don’t stop at 5 p.m.

Decision fatigue – or the decline of a person’s ability to make the right choice after a barrage of other ones – impacts all workers. However, managers are at a higher risk because they’re often required to make more decisions that affect business outcomes on a larger scale.

The Consequences

According to The New York Times, a study of 1,100 U.S. parole hearings found the No. 1 predictor of whether a person would be granted parole wasn’t their sentence or crime, but rather when their case was heard. The difference was staggering: Prisoners who appeared before a judge in the morning were granted parole about 70% of the time. Those who appeared before a judge in the evening — after a day’s worth of decisions — were paroled less than 10% of the time.

Employers have the opportunity to elicit change within their organizations, but ensuring they are in the right mind to make decisions is arguably as important as the decisions themselves.

1. Embrace the plain

Although boring isn’t something leaders are taught to welcome, adding some predictability to your day can help combat decision fatigue. After all, everyone faces many options from the moment we wake; like branches from a tree, one decision begets several more: Do you want eggs for breakfast? Yes? Great, but would you like them over easy, scrambled or fried? Or how about as an omelet?

Embracing predictability in small facets of the day helps open brain space for more difficult choices. So, gladly receive that work uniform, the daily turkey-and-cheese sandwich or the tried-and-true commute route. Those autopilot decisions actually can help when more important ones surface.  

2. Limit what’s possible

Accepting the mundane plays quite well into our next tip: Business leaders should limit what’s in their power to limit. There’s a reason that management consulting firm McKinsey & Company presents only three solutions to clients at a time: Simplifying decisions allows people to consider their options, rather than picking something out of fatigue or pressure.

This practice can be replicated no matter the management role. A marketing manager could have his or her team provide three tagline options rather than 10; a financial planner could ask for the three most important metrics from the past six months, rather than a deep dive into every crevice of the business. Limiting where possible is one way leaders can take the reins of the choices they make.

3. Done is better than perfect

Harvard Business Review studied 41,641 American, Canadian and British college students to better understand the connection between perfectionism and severe depression or anxiety disorders. The research supported a link: “Between 1989 and 2016, college students’ levels of self-oriented, socially prescribed, and other-oriented perfectionism all increased by statistically significant amounts. Recent generations of young people are more demanding of themselves, perceive that others are more demanding of them, and are more demanding of others.”

Not only is the younger generation expected to make more decisions than previous ones, but they’re also concerned the decisions they make aren’t perfect enough. While Generation Z and millennials feel pressure to aim for perfection, the phrase “paralysis by analysis” can hinder anyone who faces too many decisions, regardless of his or her age.

Perfection is a myth. Leaders should remind their employees that, in many situations, “done is better than perfect.” Although quality control is crucial, a mindset geared toward trust and confidence rather than fraught deliberation can reign supreme in today’s workforce.