When 'Decision Fatigue' Frazzles Your Small Business Brain

Faced with the daily task of deciding everything -- from what social media buttons should be above the fold on our home web page to who we should invite to the Friday meeting -- there are some ways we small business owners can maximize our power to choose while protecting our brain's much-needed mojo.
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Last week I read an article in The New York Times Magazine titled: "Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?" My immediate reaction was, "Doesn't everyone?" In my world, the line forms to the left on that one. I don't know of one small business owner who is not burdened with a multitude of choices -- hourly.

In some ways, I think small business owners suffer the brunt of this situation to an even greater degree than their corporate compatriots, since the majority of company choices fall to the business owner as chief cook and bottle washer.

Based in part on the work of Roy Baumeister and EJ Masicampo, decision fatigue is a depletion of the brain's mental stamina as a result of making too many decisions. When this happens, we end up making poor choices or rash decisions, or we forgo deciding at all.

"Every decision we make implies a possible loss, and we are essentially loss-averse animals," says Margaret J. King, Ph.D., Director of The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis "'Decide' means 'to cut,' and we focus on what we are losing, not gaining. This is the brain issue behind most decisions," she says.

But faced with the daily task of deciding everything from what social media buttons should be above the fold on our home web page to who we should invite to the Friday meeting, there are some ways we can maximize our power to choose while protecting our brain's much-needed mojo.

Layne Kertamus, president of NegotiGator.com, says that top performers understand the nature of decision-making and respect it, including:

• Not making decisions that are beyond your competence.

• Recognizing that a decision to punt is in fact a decision and may have costs.

• Understanding that most decisions are neither good nor bad but carry with them tradeoffs.

Nihar Chhaya, founder of MBA Balance, goes one step further and says that small business owners need to learn to delegate decisions to prevent brain burnout.

"Small business owners must layout all the decisions they need to make on a consistent basis in the marketing, finance, operations and personnel areas and be honest with themselves about where their expertise lies," says Chhaya. "Then they need to delegate those decisions to people that have both the skill and the motivation to make the best choices in those areas."

Chhaya says that, rather than using all their brainpower on making the decisions themselves, small business owners should instead spend time coaching trusted team members (virtual or onsite) and outside contractors in taking a chance on choices and monitoring their progress.

By employing the above strategies, the small business owner's brain will be a little less weary and more able to focus on building the business.

Sidebar: Thoughts to Think About

"We have access to more information than ever before, but the irony is that we feel less informed and more overwhelmed," says Paul Magnone, co-author of Drinking from the Fire Hose: Making Smarter Decisions Without Drowning in Information. "It's no wonder we have decision fatigue. It's impossible to effectively deal with everything that comes our way -- especially for small business owners dealing with limited resources, funds and staff."

To ease the burden, Magnone suggests considering the following when making decisions:

• What is the essential business question? Determine how this decision will impact the overall strategy.

• Where is your customer's North Star? Keep in mind that above all else, the customer (and their wants, needs, etc.) comes first.

• Should you believe the Squiggly Line? Ensure you're not acting too quickly or making any harsh decisions based on short-term data.

• What surprised you? Make sure you don't ignore certain aspects of the situation or data in front of you that might be out of the ordinary.

• What does the Lighthouse reveal? Consider the consequences of your decision and any danger that might lie ahead.

• Who are your Swing Voters? Be mindful of your "swing voters" throughout the process -- the group that's neutral about your product, but can be swayed.

• What? So What? Now What? Put everything into context.

This article originally appeared at Xero.com, online accounting software for small business.

Karen Leland is a freelance journalist, best-selling author and president of Sterling Marketing Group where she helps businesses create killer content and negotiate the wired world of today's media landscape -- social and otherwise. For questions or comments, please contact her at kleland@scgtraining.com.

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