The Scarcest Resource at Your Company is Management’s Mental Bandwidth

Modified on by Andrew Cohen

The Scarcest Resource at Your Company is Management’s Mental Bandwidth

In the past few years, an increasing body of research has begun emerging related to the finiteness of our decision-making energies. It turns out that the quality of our decisions begins to erode during the course of a typical day, as our fixed amount of willpower is used up. Stated differently, scientists have discovered that decision-making power is a depletable resource.

This research has tremendous implications for managers at all types of companies. For the same reasons you are more likely to succumb to pizza and ice cream cravings during the nighttime – after a day full of mentally exhausting healthy decisions – you are more likely to make bad or hasty management decisions after a day full of hundreds of trivial judgments.

It is increasingly important that you reduce your non-critical decisions as much as possible in order to free your brain for more important high-order thinking. Many managers fail to realize that limiting decisions is not the same as limiting the expenditure of time or financial resources. It’s easy to wonder “Why should I fully delegate technical decisions to my CTO, or marketing decisions to my CMO, when it would just take me 10 minutes to review their proposals?”

Too Many Business Undervalue Their Mental Resources

The answer is that those 10 minutes of actual “work” time might have cost you an hour’s worth of your mental resources. The time it takes your brain to switch between various tasks can be tremendous when you’re talking about high-level thinking.  If time is money, then management’s mental bandwidth is money squared.

Limiting your daily decisions does not just apply to delegating large management questions.  It especially applies to the little things throughout your day. Steve Jobs famously wore the same outfit every day so that he never had to think about what to wear. Tim Ferris eats the same (healthy) meal for breakfast every day so he doesn’t have to think about what food to prepare. And Barack Obama limits his low-priority email responses to “Agree,” “Disagree,” or “Discuss” in order to simplify the mental burden of his small decisions.

Managers of all sizes should thus always consider the mental burden of tasks, in addition to their financial costs, when determining which tasks to delegate. Decreasing your mental clutter means adding more room to grow in your current role. Whether it’s deciding to outsource your HR administration or hire one full-time paid virtual assistant rather than managing three unpaid part-time interns, limiting your daily decision-making load is almost always worth the added cost.

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Valerie Juntunen 4 years ago

The connections you made in the second to last paragraph are incredibly clever. I'm curious as to what I could accomplish if I weren't bogged down by such trivial decisions. If one were to establish a full-day routine, I wonder whether this might increase, or decrease one's mental bandwidth. If one were to follow a routine, one would make less trivial decisions which creates more time for critical decisions. However, it may also decrease one's creative decision making abilities due to their mundane, repetitious routine.

Christian Hermanas 4 years ago

Wow. I've never thought about the impact of low level thinking as effecting my high level thinking. The connection between the two is interesting because as a student I often find myself switching between high level processing of engineering problems to low level memorization of simple facts. Arranging my study time to combine only high level or only low level or perhaps a mixture of the two in adequate intervals might be a technique I should employ.

Alex Frollerman 4 years ago

"The problem is, we think we have time" - good one for this article. thinking too much, exhausting your brain too much inevitably leads to negative consequences. Balance is the key. Whether you have to decide upon the way to deal with budgeting and try to be more efficient with redistributing funds , or you need to manage labor forces, you have to strain your brain and take responsibility for the consequences. Can you protect your managers from mental exhausting? Probably, not. You can elaborate novel approach which can release them from taking things too seriously (practice relaxation with meditating or sports), this could be an effective way to protect your managers from bursting from inside.

Hajdin Sejdia 4 years ago

If you want success in business then you need to find time for business planning. Although it may seem to eat into your precious time to start with, defining goals, milestones and developing clear action plans and direction will save you time in the future. Consider enlisting the help of a qualified business advisor. Remember you will be working the plan so be sure you get lots of input into the process. Agree up front how the process will work to be sure.

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