Off Balance: Jet Lag, Decision Fatigue and Routine

For six years, I traveled weekly. One night, driving home from the airport, I repeatedly pressed a button trying to make a stop light change from red to green and I could not understand why it didn’t work. At least not until I go home and realized I tried to use the garage door opener to change the light. This was a bit beyond the normal stuff, waking up and being unsure of the day, hotel, or city, pressing the panic button the car keys to locate where you parked the rental and just wanting a night with room service, the remote and a good night’s sleep. I had extreme decision fatigue.*

Business travel can be rough; you are barraged with decisions. You are traveling in the first place because there is a meeting, a training, something that can’t be done virtually that requires your presence. You will make some key decisions or you will learn some important stuff. However, before you even get to that, there are travel decisions: airport, time of day to depart, window or aisle, king or queen, smoking or non smoking, compact or midsize to name a few.

Then there is packing. Please don’t leave a charger cord behind, the savvy traveler has device kit prepared and ready to go. But all this “stuff” means the brain gets fatigued, So, do a lot of business travelers look the same? Probably. Consider, it’s not because they are boring, lack imagination or creativity, they just do certain things routinely so their minds are fresh and ready to do big stuff. Former President, Obama told Vanity Fair:

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.

“You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

Notice what happens to you when decision fatigue sets in.  Typically, if people are doing a meeting, they will schedule 3 days, 8:00 to 5:00. I find, it’s more effective to meet from 8:00 until 2:00. You’re done for the day as far as meeting is concerned. But, when you do have a chance to answer emails and do your regular job, you have time to think about the impact of some of the key decisions you’re making in your meeting. It’s like when you can’t name a song and then maybe an hour or 2 later you remember. The brain will process, but you have to give it time. That way, when the meeting resumes the next day, you are better prepared for decision-making.

I’m traveling for business this week in Tampa. I declined a conference call  for 8:00 tonight . I’m glad I did as I spent a good 3 minutes trying to make the tv remote work only to realize I was trying to use my cell phone; don’t judge, it’s been a long day. Tonight, I’m routinizing myself, I’m washing my hair and watching the game 2 of the NBA playoffs. I know who I’m cheering for, so no deep decision-making required.


*In decision making and psychology, decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making.

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