Is It Okay to Play Solitaire at Work?

Much has been made about the amount of time people engage in non-work activities on the job. I’ve seen estimates that range from 30 minutes to more than three hours per day. The reality is that no one can remain focused for eight hours at a time. As a result, they look for other distractions. These days, digital technology and the on-line world stands at the ready to take your mind off of the tasks at hand for hours at a time. This is true for everyone, not just the person punching the clock. We all need periods throughout the day to recharge our batteries. If we don’t, decision fatigue sets in and we make careless errors because we’ve lost focus.

So, how to you step away from the current project without losing more time than you had planned? My solution? Solitaire. No, not the type you can find on your smart phone. But the kind you play with actual cards. Why? Because there are no distractions built into the process. When you play solitaire on-line, the screen is filled with other pop-ups, messages, gifs and emojis designed to steal your attention away from the game at hand. If you decide to watch “just one” video on YouTube, you can end up squandering 30 minutes or more because of the algorithms designed to keep you fixated. It’s like Lays potato chips. You can never eat just one.

When you take a break with something offline, you are much more likely to draw line after a shorter period of time. Solitaire with playing cards takes about five minute, two minutes if you deal yourself a really bad hand. I keep a deck of cards close by so they’re easily within reach. I might play two hands if the first one is short. Sometimes I deal two bad hands. Then I know the universe telling me I should get back to work. Whether its Solitaire, reading an article, going for a short walk, or anything else, these short breaks are essential to conserving your energy. Just don’t do them on-line.

Now that I’ve finished this post, I think I’ll take a break and play a game of solitaire. Who knows? I might even win!

Managing Decision Fatigue: Sources – Symptoms – Solutions

You probably know the feeling – it’s mid-afternoon and you’re just tired of thinking. Or maybe you’re in the middle of a meeting and you’re beginning to zone out. Perhaps you’re in the sixth virtual conversation of the day and you’re paying more attention to everyone’s background than you are to the decisions being discussed. Maybe you’re in the supermarket staring at the toothpaste and wondering why all these choices are necessary.

Decision fatigue has become the new drain on today’s daily performance. Truth is, decision fatigue has always been around because it is the result of what happens when glucose levels in the brain become depleted. But in recent years, the impact of this mental drain has become so much more intense because of the number of decisions we are compelled to make every waking minute.

Can you can you successfully manage the decision fatigue draining your energy and impairing your thinking?  Yes! To do so, however, it helps to examine both the sources and symptoms first. Only then can we discuss solutions. Allow me to do so using a three-step framework: Sources – Symptoms – Solutions.

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Every time you make a decision, your brain consumes a bit of the blood glucose (sugar energy) produced by the body from the foods you eat. Deciding whether to turn left or right in the parking lot consumes little glucose. Analyzing data and producing a report consumes a lot more. This is why you feel drained after doing so. It’s also why you shouldn’t make significant purchasing decisions after focusing on an important task. Your brain won’t have the glucose energy to maintain proper focus to make a disciplined choice. The sources of decision fatigue fall into five categories:

First, there is work, which is composed of all the decisions you make during the day. This includes everything from significant choices to nuisance decisions such as navigating phone menus, clicking out of browser pop-ups, declining “convenience” options built into software applications and endless updates that developers promise will improve our user experience. (yeah, right!) On top of this, the pace of work, for many, has become more pressure-filled because of our 24/7/365 society. The same is true because of globalization and the endless demands for instant outcomes. Mix in the general competition for attention from social media and other forms of digital messaging and the brain has trouble processing this constant procession of decisions, both large and small.

Second, there are consumer sources. This consists of everything you buy, from food and personal care products to Netflix packages, apparel, big screen TVs and the car or truck you drive. Frankly, it’s business’ job to sell you the products and separate you from your money. The number of ways they attempt to do this, however, has exploded over the past few years. Research indicates that consumers don’t like too many choices, but it also shows people buy more when they’re confused. This is why your head hurts when attempting to purchase complex items like a cable subscription.

Third, there is social media. This includes all the platforms most of us use daily to connect with each other and keep up on what they have to say. These applications have become such an integral part of life for so many, they deserve their own category. Millions have been invested in making sure that users remain continually engaged, whether it is the never-ending scroll feature or the continual pop-ups that offer assistance, advertisements or the diversions we have come to know as click-bait. Add to this a design that ensures you will never see the same page display a second time, and these companies have created billions of users afraid to close the app. Each one of these sessions, of course, includes hundreds of decisions about what to read, what to click, and how to respond.

Fourth, there is news and entertainment. These have blended together so much that they really fall into the same category. As much as entertainment should be a source of relaxation, research has shown that the overwhelming number of choices confuses viewers resulting a sort of mental surrender for many. When it comes to news, it is important to remember that CNN, FOX, print media and the others are NOT in the business of keeping us informed. They are in the business of making money. Hence, the long-time industry motto, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Bad news, polarization and stories with manipulated narratives stress readers and viewers resulting in decision fatigue. At the same time, there is a sense of being left out if you don’t keep up.

Finally, there’s You and Others, or relationships. This category includes family, friends, colleagues and everyone else with whom you relate on a regular basis. Each of these relationships requires its own set of decisions based on how you interact, along with past experience. Each one of these decisions requires the brain to consider dozens of factors, consuming boatloads of glucose, especially for those relationships you find more challenging. Just as a large report or presentation can consume a lot of sugar energy, the same is true with the lengthy or intense conversations you have with one or more people over a beer. At the end, you feel tired of thinking because your brain has had to pay attention while developing what to say in response, based on your past experience with these individuals.

As mentioned before, many of these decisions have been a part of life since the dawn of time. But in recent years we have added social media, the options that come with menu-driven software, and an explosion of consumer choices in pretty much every product category. According to research from Roberts Wesleyan College, adults are now making an average of 35,000 decisions per day. As a result, there are five symptoms that hinder our thinking and impair our daily performance.

The Symptoms of Decision Fatigue

First, there is continuous partial attention, which forces our minds to constantly dart back and forth from micro-decision to micro-decision, each one costing us a bit of glucose energy. This darting becomes cumulative over time and the reason why we wonder what happened to the productivity of the day. Have you ever said to yourself, “I know I made a lot of decisions, but I didn’t really accomplish anything?” When the brain is not given a change to replenish itself, glucose levels become so depleted that you can actually feel your thinking shutting down.

Safe Decision Syndrome is the fear of making any decision that might result in a mistake, an unfortunate outcome, or perhaps correction or discipline by a supervisor. With the number of decisions we are required to make these days, the possibility of this happening has gone way up. Those who have been “burned” by one or more of these situations become overly cautious about making any decision that is even tinged with uncertainty. Most times, they just stop unless they have explicit permission to act.

Third, there is menu-driven thinking, which is an over-dependence on digital cues. The advent of computer software has brought with it increasingly sophisticated ways of guiding, some would say manipulating, our thinking and choices.  Whether it is telephone menus, airline reservation sites, or the screen in your car’s dashboard, we are thinking less and being led more. Some might argue that menu-driven thinking reduces the need to think, thereby saving mental energy. The price of this, however, is a deficit in creative and critical thinking especially among many of those coming of age in this digital society. When they are compelled to make decisions with an uncertain outcome, the associated stress of doing so consumes a tremendous amount of glucose.

Fourth, there is the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). This has become a juggernaut in both social media and marketing. The fact that a sizeable number of people interrupt their sleep to check their mobile devices illustrates the way FOMO has become a major factor in fostering decision fatigue. As with any other digital interaction, the fear of missing out requires dozens of decisions throughout the day, each one consuming a bit of the blood glucose so essential for attention and concentration.

Finally, there is the sense of manipulation we develop when we feel like we’re being led to a particular outcome, even though we’re being told we have complete control. Sadly, this has become pervasive throughout society because of digital technology. As a result, we expend more blood glucose trying to game the systems that are trying to maneuver us into pre-ordained choices. Having to anticipate these processes for even simple purchases or decisions draws our focus and energy away for more significant issues. Feeling like you’re settling or surrendering results in an underlying sense of distrust in all these systems.

The Solutions to Decision Fatigue

Over the past several years, I’ve identified more than 30 strategies for battling decision fatigue and continue to discover more as I interview effective decision-makers. Here are three to get you started.

First, begin each day with something that will you give a sense of completion. Admiral William McRaven has become known for his ten rules learned during Navy Seal training. The first of these is “make your bed,” a simple task but a good way to start the day. For me, it’s posting an inspiring thought on Linked-In. Others with whom I have spoken have a ritual that helps center their thinking before diving into what needs to be done. What do you do every morning to top off your energy before commencing the work at hand?

Second, work at eliminating unnecessary decisions. I spoke to an executive who told me of assuming the leadership of a manufacturing plant. Being a first-time plant manager, he dutifully studied all the reports that arrived in his in-box, sometimes late into the night. But one day it dawned on him that no one ever asked about these reports. He started asking those generating them about their purpose. He was told that his predecessor was a “numbers guy” and couldn’t seem to get enough data to analyze. So, this manager sat down one morning considered the value of each report. Then he eliminated all but two, saving him a couple of hours of work a week. Effective decision-makers are constantly looking for ways to consolidate, delegate or eliminate decisions for both themselves and those with whom they work. How about you?

Finally, chunk your time. I’ve interviewed several executives who divide their time into 15- or 30-minute segments. Then they assign the decisions they need to make to those segments. This is especially useful if their days is filled with requests from others. Not only does it compel those asking the questions to better organize their time, it forces the decision-maker to act, rather allowing the issue to drag on or be postponed. Even if you cannot do this for the entire day, simply dedicating time chucks every morning or afternoon will enable you to focus without the endless distractions. Don’t worry. The people around you will get used to it. If you have a boss that wants you available at every whim, sell him or her on how you can get more done if you compartmentalize some of your time.

When battling decision fatigue, the goal is NOT to better manage the 35,000 decisions we might face every day. It is to REDUCE the number of decisions we make. In other words, fewer decisions equals less blood glucose consumed. This leaves more sugar energy for focus on the most important issues.

Save Energy by Managing Your Appoplexy

It is so easy to find an app for every little convenience these days. Whether you’re looking for travel short-cuts, recipes, or simply games to pass the time. Search any topic on Apple or Android and you’ll find millions of them, most free or less than five dollars. Installing them is as easy as clicking on “open,” authorizing installation with your thumb and waiting a few seconds for it to load. Voilà, instant convenience and fun.

In many ways, however, apps have become a crutch as everyone reaches for their smart phone seeking assistance with everything under the sun. But there is a more insidious cost of having an app for every need imaginable. All these apps can be a source of decision fatigue. Imagine trying to save a bit of money by using the app you’re positive you’ve downloaded to save a couple of bucks on Bar-B-Que. As you page through each screen, your brain has to examine each app’s icon ever-so-briefly to determine whether or not that’s the one you’re looking for. Each one of these neural transactions consumes a bit of the sugar energy your brain depends upon to focus and function.

Too many apps can clog up the system. There’s the conference app you downloaded for that meeting in Detroit back in 2016. There’s the Sit or Squat app you downloaded to help your aging parents find the closest public toilet on last year’s vacation. There’s that car seat helper app you used seven years ago, except now your kids are in middle school. If you can’t remember the exact name of the Bar-B-Que app or what it looks like, you could spend five minutes looking for something that will only save you two bucks. And once you’ve found it, you’ll probably spend another couple of minutes updating it, depending on the speed of the local internet.

Sometimes in seminars, I’ll ask those attending to pull out their smart phones and count the number of apps they have downloaded. The record so far on one device is 241. That’s ten full screens of 24 apps each. Here’s the bottom line. When it comes to apps, the more convenience you have, the less convenience you have.

Decision fatigue is caused by making too many unproductive decisions. Looking for that “needle-in-a-haystack” app is a great example of why we feel tired halfway through the day. This is a phenomenon I call “appoplexy.” So here’s a quick solution. Take out your smart phone right now and delete an app you really don’t use. Then make a practice of doing so whenever you’re on line at the grocery store, waiting to get your car washed, or waiting for the movie to begin. Eliminating little decisions will conserve the energy you need for the bigger decisions throughout the day.

One Sure Way to Reclaim Your Life from Decision Fatigue

You probably know the feeling. You get up in the morning, get ready for the day and drive to the office. Then you sit down at your desk and brace yourself for the onslaught of messages needing to be cleared. You navigate the pop-ups, opt-ins and opt-outs, the unsubscribes, and the reply-alls you don’t need to see.

Then there’s the pressure to get more done. Just about the time you’re caught up, something lands on your desk that needs to be done “right away.” In the midst of all this, you deal with texts, Slack messages, and e-mails from customers, bosses, and co-workers who seem to think that you should be immediately available 24-7-365. After all, in this globalized economy, it’s always 8AM somewhere.

There’s just not enough, time, energy and focus. Does this sound familiar? This is the beginning of decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is when you make poor choices because your brain is overloaded due to the overwhelming demands of modern life. It is directly linked to a concept called satisficing – not making the best decisions, but decisions that are good enough. The reason? Each one of these “micro-decisions” consumes a bit of the blood-glucose energy your body produces every day, based on what you eat and the amount of sleep you get. In making 100 or more of these micro-decisions at the very beginning of the day, by clearing email and other distractions, you take the edge off of your concentration for the more important tasks later on.

So, how do you deal with this challenge? Plan to clear your e-mail and other messages after the first project of the day. Now, I can hear you thinking, “Yeah, right! You don’t know my boss, my customers, my company, my culture.” As a matter of fact, I do. And what I know is that there are individuals in any organization who have found a way to manage the email and message onslaught rather than becoming a victim of it. Frankly, what you may be fighting more than the culture is your fear of missing out (FOMO).

Most of us have become so conditioned to answering e-mails and other messages first thing every morning, that we feel a visceral discomfort if we don’t. It hangs over us and feels like a big incomplete until we satisfy the craving. How do you accomplish this change of routine? Here’s a simple five-step process.

First, acknowledge the discomfort. Yeah, I know, no one likes discomfort. But the only way you’re going to reduce your decision fatigue is to make changes to your routine. And change, by its very nature will trigger a bit of discomfort because the brain doesn’t like change. But look around, the best decision makers have made that adjustment. They use their high-energy times for tasks that require the best thinking. Clearing e-mail is not one of those tasks.

Second, sell it to your boss. There a few draconian bosses out there who may demand an immediate response to whatever messages they send. For the most part, however, the average supervisor is more interested in your output than an arbitrary measurement of task completion. If you frame it as, “I get my best work done first thing in the morning,” chances are they will buy into the idea of not hearing from you until 9 or 10AM. In fact, you may even start a trend. More than one workplace has improved its productivity by relaxing the expectations around the timeliness of message response. All bets are off, of course, if you’re in a position where timely response determines quality of customer service. But then you knew that, right?

Third, announce it. If you think it is appropriate, create an auto-responder that reads something like, “Thanks for your message. I usually focus on high-focus projects early in the morning and don’t generally return e-mail before 10AM. Thanks for your patience and understanding.” Do not, however, end with a sentence like, “If you have an urgent need, text me at 123-456-7890,” because they will. If it’s really urgent, they’ll figure it out.

Fourth, remove environmental triggers. Rethink your morning routine. Work on that project before you head to the office. Complete it at a coffee shop. Find a secret spot in the building. If you remain in the same work space where you have a deeply-routed cadence, your brain will send you endless discomfort signals that will be impossible to ignore. Change the rhythm by replacing with it something novel.

Fifth, focus on the reward. Decision fatigue sneaks up on us more than we realize. Take time to revel in the one or two hours you have every morning to attack a project, complete it to the best of your ability and check it off your list. By setting parameters around your time like this, you’ll make better decisions and have more peace of mind.

Leveraging your energy is a key to making the best decisions. If you consistently pursue this strategy for 30 days, it will become an ingrained routine. You’ll enjoy the freedom and those around you will be more respectful of your time.

Five Simple Strategies for Battling Decision Fatigue

With the advent of mobile technology, it has become easy to feel tied to the workplace at all times. Do you clear e-mail waiting for dinner to arrive? Do people ask you to stop texting during the movie? Is everyone passing you on the road because you find it tough to focus on a customer call and drive at the same time? (You know who you are.) A recent survey conducted by Robert Half International found that 96% of managers say their people have too much to do every day.

The result of this, of course, is decision fatigue, that feeling that you’re just plain tired of making decisions and figuring stuff out. This condition impacts both sides of the employment relationship. For the employee, it fosters resentment, a feeling of helplessness and even anger. For the employer, it impacts productivity, quality of work, and staff turnover levels. With the ever-increasing emphasis on efficiency and the bottom line, however, the solution is not simple.

But what can you do, personally, to battle this insidious affliction? After all, it’s not what happens to you that counts. It’s how you respond. So, here are five quick strategies to commence the fight:

Number one, take stock. If we take a hard look in the mirror, most of us will realize that we can be our own worst enemy. We’re doing things we shouldn’t be doing. We’re making decisions others should be making. We’re doing things the old way rather than adapting. So, take a couple of days and catalog the tasks you complete and the decisions you make. Nothing fancy. Just a list. Include everything from the time you get up to the time you go to bed. Then look for items that can be eliminated, performed by someone else, or simplified. Even if you find one or two, it will be worth the effort. You may say, “Who’s got time for this? You’re just adding to my decision fatigue.” But if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. ‘nuf said.

Number two, say “no” more often.Sometimes, we are reluctant to challenge the endless parade of assignments handed down from above, for fear of irritating someone or even putting our jobs in jeopardy. Yet well thought-out and rehearsed responses to assignments that get piled on will generally be met with dialog about how to accomplish the work without overwhelming everyone. I address how to accomplish this in more detail in this post.

Number three, say “yes” less often.How often do you say, “Sure,” or “Happy to do so,” or “Not a problem,” during the week? You might be doing this out of a desire to please. You might worry that if you don’t say “yes” you’ll lose an opportunity. Or maybe, you naturally want to help, but fail to consider your calendar and existing commitments. The best decision makers have trained themselves to hesitate before committing impulsively. They say things like, “I might be able to help, but let me check my calendar,” or “I’d be happy to pitch in on part of that. I just need to be mindful of my time.” In this way, they frame the agreement on their terms.

Number four, rid your phone of useless conveniences.Have you ever watched someone swipe left over and over trying to find the app that will save them a couple of minutes. Then they wait a couple of minutes for the latest update to load because the WIFI is slow. Maybe this has been you. We tend to download apps because they seemed like a good idea at the time. Truthfully, most are just sand in the gears of our decision making. The next time you’re sitting in line at the car wash or waiting for the movie to begin after 13 minutes of trailers, delete a few of the apps you really don’t need. Doing this once a week will relieve some of that background stress you feel from having too many options.

Number five, learn what others do to cope.Who around you is the best about managing all the daily decisions and tasks we now navigate? What are these individuals doing that you should be doing? What are they not doing that you should not be doing? Chances are, they have learned these strategies from others. You should learn from them and then pass them along to others who also need the help. These five tactics will not alleviate all of the decision fatigue you feel. But they will serve as a start toward your recovery.