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The Assistant as Influencer

Decision fatigue

The average person consumes about 74 gigabytes (nine DVDs worth!) of data every day (source: USC). It's amazing how we can think straight being flooded with so much input on a regular basis. However, this is the average person; imagine the influx your executive is inundated with on a non-stop basis.

I remember one occasion sitting in my executive's office going over a few updates and in a matter of 60 seconds, he had received over 40 emails, all of which would require some sort of decision making on his part (Do I forward this? Do I need ask for more clarification? Do I file this? Do I put this on hold until I receive additional information? etc.).

Constant overload can lead to something called decision fatigue. This essentially is "the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making" (source: Wikipedia). According to an article in NY Times, "the more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain." Some of the most brilliant people in the world (Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and President Obama, for example) actually made the conscious decision to wear the same or similar thing every day in order to save brainpower on such routine decisions (source: Forbes).

As assistants, we can help cut down on the energy our executives need to spend on decisions by helping to make recommendations whenever possible. As you already know, your executive's time is precious, and finding these opportunities to present recommendations will increase your value by saving them not only time but energy so they can focus on the myriad of other decisions they will need to make in the day. Here are just a few examples of ways you can help:

  • When presenting hotel options, give a brief summary of why each was listed (you can include ratings, summarize reviews from Tripadvisor, add a google map link to how close each one is to the location your executive is going to, the price and maybe even a small photo of the room if your executive is a visual person). At the bottom, list out what your recommendation is and why.

  • When discussing scheduling conflicts where both items seem to be high priority (since you should already know what low priority meetings could be moved without having to ask your executive), suggest options that could work for either scenario so they don't have to think of solutions for you.

  • For hard documents that require action, create trays that are labeled "yes" and "no" so your executive can simply place them in either and you can collect and take action later on.

  • When presenting candidates you have interviewed to fill an open position, list out all of the criteria they meet as well as your opinion on if they are a good fit or not.

  • Start a spreadsheet keeping track of what your executive has ordered for lunch so if they are ever too busy to make that decision, you can order one of their favorite meals without waiting on their answer. Or even better yet, once you have a long list of their favorite meals from several locations, ask your executive if you can start automatically ordering from the spreadsheet to cut down on that daily decision for them. Just make sure you know all of their dietary and taste preferences in case you need to remember to tweak specific orders (ex: making sure an item has no surprise gluten-filled toppings, always having lemon wedges with every salad order, etc.).

You will start noticing opportunities for providing recommendations with each unique situation that comes your way. In general, make sure your recommendations align with more of yes/no or multiple choice answers, make them concise and even use bold on occasion to make your suggestions stand out. Your executive will reap the benefits of saved energy by being more focused, efficient and productive.

Do you think about ways to help the person you support prevent decision fatigue? Please share in the comments below!

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