2 Great tips to avoid decision fatigue?

President Obama always wears the same thing. Which is part of his secret to getting so much done he significantly reduces the number of decisions he forces himself to make .

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

This is because, the US president explained, the act of making a decision erodes your ability to make later (maybe more important) decisions.

As a new General Manager, you’ll be inundated with decisions.  We’ve already discussed how to put the monkey’s where they deserve to be. Additionally, the new GM needs to be aware that making more decisions potentially opens you to making bad decisions.

Psychologists call it decision fatigue: it’s why judges give harsher rulings later in the day.


Researchers analyzed 8 experienced judge’s decisions on parole requests as a function of time of day. The judges reviewed about 35 cases per day, spending about 6 minutes on each case. On average, the judges approved only 36% of the parole requests presented to them each day. We would expect judges — of all people — to be the best at making impartial decisions. If no external factors were affecting their decisions, we’d expect to see their decsions as pretty consistent throughout the day.

The judges appear to be much more inclined to approve a parole request when they’ve just started work or come off a break. In contrast, they reject far more requests than usual the closer they get to break time — and nearly 100% of the requests just before they take a break. This study provides a classic example of depletion effects in human judgement, a theory which suggests that we have a limited amount of mental energy to expend during a working period. The longer we work on mentally strenuous tasks, the more mental energy we expend, and eventually we’ll run out and start falling back to these easy — and often wrong — default decisions.

Yet more proof that humans don’t make decisions in a vacuum: even missing breakfast can alter how you approach the day.

Managing decision fatigue calls for the high-value, low-effort systemization that entrepreneurs swear by. Whether or not our offices are oval, we need to find ways to reduce friction in our days. As Obama says:

“You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg seem to follow this clothing decision precept, opting to consistently wear the same outfits.

obama jobs zukerberg

Another tip from President Obama, who prefers written advice to spoken. He asks that for the “decision memos” which are sent to him clearly articulate a decision and that at the bottom are three checkboxes:

  • agree
  • disagree
  • let’s discuss

This is effective because, like always wearing the same suit, the checkboxes impose simplicity. While the decisions are obviously complex—how else do they end up at the desk of the US President—creating three choices speeds up the feedback loop. It imposes discipline on the writer as he’s clearly recommending clear action, and imposed discipline on Obama- no need to write an essay in response the president can opt for multiple choice.

So if your life is full of choses and you’re the decision maker in chief, try some simple ways to remove less important decisions from your life to make better decisions.