When we think about fatigue, we usually think of physical tiredness … we worked too hard in the yard, we didn’t sleep well the night before, or we’re working too many hours. Fatigue certainly includes those causes, but for many Christian leaders, or any leader for that matter, another kind of fatigue can rob our energy and diminish leadership effectiveness. It’s called decision fatigue. It refers to how the quality of our decisions degrades after a long string of successive decisions. In other words, the more decisions you make, the more the quality of those decisions declines.
Judges make less favorable decisions later in the day and decision fatigue even affects consumer choices. So what might indicate that your decisions are affected by decision fatigue?
I’ve learned the effects of decision fatigue by experience.
A year and a half ago I began a new ministry as lead pastor of West Park Church in London, Ontario. It’s been a great ministry but I’ve faced a staff shortage during that time. As a result, almost every staff person reported to me which required me to make many more decisions about ministry than I normally would. We recently added two outstanding new pastors and I’m thrilled at their being with us. However, during the past year and a half, I’ve seen decision fatigue sometimes affect me.
Four indicators decision fatigue may be degrading the quality of your decisions:
1. You make quick, impulsive decisions you later regret you made. This happens because you want to quickly get one more thing off your plate and the quick decision seems to solve the problem. However the real problem may be making the decision too quickly without sufficient information to make the best one.
2. You needlessly delay decisions. This is the counterpoint to the impulsive decision. When we get mentally tired, we can easily put off a decision that needs to be made now. Sometimes I’d move an email that still required a decision from me – one I could have easily made right then – into another folder, actually doubling the time I spent making the decision because I still had to read the email again to make the decision. By doing so, I took up two chunks of time and two chunks of mental energy.
3. You send thoughtless, terse emails. I probably get 150 plus emails a day, many of them requiring a decision from me at some level. I’ve found that when I’ve had to make multiple decisions during the day, toward the end of the day I’m tempted to not think as clearly before I send an email.
4. You get mad when someone asks you for a decision. When this happens our mental chatter sounds like this. “Great, one more decision I have to make for somebody else!” The term ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control diminishes over time when we have already exerted lots of self-control. Toward the end of the day or a week when a leader has had to make too many decisions, he may find himself losing his cool more easily, flying off the handle, or saying things he shouldn’t.
As you look at the number of decisions you are making, to what degree does decision fatigue affect you?
Pause and Reflect:
- What decisions can you give away to others to make?
- When will you do this?