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Understand the Science Behind Decision Fatigue

It’s Friday night, and you’ve had a long week. Your friend is asking you where to go for dinner, and you can’t come up with a single restaurant for the life of you. He’s pushing you to make a decision, which gets more and more worked up. Sounds at all familiar? Leading a team means more delegation and less execution, but we often underestimate just how draining the task of decision-making can be. Having to face a never-ending list of pressing questions is mentally grating, directly correlating to your performance at and outside of work.

Firstly, our cognitive resources (i.e. mental capital needed to process information) are limited. Having less cognitive resources doesn’t mean you’re weak; rather, they’re fluid based on what our environment is demanding of us. An environment that constantly requires focus, self-control, and precision will naturally deplete our cognitive resources, which is not unlike how a rigorous workout session will physically tire us out. Where most of us experience these feelings during events in our lives like wedding planning or jury duty, entrepreneurs are faced with high-stakes decisions daily. When these pressures constantly weigh us down, we’re more prone to become impatient with our colleagues and family, less disciplined in our lifestyle choices, and less sensible as a whole. This type of ‘ego depletion’ is a vicious cycle, which can slowly degrade our ability to make good decisions. Bear in mind that ‘ego depletion’ doesn’t refer to how self-centered you are. Rather, it concerns how much confidence you have in making a decision. As a business owner or entrepreneur, you should be consciously and constantly replenishing your mental energy, and here are some ways you can do so right away:

Limit Yourself

The first and most obvious point is to minimise the number of decisions you need to make in your life. Understand that entrepreneurs or business owners cannot completely compartmentalise their personal or professional life, so planning your meals for the week ahead of time, or picking out what you’re going to wear the night before will affect your performance at work. Staying organised and surrounding yourself with people who will encourage you in making these changes is a great first step.

Rest & Recharge

The best way to replenish a depleted ego is simply to give yourself a break. After making a difficult decision, try going for a walk, getting a coffee, or catch up with a friend. You’ll be surprised by how much easier it’ll be to dive into the next task at hand.

Get It Done

Make big decisions in the morning, or when you’re cognitive resources are at its highest. If a decision requires more than a couple of minutes of thinking and planning, then put it off until you’re in an optimal cognitive state to assess the situation.

Ask For Support

Understand when you’re cognitive resources are waning, and get support from your team, friends, and family. It’s important to keep communication open, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need to. Having someone who can take care of things at home, or hire someone who can organise your schedule at the office are ways to save yourself from fatigue. It’s worthwhile to invest in support when needed, as to avoid mistakes that can affect your business.

Do Something Fun

Keep up a mindless hobby that can help you unwind at the end of everyday (e.g. physical exercise, doing puzzles, reading). These activities not only help you to de-stress, but it replenishes your mental energy by letting your mind wander.

Trust In Others

Delegate more, and allocate decision-making tasks to your team, as micromanaging is never a good idea as it is. Also, establishing procedures and assigning responsibilities can make the other person more capable of making related decisions than you altogether. Harvard Business School’s piece about “How to Stop Micromanaging Your Team” is a great read to get you started.

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