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Friday, September 16, 2011

Mental Fatigue

Have you ever sat there, staring at your keyboard, hoping for the words to come? You might have something other than writer's block.

Recently the New York Times ran an article on the phenomenon known as decision fatigue. It's the effect you feel when you've made too many decisions or a decision that is too taxing. It's why you have such a hard time deciding where to go for dinner. You spent the entire day making decisions and one more just isn't possible.

When we reach decision fatigue we look for a way out. One way is to make any decision at all that will allow us to keep moving. These tend to be poor choices (McDonald's Big Mac instead of a meal at home). The other option that we'll choose is to not make any choice at all. We'll ignore the need to make a decision since we don't have the ability to work through one at this moment.

Mental fatigue is a real and demonstrable thing that we need to address. One of the main ways to fight decision fatigue is to stop and have a meal. In the research, a simple meal was able to reverse most of the effects of decision fatigue. We can also put our decisions where know we'll be most fresh to face them: right after breakfast, lunch and dinner. This might mean that you pre-decide what to do for lunch right after you get up in the morning. We can limit ourselves on what we have to decide. You may not need to make every decision on the project, delegate some of the decisions so that you have energy left for the ones that need your skills.

Decision fatigue can be especially difficult in group settings. If you have a meeting where people have a lot of decisions to make, provide snacks and frequent breaks. Make one decision at a time and then stop for a rest. It may seem wasteful, but the quality of decisions that come out will be much higher.

How do you deal with decision fatigue?