Trust Science: Why You’re More Likely to Make Poor Decisions When Fatigued

by | July 2, 2014

When Decisions Make You Tired

Ladies, think to your last Saturday at the mall. You suck down an iced coffee and set off eagerly to wind your way through the aisles. The first hour and a half are glorious: you actually find a new pair of jeans, you’re debating between shoes (both which you must have) and you’ve got at least a half a dozen tops tucked in your elbow you’d wear out tonight.

You take the jeans (duh) and one top and you put your dream shoes on hold along with some of your other quality options. I’ll come back, you think to yourself.

Your next stop is eh. Some promising casual pieces, a dress you might need for an event you might attend. You move on. Nothing at the next four shops. It’s getting stuffy, you need another iced coffee. Absolutely unintentionally (you swear!), you meander past the Wetzel-Pretzel samples dude.

Post sugar-boost, iced-coffee number two in tow, you head to your next stop. Whoa! There’s actually some good stuff in here. A shirt or two makes the cut. But your luck is fading slowly, you know it. You decide to head back to the first store: heaven, where the perfect additions to your wardrobe are waiting for you behind the counter.

The cashier hands you your on-hold items. Something strange happens: indecision. Nothing calls your name. You survey the items and think about what to buy, what to put back. It’s exhausting. You think about your car, about leaving and what’s for dinner.

So what do you do? One of two things: 1) You make a decision you hate. You choose the worst options of the bunch. It’s the blouse you’ll never wear and the dress you can’t drink a beer in. You kick yourself every step to the parking lot. 2) You don’t buy anything. You avoid the decision altogether and leave a pile of previous must-haves behind. You just can’t be bothered.

Why Decisions Make You Tired

We all know this feeling. However, we probably don’t understand what just happened. You blame the anxiousness on your tired legs or the mall music being too loud or the late-afternoon traffic you need to just go ahead and face.

In reality, you’ve been hit with a case of decision fatigue. Literally, you used up your ability to make decisions. When you first arrived to the haven of clothing you were full of juice, ready to sift through the good and the bad to find the gems. But ninety minutes of decision after decision ran you dry!

You re-upped halfway and got a boost. That iced coffee and forgotten cinnamon sugar bite gave you a late-in-the-game jolt of ability to decide. But that, too, ran out quickly and you were left at the end with a whole lot of nothing.

Guys, this is not just a girl thing. What happened is not that women realized shopping is a waste of a perfectly good Saturday. (Think about rounds 15 and 16 of your fantasy draft: after fourteen gut-wrenching decisions, you’re spent. You’ll take Dwayne Sanzenbacher, or maybe default to auto-draft.)

What happened instead is scientific. Science tells us two things. First, it says that glucose plays a role in the decision making process. Our brains use glucose as fuel to say yes or no, to turn right or left. Second, it says that we actually have a finite amount of this glucose available to use each day. When our stores of glucose are depleted, our ability to make decisions is greatly reduced.

Studies show that when these stores are low, we’re likely to go in one of two directions:

  1. Make a rash and hasty decision, one that we often regret later, or
  2. Avoid the decision altogether.

Dangers of Decision Fatigue

Detailed in this interesting New York Times article on decision fatigue, a study of a group of judges in Israel revealed that inmates who are up for parole bear the brunt of that second direction: avoiding the decision altogether. Researchers examined the group of judges who decide daily whether or not to grant prisoners parole.

What they found was that inmates were much more likely to receive parole if their cases were heard early in the morning or just after lunch. Why? Because these were the times the judges’ levels of glucose were the highest. If the inmates’ cases were heard late in the afternoon – after a long day of cases and decision making – they were likely sent straight back to the jail cell! Talk about bad timing…

How Zirtual Saves Your Energy

So what’s the takeaway? Well, if you’re reading this around 4 pm, you might decide to take nothing away. Your own decision fatigue may have kicked in and you’ll finally decide to stop reading after this paragraph. Men of Zirtual, you might also be confused because you’ve discovered Trunk Club and the entire first half of this article is ridiculous to you. (You guys are onto something…)

But there’s something here for you, I promise. The point is this: you can only make so many decisions in a day, so use them sparingly! How does Zirtual fit into all of this? We give you the ability to hand off some of your decisions, every single day.

Leave it to our president to provide an example. To the benefit of our country, Barack Obama drinks the koolaid. He, too, believes in the value of limiting his decisions to only the most necessary. How does he do this? He delegates as many non-essential decisions as possible. He never decides what he’ll wear in the morning or what he’ll eat for lunch. Whatever your political stance, we all can agree that we’d be worse off if Obama started to make these extra calls on his own. Seriously.

So how we can take this paradigm and utilize it? Easy. It’s as simple as a small shift in mindset. Zirtual clients have made the shift – signing up is the first step. They’ve opened the door to a helping hand.

It’s simply an implementation and a dedication to start saving your valuable glucose; to limit the number of choices you impose upon yourself every day. You have a ZA… now let him or her take some decisions off of your plate! (And if you don’t yet, take the plunge! Your brain will thank you.)

Hand your calendar over. It’s silly to decide between a 3 o’clock or a 4 o’clock meeting if you have 100 other decisions to make in the day.
Let your ZA order your lunch. As long as he or she knows what you hate, life will go on.

Have your ZA book your flights and reserve your hotel rooms — and let your ZA choose what these will be. Again, as long as your preferences are known, you’ll always be better off handing these tasks off.

Take a look at the decisions you make everyday and make a list. (Admittedly, you’ll have to use some extra glucose on this first day. We suggest a piece of cake to help.) Decide which decisions you can hand off and start doing so!

A tip: Zirtual’s slogan is, “Delegate the tasks you loathe to an assistant you’ll love”. Start with the decisions you don’t like to make. Which can you delegate?

If you want to limit the decisions you make to only the most important, this is all a no-brainer. Beat decision fatigue, save your glucose, let a Zirtual Assistant help! And in turn, you’ll improve the decisions you do make and vastly increase your productivity.