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No, I’m not talking about how to manage your stock portfolio. I am talking about structuring your day to be successful.Cutting-edge neuroscience data is about to be revealed in a new book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. A collection of recent, rather shocking studies prove that as the day goes along, you increasingly suffer from decision-fatigue – and quite literally pay the price.
Buy in the morning when you are sharp. Sell in the afternoon when others aren’t. To do otherwise, is to put yourself in harm’s way.
Should you be alarmed if things don’t go that way? Yes, because there’s what I call the Jenga effect, as you load one decision on top of another. Jenga is the game where you create a tower of wood pieces and start to pull them out one by one. Inevitably, the tower will fall.
What’s particularly unsettling? There is not a single decision you make that doesn’t lead to your potential ruin, known as “ego depletion.” Over the course of a day, you simply run out of steam to recognise what’s best for you and your organisation. As your cognitive resources run out, you witlessly succumb to the forces around you.
Your brainpower gets worn down with every simple and complex decision you make. Every decision takes an equal toll when it comes to depleting your ability to decide anything.
Here’s an example. On your way into work, you stop for a brace of caffeine. The barista asks, “Coffee or tea?” OMG. This is where it starts – unless of course, you already had to decide which outfit to wear, and whether it would be news or music as you commuted. Decisions, all of them, count.
The brain-saver tip? Have lots of easy to follow routines. Work it out so you can answer the barista, “The usual.” Otherwise, you begin to exhaust the complex biological processes that are a necessary part of quality decision-making. No kidding. Every single decision draws down brainpower.
There’s another shock in the new neuroscience. Every time you invoke your willpower, you deplete your store of it. Stifle a yawn? You might give away too much in the next negotiation. Refuse a pastry before the meeting? You might undermine your determination to refuse a bad deal.
Your brain has no size meter! Using your energy to refuse small treats like a candy bar negatively impacts your ability to draw a hard line on big temptations, like caving in on price or delivery schedule when a vendor is being particularly persuasive. It works the other way, too. You might decline a great deal, because you’re just too tired to do the maths.
Adding to the downside risks of your average day? A hit of glucose from a doughnut spikes your clarity (wheee!), which then crashes after the quick fix (kaboom!). Think protein and complex carbs in small doses throughout the day so your brain gets sustained levels of glucose. Stock the house and meeting room with healthy food, so there’s no willpower needed and no mood swings, either.
But, eating well isn’t going to save you from decision fatigue and ego depletion.
Multi-tasking over long, hard days and using your authority to decide even small issues (should we order business cards today?) whittle away your good sense (we can wait another day!). Add in the often-necessary suppression of natural impulses, like ignoring your desire to answer the call of hunger, thirst, sex, using the restroom or taking a nap, and you become more prey than predator.
Hence: make your buying decisions early in the day. Schedule selling and big meetings later in the day – on those days when you are able to sleep in. As “four hour millionaire” author Timothy Ferriss, the internationally successful designer agnes b and me, a leading communications coach have found: night owls enjoy an unfair advantage over early birds. That is, if big meetings are scheduled later in the day.
My personal brand has always had a “you can call me til 3 AM” vibe, and only emergencies or a time zone issue overrides my desire to put pillow over head when the rooster calls. And from now on, I won’t even try to fake being awake when a client calls my mobile at 8 AM and asks, “Were you sleeping?” I won’t feel caught. I’ll feel smart.
Nance Rosen is the author of Speak Up! & Succeed. She speaks to business audiences around the world and is a resource for press, including print, broadcast and online journalists and bloggers covering social media and careers. Read more at NanceRosenBlog. Twitter name: nancerosen