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How To Overcome Decision Fatigue with Intelligent Software

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In a certain area of life, individual decisions can have serious individual consequences: in court. And the fact that these decisions are not always fully comprehensible is illustrated by the following example: Three criminal offenders in the U.S., two-thirds of the way through their prison sentence, received their final verdict at different times of the day:

  1. offender (trial at 8:50 a.m.), 30-month prison sentence for fraud.
  2. offender (trial at 3:10 p.m.), 16-month prison sentence for assault.
  3. offender (trial at 4:25 p.m.), 30-month prison sentence for fraud.

What do you think the judge’s verdicts were?

The first offender received probation. The second, as well as the third (with the same prison sentence as the first offender), were denied parole. A pattern emerged whereby decisions were not based on the men’s ethnic background, crimes, or sentences, but were based on trial times. Researchers found that prisoners who had their court hearings in the morning received parole 70% of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were pardoned in less than 10% of cases.

Decisions accompany us in every moment of our lives. People have to make around 35,000 decisions per day, consciously or unconsciously. These range from small decisions, such as “Which socks do I wear today?” to big ones like “Should I take out a loan at this interest rate?” But no matter what a decision looks like, we usually must make it ourselves! It is a privilege to be able to make decisions independently.

But what if we have to make too many decisions? And how can intelligent software support us in this?

The Phenomenon of Decision Fatigue

Decision Fatigue provides an answer to what happens when too many decisions are piled on top of us. The more decisions we have to make, the more difficult it becomes for us to be able to make an additional decision. Decision fatigue is a state of mental exhaustion that occurs after a period of consecutive decisions. You feel fatigue since the mental energy store is depleted. The result: impulsive or irrational decisions.

What constitutes a rational or benevolent decision in court cases is relative. In the example of the verdicts in the U.S., we see: The decisions in the morning – where not many decisions had to be made yet – turn out “better” than those in the afternoon. Accordingly, it appears that no probation is the easier decision. This is a good example of decision fatigue, where the chronological sequence of decisions is the reason not to make a decision at all or to make the simpler one.

How do you recognize decision fatigue? And what can you personally do to deal with decision fatigue?

Signs and assistance

One of the first signs may be a dwindling ability to concentrate. People suffering from decision fatigue tend to engage in conscious or unconscious avoidance behavior and inactivity. They procrastinate and they feel overwhelmed. Physical symptoms may include headaches, exhaustion, and sleep disturbances. Finally, a long decision-making process is among symptoms of Decision Fatigue.

What can be done against decision fatigue? Make fewer decisions!

Overall, you should try to limit yourself to three to four major decisions per day and make them preferably in the morning, as the energy storage has not yet been so heavily used yet. It is also advisable to schedule important meetings in the morning and routine activities such as “answering mails” in the afternoon. General routines in everyday life, such as fixed times for sports, cooking, etc., also break up many decisions.

When making big decisions, the opinion of another trusted person can be very helpful. It allows us to better understand and advocate for our decisions.

There are also options that go beyond personal adjustments: Intelligent Software.

Intelligent software as a basic support for decisions

Many decisions also have to be made in companies. There are even jobs where the main task is to make decisions. It is therefore no surprise that decision fatigue is also part of everyday life in the corporate environment.

Assistance is provided by intelligent software programmed for decision-making and optimization, which works with the help of machine learning and operations research.

The example of the German wholesale company NORDWEST Handel AG illustrates the positive effects that the introduction of intelligent software for inventory management can have. Prior to the introduction, a typical inventory manager was responsible for planning about 4,500 articles. This also means that this person had to make just as many decisions (in addition to the private decisions). In such cases, inventory managers or dispatchers only acted as mere order initiators. In addition to planning, they had to take care of certain order processes, such as returns and the reception of customer orders, which were not actually part of their area of responsibility. As a result, they were only able to pursue 25% of their actual specialist activities. Added to this is the enormous time pressure, as in addition to the 4,500 articles to be planned, the decisions for the additional orders were still required.

The idea behind an intelligent decision-making software is to no longer have to decide everything yourself, but to let the software take over a large part of it.

The keyword is “Management by Exception”. Simple, regularly recurring tasks do not even end up on employees’ to-do lists; instead, the software takes care of them. For example, it recognizes what the future demand of an article will be and automatically takes over order triggers. With the software as a basis, employees only have to intervene in the event of disruptions or in special exceptional situations. This is the case, for example, when new articles are added to the product range for which the system is not yet based on well-founded data and empirical values. Thanks to the support of the optimization tool, inventory managers at NORDWEST can now plan a total of 12,500 articles and concentrate 100% on their specialist work responsibilities.

The use of intelligent software that supports decision-making or even takes care of it itself creates capacities in the mental energy store, allowing employees to focus entirely on their specialist activities. A new way of working is created, in which intelligent software takes over operational and routine tasks and humans can focus on special strategic decisions and exceptional cases due to the freed capacities.

Intelligent software can therefore be used to automate many decisions and counteract the phenomenon of decision fatigue. What is good news e.g., for dispatchers in companies, unfortunately does not (yet) lead to fair court cases for obvious reasons – ethical ones first. Judges probably only have the option to at least minimize their decisions in private on the days in question.

Do you already use intelligent software for decision-making privately or professionally?
And are some of the above tips already part of your daily routine?

This article was originally posted on the INFORM Blog

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