Like everyone else, you make decisions all day, and those decisions determine the quality of your work and therefore the quality if your results. Good decisions=good results; bad decisions=bad results. No surprise there, right?

However, what you might not know is that your brain is subject to "decision fatigue." You brain loses its ability to make difficult decisions effectively as a day wears on. Here are some examples, straight from the New York Times:

  • Doctors are less likely to order potentially life-saving cancer screenings later in the day.
  • Doctors are more likely to prescribe probably unnecessary antibiotics later in the day.
  • Judges in criminal cases are less likely to parole a defendant later in the day.
  • Consumers are more likely to buy junk food after they've been shopping.
  • Car buyers are more likely to buy expensive add-ons when presented at the end of the sale.

Therefore, whenever you're asking for a decision--whether asking your boss for a raise, closing a sale, or anything else for that matters--you should take the time of day into account. Here are the rules of thumb:  

1. Surface "big asks" in the early morning.

If the decision entails a significant commitment of time and effort on the part of the decision-maker to understand the decision, do your asking in the morning, ideally immediately after the decision-maker has started a new cup of coffee.

Example:

You've compiled comparative salary data and a bullet list of projects that you've successfully completed over the past year. Your plan is to discuss this information with your boss and work with her on a plan to get a raise approved.

This is a "big ask," so you definitely want to have this conversation in the morning. If you try to have the conversation at the end of day, you'll probably either be put off ("I can't think about that today") or shot down ("That's what we pay.")

Example:

To close a big B2B sale, you need all the stakeholders to publicly commit to support the project. You should definitely schedule this meeting in the morning, because that's when they're most likely to be receptive to a decision that requires deep thought.

Contrariwise, if you attempt this "big ask" in a meeting scheduled for the end of the day, some of those stakeholders will likely be too fatigued to think the situation through. They may even be annoyed that you're asking them to think that hard at the end of the day.

2. Surface "small asks" in the late afternoon.

If the decision you want made is simple, straightforward, and entails little commitment of the decision-maker's time and mental effort, ask late in the day. Decision-makers at this time are likely to agree simply to avoid having to think about it too much.

Example:

You've negotiated a big sale and you're working with the customer on the details of the contract, payments, and so forth. The entire sale will be higher margin for you (and more better for the customer), if the customer upgrades to a "Platinum" service plan.

Because this is a "small ask" (relative to the entire sale), your best strategy is to suggest a service plan upgrade late in the day, ideally after the two of you have already worked out most of the other details. Chances are you'll get something like "Yeah, OK."

Contrariwise, if you suggest theupgrade earlier in the day, you could easily get bogged down in a discussion of the differences between the "Silver," "Gold," and "Platinum" plans and end up with questions like "Can I have this Platinum feature in my Silver plan?"

Example:

You have an opportunity to go skiing with your best friend, all expenses paid, but it's during a time when your company is normally pretty busy.

Because this is a "small ask," surface your request when your boss has decision-fatigue and surface it in a way that makes it very clear that this opportunity is really important to you. Chances are the boss will say "OK" because they don't want the hassle of saying "NO" and dealing with your disappointment.

Contrariwise, if you make this request at the beginning of the day, the boss will probably think through all the implications of you taking your vacation during busy season and then start raising objections. Now you've got an uphill battle on your hands.

3. Over-correct when making late-in-the-day decisions.

Now that you know about decision fatigue, you can and should monitor your own decision-making to consciously overcome the tendency in yourself. 

When an important decision comes up at the end of a long day of decision-making, take extra time and care to make that decision. Otherwise, you could end up making the easiest decision rather than the best decision, simply because you're tired.  

Important: If a big decision comes up at the end of the day, the best approach is usually to delay making that decision until morning. There's a world of wisdom packed into the response "I'd like to sleep on it."

Published on: May 16, 2019
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