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Recognizing And Responding To Decision Fatigue

Decision making is a huge part of project management. Whether it relates to what needs to get done, when it needs to get done, or who needs to do it, projects don’t move forward unless managers make and communicate decisions. The more complicated the project, the more decisions will need to be made.

Yad Senapathy, founder and CEO of the Project Management Training Institute (PMTI), has trained project managers for decades in how to face and to make critical decisions. “Critical decision making skill in project management is vital because it ensures the right decision is made at the right time,” Yad explains. “It helps you recognize the prejudices, false beliefs, and biases that may lead to a flawed decision.”

At some point, all the decisions that managers must make as they move projects along can result in what psychologists refer to as “decision fatigue.” While decision fatigue is normal and natural, failing to acknowledge its effects can lead to very bad decisions and result in failed projects.

What is it?

Just like physical exercise can lead to physical fatigue, mental exercise results in fatigue as well. When it comes to decision making, there is information that we need to track down, consequences that we need to weigh, and dynamics that we need to consider. It’s a mental workout that taxes our willpower.

If your muscles get fatigued, your physical abilities deteriorate. A starting pitcher who has thrown pitches for seven innings often needs a reliever to come in and finish the game. Because his muscles are tired, the starter can’t pitch as well as he did in the first ining. It works the same way with decision fatigue.

The more time that you spend engaged in decision making, the more your ability to make sound decisions will deteriorate.

What does it look like?

When your willpower is worn down, you’ll find yourself reluctant to move through all the steps that are necessary to make good decisions. You’ll resist doing the research and settle for whatever information you have on hand. 

When you find yourself choosing the path of least resistance, you know that you are experiencing decision fatigue. If your willpower is weak, you’ll lose the drive to push for the best option and allow for a good option that your team would like to see.

Decision avoidance is another sign of decision fatigue. Choosing to stick with the status quo rather than deciding to push for needed change is a sign of decision fatigue. 

What can you do?

When you see the signs of decision fatigue, there’s a good chance that your next decision will not be the best decision. A good next step when you’re experiencing decision fatigue is to stop for the day. Take some time to do some things that can get you ready for tomorrow’s decisions.

If you are a project manager, you will need to make a lot of work-related decisions. Try reducing the number of decisions that you need to make outside of work. Some well known business leaders, including Apple’s Steve Jobs, have been known to wear the same outfit everyday to reduce the number of decisions they had to make.

Setting a time limit on decision making can also help to reduce fatigue. Just like with physical workouts, the longer you think about something, the more mentally exhausted you become. There will come a point where the additional time spent only makes it harder for you to make a good decision.

Project Management Training Institute

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