By: Harel Saporta
Ever wondered why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same grey shirt every day? The answer can be found below. But here’s a little spoiler: his job is to make decisions. If you’re a manager, freelancer or anyone making important decisions on a daily basis – this article will help you make better decisions, with a few simple psychological tools.
You may have noticed this before. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, estimated Net Worth – $40.9 Billion, wears the same shirt every day. Every. Single. Day. Ever wondered why?
One shirt to rule them all
Luckily, someone asked Mark back in November 2014 at Facebook’s first public Q&A. Mark’s answer was as follows: “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community” (referring to Facebook’s community).
Mark also explained: “There’s actually a bunch of psychology theory that even making small decisions around what you wear, or what you eat for breakfast, or things like that… they kind of make you tired, and you consume your energy”(you can watch his full answer here, from around 43:30)
By “a bunch of psychology theory”, Mark is referring to a known psychological phenomenon: Decision fatigue.
What is decision fatigue?
Our self-control is a limited resource, says Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor from Princeton University. Baumeister asserts that every time we perform a task that requires self-control, no matter how small, we’re reducing our ability to use self-control on the next task. Our reduced capacity for self-control is called “ego depletion”.
So, for example: if there’s a sunny day outside and I don’t feel like working, I’d have to use a lot of my self-control resources to do some work. Later on, when I walk home, there’s a much bigger chance I won’t be able to resist buying an ice cream, even though I’m on a diet.
How is “ego depletion” related to decision-making?
Baumeister also found that this state of reduced ability to control ourselves is affected by something else – making choices and decisions. In other words, by making many decisions we’re depleting our self-control. So if I have a day with many important decisions to make at work, I’m not going to be able to resist that ice cream again. But I’m not here to tell you ice cream is irresistible (you already know that).
How judges make decisions
In a study from 2011, researchers found evidence for an alarming connection between decision making and… skewed decision-making. The researchers looked at 1,112 judicial rulings in 2 different parole boards, collected over a 10 months period. I’ll simplify the study a little bit – the researchers tested to see if the judges were in favor of the current status-quo (e.g. – not granting a parole, not granting better prison conditions for a felon etc.), or not.
They looked at a bunch of variables, such as severity of offense, ethnicity, sex and more.They also looked at the time of day and if the judges had eaten.
At the beginning of the day, the judges were more likely to rule in favor of the prisoner in about 65% of the cases.
At the beginning of the day, the judges were more likely to rule in favor of the prisoner in about 65% of the cases. However, as made decisions stacked up, decision fatigue kicked in – and the likelihood of a felon getting what he wanted dropped to zero.
What happened after they took a break, ate something and rested? The prisoners’ chances of a ruling in their favor went up again – to 65%.
So, what can we conclude about decision making so far?
- The best time to be making decisions is morning time
- Eat before making any big decisions
- Making decisions harms your ability to make good decisions later on
By the way, the judges in this study were very experienced – on average, they’d been practicing law for 22.5 years. Not your fresh out of law school lawyer. So if those judges were vulnerable to decision fatigue, it’s probably safe to say we all are. Even the most experienced managers.
Tactics to help you fight decision fatigue on a personal level
If you need to make important decisions, better make those decisions in the mornings.
Here are a number of tactics to try:
- Make it “decision-making morning” and “automatic afternoon”: if you need to make important decisions, better make those decisions in the mornings, and keep all the simple automated tasks you need to perform for the afternoon.
- Build a morning routine: Not having to think about the things you need to do in the morning (eating, choosing your clothes etc.) will help you make better decisions during the day. There are 2 options to “automate” your morning routine:
- Be like Mark Zuckerberg (and president Barak Obama) – wear the same clothes every day, eat the same food every day etc.
- Plan your morning in the night before: you can pick different clothes every day, as long as you make those decisions at the night before, so that you don’t have to make them in the morning. You can also prepare whatever you need for breakfast, and organize your bag/briefcase the night before.
- Remove small decisions from your life: It’s not just the major decisions – Small, seemingly insignificant choices also cause decision fatigue. Here are a couple of ways to handle them:
- Don’t make small decisions – ignore any small choice that occurs in your way. Simply write it down and put it off for later. Not the best way to go, but it does work.
- Randomly decide – there are tons of apps online and offline that helps us with small yes/no decisions. I personally use SaySo to make these small decisions, but there are many others out there (SaySo is an app I helped create, so I’d love to hear your feedback if you try it!).
- Eat before making big decisions: as the judges study suggests, we make better decisions after we eat. It is suggested that self control level is affected by glucose level in our blood, so even a piece of fruit might help with making better decisions, at least for a short period of time.
How can you implement these decisions in your organization?
Done is better than perfect.
All right, we know what you can do personally, but how does this help your organization?
Here is some advice to implement in your organization:
- Schedule meetings for afternoons only: meetings cost us valuable working time. If meeting are held in the morning, they drain our ability to make good decisions that day. Simple as that. I personally try to schedule all my meetings (whether on Skype or in person) for the afternoons, after I’ve finished all of my important tasks, had a short break and ate a snack (this helps restart my decision making ability).
- Set goals and time limits for meetings: another way to improve meetings is to set a meeting “goal” and limit the meeting time. Be sure to have employees set only one goal for a meeting, preferably a quantitative goal (e.g. 5 marketing tactics for the new product, discuss one big issue from an email conversation, approve one section of the quarterly budget etc.)
- Done is better than perfect: there’s a sign at Facebook’s offices in Israel that reads: “done is better than perfect” (maybe it’s all over Facebook, this is just one that I’ve seen). No task is ever perfect. We can always make it better. But as some of you probably know from economics class, the law of diminishing returns applies here. You need to decide in advance what your goal for this task is, achieve it, and let it go. You can later come back to it if it wasn’t sufficient.
- Make a list of tasks: let your employees know that they should have a list of tasks (they can create it, of course. You don’t want to micro-manage them). Unless something unusual happens – they should stick to it! This list is what they’re going to do that day, no matter what they’re being asked to do. They should create this list at the end of the week or the end of the day. I don’t recommend making this list in the morning, ever. It’s a draining task. When they have this list they don’t have to waste any time making any decisions about their day – it’s set!
- Categorizing work emails: use 3 types of emails inside your organization – “FYI”, “Agree/Disagree” and “Let’s discuss”.
- FYI (for your information) – emails that are meant only to inform about something in the team, department or company. No need to reply or make any decision.
- Agree/Disagree – emails that require attention. They’ll need to reply with a yes or a no. Be sure to include “ reply until *insert date* “ – so your employees will know if they can skip this decision and make it later, when they’re more fresh.
(e.g. “ Agree/Disagree – 2 Q 2016 Budget – reply until 01/01/16 ”)
- Let’s discuss – emails that require a discussion – preferably in meeting.
My first 9 to 5 job was hard. But it wasn’t hard because I didn’t know what to do, or didn’t understand what’s going on. It was hard because I couldn’t manage my time effectively. I was given a lot of freedom, so I had to make a lot of decisions for myself. But after the 10th decision (and after working on each decision) – I couldn’t work anymore. I felt drained. New employees and managers face the same situation every day. And it’s pretty easy to prevent – you simply need to educate new employees about the issue, and give them some tools to handle it. Like the ones you now have.
If you have any other tools you use to reduce decision fatigue and work better – please let me know in the comments below!
By Harel Saporta
About the author
Harel is the CMO of SaySo, an app that helps reduce decision fatigue and make better decisions. Also the co-founder of 5MinGrowthHacking, a website that helps Growth Hackers learn marketing techniques quickly and in small portions. Harel holds a bachelors degree in Psychology and Management from Tel Aviv University.