Avoid Decision Fatigue at PLC Meetings

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When I began as a Scoutmaster, our patrol leaders’ council meetings were scheduled to last an hour, which I thought was plenty of time. But then we had the session where the Scouts discussed for 10 minutes–10 minutes!–who would do the opening ceremony at the first troop meeting.

At the time, I thought the Scouts were all just trying to shirk responsibility. Now, however, I think they were suffering from decision fatigue. What’s that? According to psychologist Roy Baumeister, decision making has a cumulative impact on our willpower, much like strength training has a cumulative impact on our muscles. In a New York Times story a few years ago, Baumeister said, “It’s the same willpower that you use to be polite or to wait your turn or to drag yourself out of bed or to hold off going to the bathroom. Your ability to make the right investment or hiring decision may be reduced simply because you expended some of your willpower earlier when you held your tongue in response to someone’s offensive remark or when you exerted yourself to get to the meeting on time.”

Or, in teen terms, your ability to decide which patrol should do the opening next week may be reduced simply because you took an algebra test that morning or worked on a team project after school.

I came across that quote from Roy Baumeister in a story about how President Obama wears basically the same suit every day. As Obama told Vanity Fair, “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” Incidentally, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has a similar philosophy, as did Apple’s Steve Jobs, and I’ve noticed that Donald Trump seems pretty consistent in his attire as well. (Score one for the Scout uniform, which eliminates one decision you have to make before troop meetings.)

Which brings us back to the patrol leaders’ council. While you could let your Scouts argue indefinitely about trivial details like assignments for openings and closings, you could also encourage them to “routinize” the planning process. For example, each month the senior patrol leader could assign a program patrol (for openings and closings) and a service patrol (for room setup and clean up). Or you could delegate detailed planning for each outing to a youth leader and an adult adviser, who would do their work outside the PLC meeting. Or you could set up a rotation for where you go to summer camp: in council in even-numbered years, out of council in odd-numbered years. Or you could do a better job at your annual planning conference of selecting outing dates and themes so the month-to-month planning is easier.

Actions like those would get the job done more efficiently and let the Scouts save some of their decision making power for something more important, like planning a game or researching new Dutch-oven cobbler recipes.

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