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Overthinking The Small Stuff? Five Ways To Make Better Decisions, Faster

Five ways to help you build your decisiveness muscles.

How many decisions have you made over the last day, week… month?  Drive or Uber?  Suit or no suit? Black suit or blue? Times Roman or Arial? Marriott or Hilton? Italian or Thai? iPhone or Galaxy?

While today’s freedom of choice has obvious benefits, the constant pressure to make perfect choices can often rob our freedom, heighten our anxiety and lower our productivity.

There are a few reasons for this. For starters, trying to optimize every single decision is a ‘mission impossible,’ making it pretty futile to even attempt it.  Secondly, it can be mentally and emotionally exhausting (and you’re probably tired enough already!).  And finally, research shows that trying to nail every decision reduces our capacity to perform at our peak and make great decisions about the things that really matter.

The irony is that people who try to make the perfect decision every time tend to suffer more anxiety about their decisions, feel less satisfied with them afterward and, unsurprisingly, are less productive than people who just go with ‘good enough.’

Save your attention for important decisions. Image: Shutterstock

“The habit of aiming for the best conceivable option every time actually robs people of satisfaction and effectiveness,” wrote Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice. Such ‘maximizers,’ as Schwartz calls them, spend more time and energy reaching a decision, yet they’re generally less happy about what they eventually decide upon.

Better than trying to maximize every choice is to make a ‘good enough’ choice that meets a basic level of satisfaction.  So you didn’t get the best possible hotel at the best possible price? Move on. So the shade of yellow you chose to paint the sunroom was a little dark? Again, move on!  Much more important issues are waiting for your attention.

As Shwartz found in his research, ‘satisficers’ who live by the ‘good enough’ maxim actually get more done because they aren’t wasting precious time and energy on decisions that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t really matter. So if you ever spend too much time going back and forth about small decisions with minimal consequences, here are five ways to help you build your decisiveness muscles.


1. Limit Your Choices & Time

First up, try to limit yourself to fewer choices on those things that aren’t really critical, particularly when there are a multitude of available options. Steve Jobs wore only blue jeans and a black or white t-shirt to work every single day so he didn’t have to waste his energy each morning deciding what to wear. You may want to give yourself more choice than Jobs (I certainly do), but you get my point; having fewer options frees up your time and ‘brain space’ for more meaningful pursuits and minimizes any decision making anxiety.

So too for time. I recently moved office and decided to get some new furniture. I started looking online and suddenly thirty minutes had disappeared. So I decided to return to the task next day and give myself 15 minutes to make the final decision. How did it turn out? Read on.


2. Avoid Comparisions

Second, stop comparing your decisions to everyone else’s. So your colleague’s new car has a better nav system than your own… and you paid for for yours! So your neighbor got a sweeter deal on their holiday rental.  Let it go.  Make the best decision you can with what you know now, and leave it at that. It all evens out in the long run.


3. Be Decisive Despite Your Uncertainty


Let’s face it, no one likes to make a wrong decision and it would be nice to always know you’re getting it ‘just right’.  In fact brain imaging technology has quantified our ‘loss aversion bias’ finding that we are twice as sensitive to potential losses as we are to potential gains.  In terms of decision making, this means we are far more likely to get stuck in ‘analysis by paralysis’ as we try to avoid any risk of getting it wrong. Yet as I wrote in a recent column about Jeff Bezosapproach to decision making, waiting until you are even 90% sure you’re making the right choice can exact a steep hidden opportunity cost.

It boils down to simple math. Unless you are willing to risk the odd bad decision (and tolerate plenty of imperfect ones), you will be capping how many good ones you also make.  The most successful people (and I’d say it’s fair to add Bezos to this list) don’t sweat small decisions and they don’t spend years analyzing – and reanalyzing – the big ones. Rather, they make the best decision they can in a relatively short amount of time. Then, if it ends up being less than ideal, they pivot fast and adjust course accordingly. As I shared in the clip above from a recent keynote address, it’s vital not to minimize or dismiss the downside of over caution and indecision. It often exacts a far steeper cost than we like to admit.


4. Make It Irreversible

Consider making some of your less important decisions ‘irreversible.’ Keeping your options open to hedge your bets will leave you wide open to drowning in second guessing (not fun). I recently booked a week in Italy  with my husband to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary (a decision I made after going out with him for a year, which many felt was a little hasty. Time has proven otherwise.)   I wasn’t sure if I’d booked the ideal place, but to spare myself from second guessing my decision I just locked it in and moved on. Again, I’m sure we’ll be too busy hiking the Cinque Terre and soaking in the culture to really notice.


5. Lower Your Bar

Lower your decision making bar to what is ‘good enough.’ Decide the minimum criteria you need to move forward and when you find it, make a decision and move on. On my visit to New York next week the hotel I booked wasn’t the optimal combination of location and price but it was good enough (I will hardly spent any time in it anyway!).  Nor was my office sofa quite the right shade of blue, but it’s already come to grow on me.

Of course there are many genuinely important decisions you need to make throughout the course of your life. Like who to marry or to part ways with. Whether to have children, how many and how you’ll raise them. Which career to pursue or when to change jobs. What business to start or when to sell it.

But which Powerpoint template to use? Nah… it’s not worth more than a fleeting moment.

So as you think about all the decisions you have to make in the day or month ahead, decide that for the most time, ‘good enough is truly good enough’ and give yourself permission to make the call so you can focus your precious time, talents and attention on the things that truly matter.


Margie Warrell is a bestselling author and international speaker on brave leadership. Connect on Linked InTwitter & Facebook.

Originally published at Forbes

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