Are there times when you feel a little overwhelmed by decisions you have to make? When do you tend to feel that way? For myself, I’ve noticed that it’s usually in the afternoon or early evening. I read some research recently that may give some insight into why this happens.
OUR BRAINS ARE WORKHORSES
The human brain is a pretty amazing organ. It does so many things on so many levels. Most of the time, we don’t realize how hard it is working. With our bodies, we get tired from using our muscles repeatedly over time. And the heavier the lifting we do early, the faster we tire. Turns out our brains tend to work this way as well.
The activity of making decisions by our brains is a trait called Executive Function. Executive Function not only controls decision making, but also self-control, concentration and focus. Add to this the finding that our brains have a limited capacity of Executive Function and you might begin to see where I’m going with this.
BIG DECISIONS WEAR US DOWN
According to the findings in a study by researchers at The University of Minnesota, we have a limited capacity both for making decisions and for self control and that capacity diminishes as we use it throughout the day. Take a look at this quote from their conclusion:
Decision making and self-control are both prominent aspects of the self’s executive function. It is therefore useful to recognize that they draw on a common psychological resource and that one may affect the other. In particular, making many decisions leaves the person in a depleted state and hence less likely to exert self-control effectively.
A little scary, don’t you think? The energy you put into what shoes to wear to work in the morning or how many waffles to have for breakfast can impact your decision making ability for the rest of the day. I know, that sounds like a bit of an overstatement but there are serious implications that come with these findings.
BUT THERE ARE THINGS YOU CAN DO
Maybe this should change how we look at our workday. I used to try and get all my meetings out of the way in the mornings and block the afternoons for the serious work. Given these findings, I have since switched that schedule around. I now try to get a few high-value tasks completed in the morning. When possible, I schedule planning meetings, phone calls and other lower-priority activities for the afternoon.
Something else to think about might be the things that make up your morning routine. How much of your capacity do you spend before you even walk out the door to the office. How many things could you do the night before to make things easier to get going in the morning? It takes willpower, but it also takes some common sense like packing a healthy lunch for work the night before or putting your running shoes at the edge of your bed so you just about trip over them when you get up. And don’t forget going to bed early. Turns out that we really do need plenty of sleep to be at our best each day. Who knew?
So the next time you are faced with a big decision, ask yourself: “Do I have the capacity to make this decision effectively?” Depending on your day, it might come down to whether you had that extra Twinkie at lunch. And while sometimes you don’t have the ability to put the decision off, sometimes you do.