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Decision Fatigue in a Saturated World

August 16, 2012

I sometimes get distracted easily. My husband calls this “playing air guitar”. Say I’m typing an email at the same time he’s telling me something important, chances are one task gets more attention. Which means I am “playing air guitar” to one of the tasks. My email might not make any sense or I may have to ask Tony to repeat what he told me. Either outcome results in lost productivity.

 

In many ways, we’re becoming wired for distraction. With the use of smart phones and social media we are increasingly distracted and rarely (if ever) alone. It’s easy to lose focus, requiring more effort to accomplish whatever task is at hand. In email alone we make hundreds of decisions per day: reply, ignore, forward, pick up the phone.

 

What does that do to our decision-making abilities? The more choices we make throughout the day, the more difficult each becomes for our brains. Once our brains are fatigued, we look for shortcuts: relying on habits, making no decision at all, or caving just to get the decision-making overwith. We begin to resist making changes­—or even thinking about changes. Inertia reigns. Great things cannot happen when we are timid or fearful, filled with anxiety over every move.  

 

When we experience “decision fatigue”, we tend to choose the easiest, safest solution to the problem. Decision fatigue may be one of  the most profound psychology discoveries in many decades. According to NY Times article, Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? by John Tierney, “No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy.” The article gives an example of a comprehensive study which discovered inmates were more likely to be paroled if they were in front of a judge early in the day. “Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.” If the judge had gone without a break in several hours, they were less likely to parole inmates, instead going with the “safe” decision of keeping the offenders locked up.

 

Understanding decision fatigue gives a person the power to know when they have the power. Business should be about 'flow' as a mental state. We can make our most difficult decisions early in the day. Or establish habits, sticking to routines that allow us to make fewer decisions, such as scheduling time at gym every day instead of having to decide. We can utilize experts, relying on their advice in times of indecision. The takeaway: we only have so much self discipline to go around.

 

A well-conceived brand can reduce the number and difficulty of the decisions you have to make. Having a brand strategy (how are you truly different and why would someone care) in place allows us to make the right decision even in the face of decision fatigue. We can use our brand as a guideline for what to do and not to do. Having a strategy helps us avoid waffling since we already know what the goal is. The real decision has already been made and outlined in your mission statement and brand promise (customer promise). If you need help determining your brand strategy, call us. We’d love to help you better define your brand and put a plan into practice.

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