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There was a great article in a recent New York Times Sunday magazine that examines “decision fatigue.” As your day wears on, your brain gets tired of making decisions–so much so that the later in the day, the more likely you are making poor decisions or making decisions that would be better ones if you could wait or reset your brain. Some people just shut down and make no decisions. Depending on the urgency and circumstances, waiting could be good or bad, really bad (like deciding when to land an airplane–you just can’t sleep on it and do it tomorrow).
Very interesting is the correlation with diet–specifically how the brain metabolizes glucose. So when you get that late afternoon hunger for a chocolate bar, in part, your brain is telling you it needs a shot of glucose to keep on making decisions. See the full article here: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? by John Tierney for the NY Times, Sunday, Aug. 17.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. 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 more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain.”
So how does this relate to multitasking? Multitasking erodes your concentration on big decisions by “sidetracking” your brain with a thousand little decisions–click this, grab that, read an email, answer the phone–all while you are trying to get something done. Your brain never gets a rest for constant little decisions.
On the flipside, when you are trying to relax or play or do nothing (God forbid you should have some actual downtime) continuing to multitask robs your brain of the recovery period it needs. And then–what a surprise–on comes a chocolate craving. Sound familiar?
How to help yourself:
Know your body and brain. Tiredness and irritability are but two outward signals that you may be pushing your decision envelope. If you are in a minute-to-minute crisis, you may have to stick to the job at hand, but if not, be honest and brave enough to say, “You know team, we’re all fried now. Let’s take a break or sleep on this decision and approach it when we’re all fresh tomorrow morning.”
Prioritize decisions. Handle the most immediate, pressing or most important earlier in the day (if possible).
Try eating smaller balanced meals throughout the day every few hours (instead of a large breakfast, lunch and dinner) and have some simple snacks handy (go easy on fatty foods). Avoid gorging yourself to avoid the “post-lunch coma”. Eating this way keeps your blood sugar more constant during the day–you’ll likely have fewer and milder peaks and valleys of energy. By the way, that is also one dietary strategy to help manage gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and is also recommended for some diabetics.
Have other ideas? Please comment!