There is a term that is being used more and more frequently these days, in fact google trends reports that the amount of searches for this term tripled in the month of August of this year. That term? Decision Fatigue. It doesn’t require a great deal of explanation, as it means exactly what it implies. Being tired, weary, worn out of making decisions. Think about it for a moment. Americans spend 17 of our 24 hours awake. Seventeen hours living our lives, commuting, working, socializing; in other words, 17 hours of making decisions. What’s for breakfast? Who do I need to copy on this email? All of these decisions pile up, and by the end of the day we are utterly sick of having to decide anything. Studies suggest that there is a very real impact on the functioning of society due to decision fatigue. The New York Times Magazine reports that a study of Israeli parole hearings found that cases heard by most judges in the early hours of the day had a 70% chance of being granted parole, while those that were heard by the same judges at the end of the day had a mere 10% chance. This wasn’t based on gender, ethnic background or any other factor other than timing.
While that example shows a very real consequence of decision fatigue, there is a much more common, and likely less serious example of how most of us experience decision fatigue in our own lives. Netflix. Well, not just Netflix but any TV / Movie streaming service, but for this article we’re going to focus on Netflix. Think about it, when you get home at the end of the day what is it that you do? If you’re like most Americans you’re probably streaming a new show or movie, or you’re trying to decide which TV show or movie to watch. Netflix’s library hovers around 5,000 titles in the US, that is a staggering number of options to choose from. Think about the Netflix display, it typically shows you 10-15 options at a given time, in 2-3 genres or suggested “lists” of titles. That means at any given point you are only able to see 0.2% of the available choices that Netflix offers. It is no wonder that it can often feel as though you spend more time trying to find what to watch than actually watching anything.
Should we take this as a sign that maybe we should turn off the streaming device, go outside, enjoy life? Probably. But realistically this is not a technology or a pastime that will not go away that easily. What then? As consumers we should probably be more vocal about our frustration with this stressful experience, rather than accepting it as the way streaming is. That being said, I have a strong suspicion that as I type this–and as you read it–there are user interface and user experience (UI/UX) designers and strategists, and teams of bright young minds trying to crack the code for helping people decide what to watch. I hold this suspicion because there is almost certainly a monetary benefit to the streaming service that can get you toward your preferred content quicker than any anyone else. You may be thinking, “Well good for those folks, but I’m suffering through this decision fatigue thing right now! What can I do?” Great question! As it stands, the only cure to decision fatigue is... Ready for it? Make less decisions. Yes, that is right, the fewer decisions you have to make the easier it will be to make the other decisions, and you may want to start with one of the first decisions many of us have to make in our daily routine. Deciding what to wear. A relatively well known anecdote supports this: that of Steve Jobs, President Obama and other high powered intellectuals having a limited or singular wardrobe. Steve Jobs had his famous black turtleneck, and Obama has specific suits he will wear. This because they all report that they don’t want to waste the brainpower deciding what to wear everyday, as discussed in this Wall Street Journal article. So maybe it’s time to turn in those band t-shirts for a few copies of just one band shirt, then you won’t have such a hard time deciding what episode of Bob’s Burgers you feel like watching.