Decision Making as a Limited Capacity

In his article on Barak Obama in Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis noted that Obama had reduced the number of nonessential decisions in his life. The President makes decisions. Lots of decisions. With an assumption that a person has a capacity of a limited number of decisions in a day, Obama eliminated a few decisions with minimal implications for national security. One strategy was to reduce options: He has only blue and grey suits, reducing the decision load on what to wear for the day. Another strategy was to delegate. Obama instructed to White House chef to provide whatever meals seemed appropriate. He ate what was served without making any menu choices.

Decisions are demanding. Whenever you make a decision, you take a stand. You indicate something about your values. You express a preference for one thing over another. The big decisions have layers of meaning. It’s easy to see their inherent challenges.

The small decisions make their own demands. Shopping creates a series of decisions. Choosing one style or color over another makes a value statement. These decisions balance on a fine line between demonstrating your sense of fashion and your sense of independence. Do you follow a trend or define yourself as something unique? One major decision cascades into other choices about colors or accessories. When you totally commit to shopping as entertainment or as a medium to demonstrate your talents, the decisions become an integral part of something important. But when shopping is a tedious but necessary step on the way to making yourself presentable in your personal or professional world, the decisions become a nuisance.

In this latter world, streamlining the little decisions makes. Although each decision makes only a tiny demand on your capacity, it drains a bit of energy. And when the current flow of things at work is taking every bit of your capacity, pacing becomes essential.

    • What decisions do you find draining?

    • What decisions energize you?

    • What makes the difference?

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Dr. Michael Leiter, co-author of Banishing Burnout and The Truth about Burnout, is set to release his newest book on Work Engagement. Dr. Leiter founded the Canadian Centre for Organizational Research & Development and has researched organizational behaviour for more than two decades. He knows how to improve an organization’s bottom line (productivity and profitability by improving its top line - people. In fact, he and his co-author coined the term "work engagement" as the antithesis to burnout!

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