Do you find yourself struggling to take decisions at certain times of day? Do you perform better in some meetings than others? There is a good reason for this. It is called Ego Depletion.

Experiments by Roy Baumeister amongst others have repeatedly shown that effortful focused attention reduces our future immediate ability to stay focused. In other words the more draining a task we have just done, the less well equipped we are to perform other draining tasks.

The explanation for this is very straightforward. We have a limited supply of glucose to service the pre-frontal cortex, the executive function of the brain, and this supply dwindles far more quickly than we generally appreciate. We can continue to function but simply not as well. Further the brain appears to monitor these glucose levels and actively attempts to bypass the pre-frontal cortex with decisions which can be taken without its help. This explains why we are less likely to stick to a diet and more likely to snap at our staff or children when we have had a rough day.

The pre-frontal cortex consumes glucose every time we take a decision. It also consumes glucose retrieving information from our memory banks in order to take these decisions. This is why e-mail, although it might not feel it, is actually an extremely draining activity. Will Power, choosing to not eat or drink something or choosing to continue working at an unpleasant task also burns up glucose. We run low on glucose in the brain and start to lose peak performance well before we become aware of a sense of feeling tired.

In a shocking piece of research, Israeli Parole Judges*, renowned for somber and prudent decision-making, were found to have release rates as high as 65% immediately after lunch. This rates fell to practically zero just before! Even professionals renowned for their decision taking display are considerably influenced by ego depletion.

The lesson to take from this is to choose carefully what to do when. Allocate time to address emails and avoid doing so before big meetings and choose to do your most important thinking and decision taking when you are at your freshest.

Executive Coaching will help improve your decision-making, highlighting hidden assumptions. These days, most top performers in business work with a coach.If you would like to invest in yourself and the value of your business then call me on 07730 700258 to arrange a free introductory Coaching session.


*  ”Extraneous factors in judicial decisions” 2011:  Shai Danzigera, Jonathan Levav, and Liora Avnaim-Pessoa