Decision Fatigue#

Making decisions is hard work, even if the decisions are low stakes. As proof consider the following questions from your ordinary life:

  • “Where do we want to eat tonight?”

  • “Which toothpaste brand should I buy?”

These decisions cause fatigue. At work we help our team by taking on the burden of making good decisions.

When this comes up#

If I’ve directed you to this article it’s because you were in charge of a thing, ran into a roadblock, and then said one of the following:

  • “What do we want to do in this situation?”

  • “How do we feel about X?”

  • “How do we want to proceed?”

It’s good that when you feel uncertain you ask for input. Good job 👍.

However, the phrasing of your question shifts the burden from your shoulders to the group. This I don’t like as much. Instead, I recommend the following phrasing:

  • “I’m figuring out X, but I’m running into a problem and I could use some advice.”

    “Here is what I want to achieve …”

    “This is where I’m getting stuck …”

    “Without input I would likely do the following …”

With this phrasing you keep the burden on your shoulders, and merely ask the group for advice. This is easy for others! People love giving advice 🎉

The second phrasing makes it easy for your colleagues to help without asking them to make a decision. You continue to carry the burden of glory/shame if things go well/poorly.

Context vs Control#

This feels like the flip-side of Netflix’s value, Context vs Control.

As a manager I work to give folks context so that they can make good decisions on the ground on their own. No one wants me micro-managing. People like this behavior. People like to control their work.

However, part of context vs control is that the team member shouldn’t give back control when the going gets tough. They should own the hard decisions (taking in a lot of input from others of course). If you’re going to ask someone else to make the hard decisions then you should have them do that work directly.

  • It sucks not being able to control your own work

  • It sucks having to control other work for which you’re not on the ground

Of course, if you’re feeling genuinely out of your depth then definitely send control (and context) back up the chain of command and ask for different work.

Final Thoughts#

I suspect that some people generally agree / find obvious what I wrote above. The one thing I find isn’t well understood is the interpretation of these two different phrases:

  • “What do we want to do?” (Burdens the team with the decision)

  • “I’m figuring out what to do and could use some advice” (Keeps the burden on the asker’s shoulders)

I really like it when people do the second thing.