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by Vault Careers | April 15, 2011


Gah! If only I'd waited until after lunch to ask for that raise.

The New York Times' Economix blog points to an interesting study of parole judges in Israel, which found that they "granted freedom about 65 percent of the time to the first prisoner who appeared before them on a given day. By the end of a morning session, the chance of release had dropped almost to zero."

The study also found that the pattern repeated itself in subsequent sessions: lenient release patterns for the first prisoner after a break, followed by a severe drop-off in the likelihood of release the longer the session went on.

You're forgiven if you've been looking around wondering if you've stumbled onto the wrong blog. But relax: there is a career angle here—several, as it happens.

The key to the study: that "making successive decisions depletes a limited mental facility, just like curling a dumbbell wears out your arms. As people get tired, they look for shortcuts, and one of the easiest shortcuts is to uphold the status quo –- in this case, denying parole."

Knowing when to ask

One obvious career angle: the art of asking your boss for something—be it a raise, a promotion, or something else entirely. The clear lesson: you're much more likely to get the answer you're looking for when the person making the decision is well rested and operating on a full stomach.

Knowing yourself

A second angle that may be more relevant on a day to day basis: consider how that tendency to get worn out making decisions could affect you over the course of a day. If your job involves making decisions that will change an organization for the better (which, presumably, is what we're all trying to achieve, every single day), then recognizing when you're most likely to agree to just keep doing things the way they've always been done is an important asset.

Theoretically, it could inform how you structure your workday, on a very detailed level: making a policy to always tackle the hardest problems first thing in the morning; never agreeing to meetings right before lunch, or at times when you know you're prone to hunger or tiredness; scheduling tasks evenly throughout the day, with sufficient breaks in between to allow you to treat each one with equal care and attention.

Getting the most out of others

For those in a position to manage other people, the research also plays into understanding when—and under what conditions—you're likely to get the most out of your colleagues.

Of course, there's always a chance that your job entails nothing more than "upholding the status quo." In that case, you've probably got nothing to worry about—except finding a new job.

Economix: Time and Judgement: A Study of Judges in Israel

--Phil Stott,


Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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