Every day we spend an enormous amount of time and energy making decisions. We do it instinctively.
At the café I know what I want to order but I still glance over the menu. Do I feel like the breadless breakfast or just coffee?
A small decision but one that takes thought, time and energy, which is multiplied exponentially when it comes to bigger decisions. Should I take up the proposed offer? Should we sell our house and move?
Beneath these questions there are more. If we did decide to move: Where to? When? Could we afford to? What are the schools like? How far will we need to travel to work?
make the best decision you can make in the moment
Depending on the source you use, we’re told the average person makes between 2,000 and 35,000 decisions a day. Even at the lower end, how can we make all of them efficiently and effectively without completely exhausting ourselves and wasting time weighing up the options?
Peter Bregman, leadership coach, author and popular columnist at Harvard Business Review and CNN, has worked out some effective methods. He starts with using habits to reduce routine decision fatigue. As we build on habits we avoid the decision making process altogether e.g. I will drink a soy flat white every morning – this is a predictable decision I make every day and allows me to use my energy for bigger more unpredictable decisions.
Bregman also suggests using ‘if/then thinking’ to routinise unpredictable choices. The if/then rule helps make the unpredictable more predictable, because it streamlines routine choices i.e. if our neighbour drags out the mower at 6am again next Sunday, then I will say something.
What about those more complex decisions? A competitor is opening up down the road. You have a myriad of questions and options but no clear determinable path. You collect information, weigh up the pros and cons, ask for advice, discuss the options available but still, you don’t know which way to go.
These complex decisions can cause sleepless nights, stress on our relationships and loss in productivity.
Bregman suggests when making a big decision, set yourself a time to decide by.
“If the issues on the table have been reasonably vetted, the choices are equally attractive, and there is still no clear answer, then admit that there is no clearly identifiable right way to go and just decide,” he says. “The time you save by not deliberating pointlessly will pay massive dividends in productivity.”
Before making a decision we often think we need complete clarity but then we waste time and energy seeking that clarity. We need to just decide. If you have a lot of decisions to make, write them all down. By doing this, you’re removing the anxiety from your mind and onto paper. Then, just decide. As Bregman says “make the best decision you can make in the moment”.
Whatever you decide, it will be the right decision for now. It will both reduce your anxiety and allow you to move forward.
Peter Bregman. Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want. 2015 Peter Bregman. Leading with Emotional Courage. July 2018