At the core of the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO)'s mission is an unwavering commitment to helping entrepreneurs at every stage learn and grow. During Global Entrepreneurship Week, November 12-16, EO is hosting EO24/7, a five-day, free virtual learning event aimed at empowering entrepreneurs with skills and strategies to reach new levels of leadership.
Richard J. Bryan is an EO Colorado member, the owner of a successful UK-based commercial real estate business, an author and leadership strategist who helps business owners build teams of A-players to increase revenue and profits. We asked Richard about strategies to overcome the negative impact of decision fatigue. Here's what he shared:
How many decisions have you made today? Hit snooze or get out of bed? Coffee or tea? Cream or sugar? Cereal or eggs? What to wear? Drive or take public transit? Which route? What music will you listen to? Stairs or elevator? Email or text?
According to Psychology Today, the average adult makes approximately 35,000 decisions per day--that's about one decision every two seconds--ranging in significance from whether or not to hit the snooze button to potentially engaging in a multimillion-dollar corporate partnership.
With these staggering numbers in mind, it's not surprising that scientists now believe decision-making power is a depletable resource that measurably degrades throughout the course of the day. As an entrepreneur responsible for two thriving companies, it stands to reason that at least a portion of my personal decision-making payload is doubled.
As leaders, it's critical to know not only how to conserve these valuable decision-making reserves, but also how to recognize when they're fully cashed out.
Here are five strategies to adopt so that your choices―and your business―don't suffer negative consequences.
1. Don't discount it
Ever get to the store register and mindlessly purchase something you didn't intend to buy? Understanding why retailers position tantalizing sugary snacks near the register―at the end of your choice-riddled shopping experience―is enlightening. Knowing the reason doesn't always prevent an impulsive purchase, but it's helpful.
Social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister found that human beings have a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control. Once these energy stores start to dwindle, you're less likely to put thought into choices, more likely to be swayed by others' opinions--and predisposed to making decisions that preserve the status quo. All totaled, these tendencies may undermine both your decision-making and your image.
2. Become a morning person
No, you don't need to be perennially chirpy over your morning tea--but do front-load your day with the tasks and meetings that require the most mental energy. Remember, you can be mentally exhausted without feeling physically tired! This reality crystallized for me one day when I traveled for a speaking engagement, with only 90 minutes of "real work" sandwiched between hours of travel, networking conversations and more travel.
By the end of the day, I didn't even want to decide what to eat for dinner! That experience made me realize how depleted mental energy is by day's end, whether we're in or out of the office. Consequently, I moved our weekly management meeting from 4:00 p.m. to a morning time slot: Nobody makes their best, most thoughtful choices after seven or eight hours behind a desk.
3. Learn to delegate
I'm a big believer in delegation. In order to create space within my career as a corporate leader to share my strategies on the leadership keynote speaker circuit, I've had to retrain my type-A brain to let go of a few things--namely, every single task that can be put into a colleague's capable hands. Though letting go wasn't easy, it opened up my calendar significantly. And, in many cases, the delegated tasks were executed faster and more thoroughly by people with less on their plates overall.
The same strategy applies to making decisions. Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day, so he never had to think about what to wear--one less choice! Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, eats the same thing for breakfast every day. Every decision we eliminate, either by creating routines or delegating, can decrease our big-picture mental burden. We can't entirely eliminate decision fatigue, but we can keep it at bay for a bit longer.
4. Set clear boundaries
Leadership isn't a sprint, it's a marathon--and becoming a great leader requires dedicated training, too. When my mentor, Frank, helped me to turn my family's failing business around, we faced life-or-corporate-death decisions every day. It would have been easy to fall prey to "analysis paralysis," overthinking every little thing until nothing was ever decided.
To sidestep that crippling conundrum, we set parameters around the process. The first was around the amount of time necessary to make decisions. Frank believed that long meetings dramatically accelerated decision fatigue. We found that we made better choices in shorter, more productive 30- to 60-minute meetings.
The second was to institute a "time out"; not because anyone misbehaved, but because a fresh outlook yields better decisions. To adopt this on a daily basis, try breaking for lunch before making important choices, or calling a quick coffee break to encourage informal discussion during a meeting that feels stuck.
5. Rest and recover
On a big-picture basis, recovering from decision fatigue means taking time away from work to do whatever it is that fills you up--whether that's exploring the vibrant streets of Portugal with your family, or solo-hiking in nature. And when I say "time off," I don't mean answering work emails while waiting for your tapas―I mean at least four consecutive days of phone-off, perfectly-present-in-the-moment vacation.
Trust me: Giving your mind a break will likely be one of the most critical business decisions you ever make.