Are you regularly faced with challenging decisions? Do you find yourself in great stress over decision making? With so many to-do list items, mounting pressure to exceed expectations and endless inputs from the outside world, making decisions, especially good ones, is perhaps more difficult than ever. Quite frankly, our brains are overloaded with “stuff”, creating stress, overload and confusion. As always, we strive to help our community get more done with less stress and higher performance (yes, it starts with note-taking here, but we think big!).
Here are 9 tips to make better decisions.
Start by gathering information for your decision. We’ll talk about intuition in a moment, but you’re best served by collating accurate, reliable data. It may be reports, spreadsheets, financial statements or other data – just see what you can collect. Once you have it, scan for the big picture, looking for patterns or trends. Beware of “analysis paralysis” though. Budget time to review and decide, and stick to it.
Speaking of a timeline, consider what the urgency is for making a decision. Sometimes deferring a decision makes the need go away. Sometimes deferring a decision gives you time to collect sufficient data or see additional events unfold. Determine whether your decision is urgent, important, normal or less important.
Map Possible Outcomes
One of the best techniques for rational decisions is to weigh out different outcomes. What is the best case scenario? What is the worst case scenario? What is the most likely outcome? What strategy and tactics can you use to steer towards the best case?
Consider Impact Response
Going one step further with mapping possible outcomes, map possible responses (AKA Plan B, or Plan L if B through K fail). If everything goes wrong, what can you do? If everything goes right, what should you do? Think like a chess player, more than one move ahead.
Do you have a mentor, colleague(s) or spouse you can use as a sounding board? Run your decisions by someone calm and rational to help you reason through issues. We’re certainly not advocating “groupthink”, more “mastermind group”.
Feeling stressed changes how you weigh risk and reward, so don’t let stress motivate your decisions. In opposition to what you might expect, research shows how, under stress, we pay more attention to the UPSIDE of a possible outcome. Perhaps we’re looking for a silver lining.
Famed author Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow wrote, “Mood evidently affects the operation of System 1: when we are uncomfortable and unhappy, we lose touch with our intuition. These findings add to the growing evidence that good mood, intuition, creativity, gullibility, and increased reliance on System 1 form a cluster. At the other pole, sadness, vigilance, suspicion, an analytic approach, and increased effort also go together. A happy mood loosens the control of System 2 over performance: when in a good mood, people become more intuitive and more creative but also less vigilant and more prone to logical errors.”
Consider Your Intuition
“Gut feel” is also an element of making decisions. You may factor your intuition when you need to make a fast decision, when you don’t have enough information (and insufficient time to collect data), when the data is incomplete, ambiguous or conflicting, or when it’s the first time something has happened (and there’s NO data). Think of intuition as “advanced pattern recognition”. Over our lives, we remember patterns (like tribal elders), and your subconscious brain can draw links between past and present. Your “inner voice” weighs in – that’s intuition.
Monitor Energy Levels
If you’re not familiar with “decision fatigue”, you need to be! Research has shown that our willpower weakens over the course from making so many decisions during the day. As your energy declines, your ability to choose or choose wisely diminishes too. The classic example is from a study published by the National Academy of Sciences involving judges. At the beginning of the day, judges were more likely to give a favorable ruling (in almost 65% of the cases reviewed). Cases getting a favorable ruling steadily dropped to zero over the morning. After lunch, judges returned to the same 65% favorable rulings. And the decline resumed to the end of the day.
The end result is that you should map major decisions to your energy level. Do the heavy lifting early, and eat to rekindle your energy later in the day. Even better, reduce the number of decisions you have to make (simplify!).
Communicate & Act
When you finalize your decision to a big problem, let the appropriate people know. If there are reasons you need to share, communicate them. If there are actions that need to be taken, make sure the right people know and understand them. You may not have made the right decision – whether it was a personal or work issue – so don’t revisit it (review it if necessary). You can’t unfire the gun. Live with the consequences, adjust as needed.
9 Tips to Make Better Decisions
We are all faced with a growing number of decisions. Handling them is a fact of life, so learning how to handle challenges and make better decisions is a valuable life skill. We hope you can manage your fatigue from endless decisions as you also simplify your life to reduce all the stress.