In the past few years, an increasing body of research has emerged related to the limits of our decision-making energies. It turns out that the quality of our decisions begins to erode during the course of a typical day, as our fixed amount of willpower is used up. Stated differently, scientists have discovered that decision-making power is a depletable resource.
This research has tremendous implications for managers at all types of companies. For the same reasons you are more likely to succumb to pizza and ice cream cravings at night after a day full of mentally exhausting healthy decisions, you are more likely to make bad or hasty management decisions after a day full of hundreds of trivial judgments.
It is increasingly important that you reduce your non-critical decisions as much as possible to free your brain for more important high-order thinking. Many managers fail to realize that limiting decisions is not the same as limiting the expenditure of time or financial resources. It’s easy to wonder “Why should I fully delegate technical decisions to my CTO, or marketing decisions to my CMO, when it would just take me 10 minutes to review their proposals?”
The answer is that those 10 minutes of actual “work” time might have cost you an hour’s worth of your mental resources. The time it takes your brain to switch between various tasks can be tremendous when you’re talking about high-level thinking. If time is money, then management’s mental bandwidth is money squared.
Limiting your daily decisions does not just apply to delegating large management questions. It especially applies to the little things throughout your day.
Steve Jobs famously wore the same outfit every day so that he never had to think about what to wear. Tim Ferriss eats the same (healthy) meal for breakfast every day so he doesn’t have to think about what food to prepare. And President Barack Obama limits his low-priority email responses to “Agree,” “Disagree” or “Discuss” to simplify the mental burden of his small decisions.
Managers of all sizes should thus always consider the mental burden of tasks, in addition to their financial costs, when determining which tasks to delegate. Decreasing your mental clutter means adding more room to grow in your current role.
Whether it’s deciding to outsource your HR administration or hire one full-time paid virtual assistant rather than managing three unpaid part-time interns, limiting your daily decision-making load is almost always worth the added cost.