Do you have decision fatigue? Here’s why.

by | Nov 7, 2014

If you’ve ever found yourself in the middle of a brainstorming session and unable to get even a flicker out of your usually creative mind, the time of the meeting might well have had something to do with it.

We all have a sneaking feeling that there are times of the day when we feel more energised than others, but there’s scientific proof to back it up, and some of the most compelling findings, somewhat weirdly, come from a study into parole hearings.

In a nutshell, researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel looked at the results of more than 1,000 parole hearings which took place over a year and found that the actual timing that the hearing took place was the major determinant in whether or not parole was granted. Early morning hearings resulted in parole roughly 70 per cent of the time; those unlucky enough to appear before the panel at the end of the day had just a one in 10 chance of being released.

The findings spawned the phrase “decision fatigue”: by the end of the day the parole judges had heard it all before, were bored of the hearings, and were less likely to give cases an attentive, unbiased hearing.

While the findings highlight the problems with objective decision making at different times of the day, I think they also ring true for creativity – in fact anything that requires attention and focus. Put simply: you probably don’t do your best thinking at the end of the day.

That’s a massively important thing to consider if you’re in the business of bringing together creative minds and want to get the best out of them. We all know how precious time is, so try and choose a mid-morning slot when you’re all wide awake. Sometimes there’s no option but to go for a later time slot, but I remember only too well the pain of trying to squeeze good ideas out of normally creative minds once ‘end of the day’ syndrome had set in. Everyone is familiar with the dread of the ‘graveyard slot’ for pitches. Now there’s a scientific reason to push for the morning!

If there’s no option but to go for a late afternoon brainstorm, you owe it to everyone to do everything in your power to keep it stimulating. Change the scenery, serve energy-boosting natural foods/drinks like lemon water (packed with electrolytes), fresh fruit and nuts, or try a walking meeting if that’s practical. While you can’t exactly force your colleagues to follow suit, a lunchtime workout will help too: countless studies have shown how gym time boosts productivity (moderate cardio has been shown to bring about a two-hour creativity hike immediately after the session).

If you like rules, try these:

1/ Avoid making big decisions at the end of the day.

2/ Schedule creativity meetings for mornings and have a good supply of coffee on tap.

3/ Remember that Friday morning creativity meetings may well be the exception to the rule as Thursday night drinking sessions could cloud normally resourceful brains.

4/ Keep critical brainstorming sessions off the Monday morning agenda as these meetings are often overshadowed by people catching up on what they did over the weekend.

5/ Keep an unofficial log of when you and your team perform at your best in order to identify your creativity golden window.



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