Good decisions may depend on time of day: analysis

Information overload? Growing body of research finds too much decision-making over the course of a day gives us 'decision fatigue,' draining our ability to make good decisions.

Too much decision-making over the course of a day gives us "decision fatigue," draining our ability to make good decisions.

That's the gist of an article by John Tierney in The New York Times Magazine, which looked at studies that demonstrated how hours of decision-making can reduce the effectiveness of decision-making. Such decision fatigue has real consequences, from corporate moves to individual purchases.

"Decision fatigue can make quarterbacks prone to dubious choices late in the game and CFOs prone to disastrous dalliances late in the evening. It routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor.... Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it....  No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price... The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts...."

The thinking is that as the brain gets more exhausted from continuous decision making, it starts to favor less-risky choices. For example, Tierney cites statistics that found a a parole board is more likely to turn down requests as the day wears on.

There may be some credence to the idea that the first, gut-level decision one makes may be the best one, versus a decision made after laborious analysis. As covered before at this blogsite , there has been some debate about what makes good decisions. For example, Jonah Lehrer points out in his book, How We Decide, that having too much information — whether before it is made or via introspection after the fact — clutters our decision-making abilities.

Business intelligence and analytics is a great advancement for enterprises. However, in the process, decision makers get overloaded with information and data. A smart approach is to find ways to filter and simplify the information streaming to decision makers, thereby reducing the incidence of paralysis by analysis.

(Photo credit: ICANN.)

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