Mark Zuckerberg wears the same outfit every day. It may seem like a small thing, but even little decisions can eventually exhaust our ability to make good decisions. Decision fatigue, which is the theory that our ability to make good decisions deteriorates with each decision we make, applies no matter how small or large a decision. As the day goes on, we use up our decision-making fuel and make poorer decisions. If you’ve experienced at the end of a long day a breakdown in your willpower – getting easily frustrated and angry, or needing to go shopping, or eating a bag of potato chips – you may well have been a victim of decision fatigue. Self-control takes mental energy, and, it turns out, we have a limited amount of it.
You may not need to go as far as wearing the same outfit every day, but a healthy work practice may include doing your most important work in the morning when your decision-making fuel is topped up. If your to-do list has 30 items on it, whittle it down to three (or similarly small handful) and get started with the first item on the list. This may also mean putting aside reviewing emails and phone calls when you get into the office, no matter how strong the urge. Take away the distractions and focus on those top three tasks. You may find that by lunch time you’ve accomplished what you really need to do that day.
Another tip that comes out of this is to avoid sending difficult emails at the end of the day. If you receive an angry client email at the end of the day, your ability to self-censor may be at a weak point. A general rule of thumb is to “sleep on it” and re-visit the email the next morning.
Managing your tasks well is a seemingly mundane skill which can yield big dividends. Good task management means you are more likely to fully immerse yourself in your tasks and not miss important details. Maximize your time by taking on the most important tasks first.