How a Good Business Analyst Can Help Leaders Combat Decision Fatigue
Should you hire candidate A or candidate B? Does the board report need a few more graphs? Should you eat one of the doughnuts in the breakroom?
Your day is likely packed with various questions and decisions that you and your coworkers need to make. These range from small choices that have no bearing on the business to large, company-changing decisions. As a business analyst, your role is to help senior management make better choices. Your job is to provide clear information that they can use to determine the best course of action. However, this isn’t always easy.
With a little care, you can be a psychologist and analyst for the management teams you work with. Here’s how you can reduce decision fatigue in the workplace to help senior leadership make better choices.
Understand the Basics of Decision Fatigue
Almost everyone will experience decision fatigue at some point in their careers or personal lives. Jory MacKay at RescueTime defines decision fatigue as “the deterioration of our ability to make good decisions after a long session of decision making. In other words, the more decisions you need to make, the worse you’re going to be at weighing all the options and making an educated, research-backed choice.”
Decision fatigue often strikes at the end of the day, when you can’t figure out what you want for dinner and instead just stare at the inside of your refrigerator; however, it also occurs in the workplace when you need to approach problems with objectivity and with a clear head.
The concept of decision fatigue was coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, professor of psychology at Florida State University. Dr. Baumeister has published more than 500 scientific articles and 30 books, including the New York Times bestseller “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.” He links decision-making to self-control: While self-control can be strengthened with practice, overuse is actually counterproductive. With repeated exertion, self-control starts to deteriorate through the day like a muscle. This is why you are more likely to reach for a chocolate bar later in the day rather than early on.
While you might not think choosing whether to have dessert has a significant mental impact on your job performance, it actually does. Sam Ovens, CEO of Consulting.com, says all decisions “zap the same amount of brain power,” and we can only make so many choices during the day.
And this is also why high-profile decision-makers tend to stick to uniforms — think of Steve Jobs’ trademark turtleneck or Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie. By eliminating the variables of what they wear, CEOs and other leaders can focus on more important issues.
Analysis Paralysis Often Comes With Decision Fatigue
Analysis paralysis is a state where you overanalyze all of the decisions beyond what is useful, leading to inaction. Both of these conditions play off of each other and make it seemingly impossible to choose a path.
“Endowed with the gift of entertaining opposing thoughts in our heads simultaneously, we as human beings often convince ourselves we are confused about our next steps when we are simply undecided,” explains Anne Marie Segal, executive coach and author of “Know Yourself, Grow Your Career.”
A lack of focus can also cause analysis paralysis, says Kirstie Pursey, author of “Not Meditating: Finding Peace, Love and Happiness Without Sitting Still.” Without a clear vision for the end goal and constant distractions pulling us in multiple directions, it is hard to approach a situation clearly. Risk aversion is another factor that leads to this condition, Pursey adds. Leaders who let fear of failure alone guide their decisions are doomed to always take the safest routes, especially when that means taking no route at all.
Learn to Spot Decision Fatigue in Your Organization
You may not immediately be able to identify decision fatigue or analysis paralysis in yourself, but you likely see it in others. In professional organizations, decision fatigue takes the form of bottlenecks, marketing professional Janet Mesh writes.
“People who become bottlenecks are usually in managerial positions and are fielding multiple requests and making multiple decisions every day,” she says. “Eventually, their ability to make decisions hits a low and they decide to do nothing in order to avoid failure in the form of making the wrong choice.” In this case, doing nothing seems like the safest option.
Along with bottlenecks, there are other signs you can look for in yourself and in senior leadership to identify decision fatigue. A few examples that executive coach Rhett Power shares include:
You take longer to make simple decisions, and even basic tasks seem confusing.
You continue to put off big decisions because they seem too overwhelming.
Your impulsive behavior increases, in your professional or personal life, because of a lack of self-control or ability to think through ideas.
Keeping an eye on how managers make decisions, and whether they seem confused or overwhelmed, will let you know whether you need to step in and give them a mental respite. They may not be able to identify decision fatigue in themselves or know how to ameliorate it.
7 Tips To Reduce Decision Fatigue in Senior Leadership
You don’t have complete control over what your managers or company leaders do all day, but you can take control of how they make decisions when working with you. You can also work with other people at the company to change how they present options to their direct reports.
Tackle Major Problems Early in the Day
Start by changing the time and day you present problems or choices to managers, which means cancelling your Friday afternoon meetings. Scientist Erin Wildermuth writes that judges grant parole 70 percent of the time during morning cases, but less than 10 percent of the time in the late afternoon.
Similarly, BAs make significantly less accurate forecasts later in the day than those made in the morning. This means that one of the best ways to reduce problems caused by decision fatigue is to schedule your most important decisions in the morning with a clear head, even if it means putting off the decision to the next day.
Set Time Limits to Think About Problems
Another way you can prevent decision fatigue is to set specific time limits to address issues or problems. For example, a business analyst could schedule weekly one-on-ones with leadership to make decisions for each project, or set up a weekly team meeting to discuss a plan of action. During this process, limit the amount of time you actually have to discuss a problem — even five or 10 minutes can be enough.
“Setting parameters for a decision can simplify it … without draining your creative energy like it used to,” writes Chelsea Pennington Hahn. There is simply less time to vacillate when you have five minutes to debate something, make a call and move on to the next item.
Identify Mentally Dragging Decisions Your Leaders Face
There are certain tasks that drag you down each day. In your personal life, these tasks might include planning meals or trying to eat healthy. In the workplace, these tasks focus on budgeting, time mapping and staffing. These tasks rarely or never go away and are typically monotonous.
Journalist Kara Cutruzzula calls these time-sucking decisions. They take up a large amount of mental energy or result in decisions that take up time. It is these tasks that business analysts should look to automate or change, as their removal will free up a considerable amount of time and mental energy through the day.
Tune Out Other Problems or Distractions
To limit decision fatigue, you need to limit distractions. Even hearing the ping of your phone or seeing an email pop up can force your brain to think about what you’re missing out on and debate whether or not you should check your notifications.
Turn off these alerts to focus on the task at hand, recommends personal trainer Kirsty Lee Hutton. As a BA, there are a few ways you can do this. Schedule meetings away from technology so you have everyone’s undivided attention and ask everyone to turn off and put their devices away. This keeps the focus on what you have to say, leading to faster and more informed decisions now that your audience isn’t distracted and accidentally tuning you out.
Set Aside Decisions If You Get Stuck
While you want to tune out distractions, there is also a clear time and place to play on your phone, daydream or respond to texts from friends or your significant other.
Tech and productivity writer Jill Duffy is an advocate of playing around on the web for a few minutes or chatting with coworkers about their weekends or personal lives. When done effectively, these breaks build back our mental faculties and allow us to refresh and approach problems clearly again.
Think about the earlier tip where you set aside 10 minutes to make a decision. After you make your choice, step away from your desk for a bit and then return, ready to take on the next issue.
Stop Going Back to Past Decisions
When a decision is made, the worst thing you can do is go back to it over and over. You are creating your own decision fatigue. “Second-guessing yourself can take a much larger toll than you may realize,” writes Elizabeth Scott, a stress management expert. “Rather than beating yourself up over making a wrong decision, just decide the choice is made and move on.”
You will cost your team time and money if you make them change what they are working on or start over because you changed your mind. Plus, this frustration damages morale and reduces team engagement.
Encourage Senior Leadership to Delegate and Train Their Employees
Author Deep Patel encourages leaders to delegate specifically to prevent or limit decision-fatigue. By taking smaller decisions off their plates, they can focus on more pressing problems that others in the company can’t answer. There are additional benefits to this delegating:
It builds morale in employees who feel like they have ownership in their careers.
It creates a more autonomous workforce in which employees can make decisions on their own.
It prepares employees to take on leadership roles of their own by improving their decision-making skills.
Decision fatigue has a bad habit of creeping up on people. If you feel yourself or others around you struggling with the weight of their choices, take a step back and look for ways to refresh your workplace.