, , ,

Three men doing time in Israeli prisons recently appeared before a parole board. 

  • Case 1 (heard at 8:50 a.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.
  • Case 2 (heard at 3:10 p.m.): A Jewish Israeli serving a 16-month sentence for assault.
  • Case 3 (heard at 4:25 p.m.): An Arab Israeli serving a 30-month sentence for fraud.

The three prisoners had each completed at least two-thirds of their sentences, but the parole board granted freedom to only one of them.

The prisoner who appeared at 8:50 a.m. received parole; even though the other Arab Israeli prisoner was serving the same sentence for the same crime, and the Jewish Israeli prisoner at 3:10 p.m had a sentence that was shorter than that of the man who was released.

Those two were just asking for parole at the wrong time of day.

— John Teirney, Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? The New York Times Magazine

We make countless decisions every single day.  For example, in just 5 minutes this past Sunday morning —

Should I shave today?  Should I wear a t-shirt or sweat shirt?   Can I get in some writing before I go and get mom?  When should I leave to get mom?  Should I get a coffee and a couple of donuts on the way?  Should I work on the pond today?  Should I stop at the hardware store and get the parts to fix the bench in the back yard?  Should I top off the pond or should I hope that it rains tonight?  What should I post on Monday?

Again, this was just my mental processing for around five minutes … Later in the day I simply couldn’t decide where to go for lunch!

Can you relate to my decision fatigue?  I pray I am not the only one so afflicted …

I know I’m not.  Research has revealed decision making patterns in judges and parole boards; the above parole decisions weren’t related to ethnic backgrounds, or the crimes, or the sentences they were serving.

It was all about timing.

Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.

Holy cow, no?

Quite clearly, many decisions we make in the course of our average day are made without much deep thinking.  Others require thought, reflection, and an assessment of risk and consequences.

But quantity matters; when faced with many decisions, there comes a point when we become fatigued.  Judgment is compromised.  Energy is depleted.  We become susceptible — we might agree to anything, or nothing; we might not want to risk getting it wrong, so we defer; or we might no longer factor in consequences, and get reckless…

Think about the implications of the micromanaging leader in this context… oooh boy!

This is most definitely not insignificant, in any domain of our lives.

What to do?

“You need to focus your decision-making energy.  You need to routinize yourself.  You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia,” President Obama tells Michael Lewis in a recent Vanity Fair profile.  (It’s a fascinating article; I highly recommend.)

Obama, knowing the research, establishes routines and eliminates the inconsequential decisions.  For example, he reduced his wardrobe to only blue and gray suits, so he doesn’t have to think about what he wears in the morning; and he simply eats what is prepared for him, so he’s not making daily decisions about what to eat…

Establishing routines are helpful; I, perhaps like you, am very much a creature of habit, and I try very hard to not vary from my routines.  I like to park in the same spot every day.  Even if there’s another, closer.  I’m done with having to wander around the parking lot when it’s time to go home!

But establishing and sticking to routines and dropping whatever mundane decisions we can is just the start, I’m thinking.

What about how we plan our day?  Perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to schedule that important meeting for Friday afternoon, to try and get the decision on that project so you can hit the ground running on Monday morning?  When is your prime decision making time?  When is your boss’s?  When is your customer’s?

And what about the decisions we make at home, in the evening, after we’ve worked all day?

*     *     *     *     *

There is going to be a part two for this post, I’ve decided.  There’s too much more to consider on this topic.

I’ve also decided it will be titled “Freedom From Choice.”

But I am concerned now, because it’s late in that very same day when I couldn’t even decide where to go for lunch …

But I’m not that concerned.  After all, I’m not deciding on someone’s freedom …