When you make up your to do list, you most likely attempt to prioritize your tasks based on their importance or urgency. What you don’t think about much is when you will do those tasks, or make a particular decision.
But some recent research has shown that the time that we do things has a big effect on how we them. The research is pointing out that we need to pay more attention to how the time of day affects our decision making and our performance.
Over the course of the day, our intellectual energy declines just as our physical energy does. We become more fatigued mentally, and as a result, we may not perform as well as we would earlier in the day. This information probably comes as little surprise to most people, yet few take it into account when they plan their day.
The fatigue of the mind has been found to lead to burnout, lower motivation, sloppy thinking, and poor decision making. As we continually use our mental resources to make decisions throughout the day, later in the day we tend to make decisions that involve less resistance and may even be unsuitable. And our performance tends to decline as well.
One study, for example, examined judges who make parole decisions. The researchers found that earlier in the day, the judges were more likely to approve of a request for parole – in about 65 percent of the cases. But as the day wore on, that percentage of favorable decisions went down to almost zero. That is, later, the judges were more inclined simply to accept things as they were and deny parole requests.
However, another study of students’ performance on tests also showed that taking breaks can counteract the effects of mental fatigue to a large degree. As expected, the later in the day that the students took the test, the more their performance suffered. However, the study also showed that breaks resulted in a significant improvement in performance.
So, the takeaway from the research is that you need to pay attention to when you do things and make decisions, as well as making sure to take needed breaks throughout the day.
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