The stomach rules the head

I was listening to a talk by Tom Potter, founder of Eagle Boys Pizza, the other day when he mentioned “stomach o’clock” – that time of day when people start to think about what to do for dinner, and Tom had this time sussed as 4pm.

Fatigue impacts decisions

That got me thinking about how decisions are influenced by our physical state – our tummies growling and our energy levels dropping. In behavioural science there is something called ‘ego depletion’, a state where our decision-making ability is impaired due to fatigue.

Think of yourself as a battery. The more decisions you have to make in a day, the more battery life you chew up. As an aside, Barack Obama reportedly wears only blue or grey suits to eliminate any unnecessary decision-making and save his battery for the good stuff.  To replenish your battery you need to take a break and revive.

The consequences of being depleted are two-fold:

  1. You are more prone to stick with the status quo – leaving things as they are rather than having to think about making a change.
  2. You are more prone to opting for an impulsive, expedient and indulgent option – going for the decision-making equivalent of a sugar-fix.

Know what state of depletion is best

Now in Tom’s case he was selling pizza, which for some may be considered a lifesaver, for most an indulgence. Stomach o’clock was therefore the perfect time to grab the attention of people who were tired from the day. Likewise, if you are selling something that is easy and immediately gratifying, fatigued customers can be a good thing.

However, if you are trying to sell a product that is complex or requires serious consideration, then beware of tired customers. It’s no surprise the hit rates of market researchers calling after dinner are so low – people are too depleted to want to bother thinking.

Structuring your time

Ego depletion clearly has ramifications for how you structure you day and your week. Aside from considering what time of day is best to approach customers according to the type of decision being made, don’t forget to manage your internal stakeholders and staff with the same consideration.

For instance, if you work in an environment of back-to-back meetings and want your stakeholders to disrupt rather than settle for the status quo, it’s better to schedule discussions when they are fresh.  Want things to rollover unchallenged? Then perhaps scheduling a meeting for later in the week could help your case.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns Pty Ltd, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.


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