How to Develop Your Decision-Making Skills

A young businessman looking at question marks drawn on a dark grey wall

If you are habitually indecisive, decision-making can feel like an extreme sport. Spending days on end trying to settle on a decision before you end up changing your mind a couple more times again is an exhausting endeavour and quite a harmful habit.

Being skilfully decisive can be a determining factor in your career, business and personal life. In a professional environment, your decision-making skills can make all the difference between getting a promotion or getting fired. It is a soft skill that employers are always on the lookout for, as it shows that you can arrive at a conclusion independently when faced with a problem.

It's not just about being able to make big life-changing decisions, however. Being able to make trivial decisions successfully could also affect your overall performance and productivity. Whichever way you look at it, then, being a good decision maker is a critical skill.

If you're convinced that it's time for a change, or if you haven't quite decided yet, the following steps are a good starting point. Read on and learn how to develop your decision-making skills.

1. Have Clear Goals

Keeping a clear goal in mind is a very effective decision-making strategy. Let's say you're given two options: one, you keep your current job, which is monotonous but offers a high income, or two, you pursue an exciting new career without steady pay.

If your goal is to save up and have financial stability, then you would probably lean towards the first option. However, if your goal is to travel and learn new skills, then your decision should be based on that objective. Even if it's riskier, it aligns with your personal career goals, thus making it the best choice.

Consequently, your decision-making criteria should be informed by your goals. This will allow you to settle on what can lead to the desired outcome. Therefore, keeping in mind what you want to achieve with your decision will improve your skills and help you effectively approach any catch-22 situation.

2. Don't Overthink It

This advice might be cliché, but it's still good advice.

While weighing your options, you might find yourself considering how your decision could affect your career or personal life in a few years. This isn't necessarily bad. Taking short and long-term effects into account helps you realise what the best decision is. The problems arise, however, when you start overanalysing those probabilities and ping-ponging between options.

It's essential to consider the possible outcomes of a decision, especially if there are high stakes involved. However, when you spend hours analysing and estimating every likely scenario, instead of preparing you for the impact, it hinders your ability to settle on a decision.

To avoid this, you need to follow a structured approach. Make a pros-and-cons list, if necessary, and try to be objective about which option outweighs the other. Having an objective tactic will help make informed decisions, and it will stop you from getting sucked into a whirlpool of what ifs. Even if those worst-case scenarios play out, don't underestimate your ability to overcome them.

3. Set Time Limits

Sometimes, having too much time to decide on something can be your worst enemy. It could be useful to set yourself a timeframe (within reasonable bounds) in which you need to make your decision.

Let's say you need to decide whether you should use the last of your vacation days to attend your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate's wedding or not. Set yourself a specific date to make this decision.

Not only will it help you organise yourself better, but it will also restrict you from repeatedly jumping from one option to the next. As a result, having a virtual deadline will help you reach a conclusion quicker, and it will make you a more effective decision maker.

4. Trust Your Gut

How many times have you based a decision on a feeling? Well, I'm here to tell you that you're right to do so. Intuition is an important element in any decision-making process. It's a combination of past experiences and personal values that affects every decision you make.

There's actual science behind your 'gut feeling'. William Duggan, associate professor of management at Columbia Business School, identifies three types of intuition – ordinary, expert and strategic – in his book Strategic Intuition. While the first two are based on instinct and snap judgements, the third one works in new and unfamiliar situations.

Consequently, it might be worth taking your intuition into account when trying to arrive at a decision. Sometimes you just know what is right for you, and being tuned in with those emotions could work to your advantage. That said, don't base important decisions solely on intuition. While it should be a contributing factor to your decision-making process, you should refer to additional information on the matter and make an informed decision.

5. Do Your Research

Psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer suggests that people are inclined to automatically accept things as 'true' and make snap decisions based on limited information.

When making everyday decisions that don't require deliberation, this is quite useful. However, with decisions that could affect your career, your company or your personal life, doing your research could be a slightly more critical step.

If you want to develop the ways decisions are made in your company, you could implement evidence-based management. This management style incorporates scientific evidence to help you reach decisions and enables you to pursue a logical and practical route when making decisions that affect your business. If the good ol' ways of management have not been effective, it might be time to switch the way decisions are made.

Major decisions usually require thorough research. The more informed you are, the less uncertain you'll feel. Examine the data you have and consult the information available to you. Of course, make sure that these are both relevant and objective.

6. Think Like a Satisficer

According to psychology, there are two types of decision makers: satisficers and maximisers. Each type approaches decisions quite differently. A maximiser strives to make the most informed decision they can, but a satisficer evaluates options based on their essential needs.

When you are 'satisficing', you prioritise an adequate solution over an optimal solution. This does not mean that satisficers have low criteria. It simply means that they will make their decision as soon as they discover an option that meets their required standards.

A maximiser, on the other hand, is inclined to circulate all available options and exhaust every resource before reaching a conclusion. This takes a lot more time and energy and often leaves maximisers feeling uncertain and dissatisfied with the decision they end up making.

Consequently, while research is essential, knowing when to stop is equally so. Once you have all the information you need to make your decision, do so and don't look back.

7. Check Your Confidence

Sometimes, it's not about being unable to make a decision but rather about being unable to make the right one. Research has found that people tend to overestimate their abilities and knowledge. So, while some people do not feel confident to make decisions, others are overconfident with the choices they make. As a result, this leads to ineffective decision-making, which can affect their performance at work and their personal life.

If you are guilty of this, there are some steps you can take to overcome it. Being confident and self-assured is essential, but so is being self-aware. Having realistic expectations will help you create a better working pattern for yourself and will allow you to set logical targets for your work.

Time management is also a crucial aspect. For example, if you've never finished a work report within an hour, maybe it's better if you allocate more time for it. Consider your past performance levels to make estimates and adjust your time allocation accordingly. That way, you will be able to weigh your options and make informative decisions.

8. Be Optimistic

Yes, another truism, but hear me out. It's important to consider the negative aspects of your decisions. It helps you scale the available options and enables you to reach the most effective conclusion.

However, if you just focus on everything that could go wrong, that also means you eliminate the possibility of everything that could go right.

A pessimistic outlook will not help you make an informed decision. You might settle on the safest option, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the right one. You need to weigh the negatives equally against the positives. This allows you to form a realistic understanding of the situation, and it will help you realise which option is more suitable.

9. Give it Time

Not every decision can be made right away. While you need to make some decisions much faster (like what type of coffee you want because you're holding up the line), others require a thorough thought process.

Studies show that by letting ideas 'incubate', you can arrive at a decision more effectively. Therefore, instead of spending days on end agonising over your dilemma, allow your unconscious to process the situation.

While quick thinking is imperative for minor and everyday decisions, others require more deliberation. Taking time to consider the risks and possible outcomes, but also letting that information sit at the back of your head for a while, will benefit your process. Therefore, allow yourself enough time to consider all the facts before reaching the final verdict.

10. Don't Sugar-Coat It

When you face an awkward situation, you might feel inclined to go for the easiest solution and save yourself from the hassle.

Let's say your colleague is behaving inappropriately, and you can either report them or ignore them and save yourself from an awkward situation.

If you pick the latter option, you might convince yourself that it's not that big a deal, after all. When neither choice is ideal, that can keep you from making one or push you in the wrong way. Nevertheless, to make the best decision, you need to acknowledge all the facts. If you're tied between easy and right, consider the benefits of your choice and the positive changes it could bring. What, then, is the necessary decision you must take?

11. Economise Your Energy

Sometimes, the reason we can't make better decisions is that we care too much about things that we shouldn't. 'Anti-guru' and author of The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck, Sarah Knight, stresses the importance of prioritising and economising the energy we put into various matters. That way, you not only save yourself from spending precious energy on minimal issues, but you can also make the best decisions for yourself without hesitation. This easily extends to the workplace.

If you catch yourself wasting valuable energy and time on trivialities, ask yourself, 'How long should I spend on this? How important is it?'. Be strict with the amount of energy and time you invest in different things. Not only will it liberate you from tedious matters, but it will also make you an effective decision maker.

12. Be Independent

When faced with hard choices, it's reasonable to seek other people's opinions. It gives you a new perspective on the matter, and it helps you consider aspects that you hadn't before. However, becoming dependent on other's views can stunt the development of your decision-making skills.

There are a few crucial steps you should follow to ensure that doesn't happen. To begin with, limit the number of people you consult to a selective few. Too many opinions will leave you uncertain about what to do. Additionally, instead of asking others 'What should I do?', calibrate your question to 'What is your view on this?'. That way, you sustain your authority on the matter but also gain insight from others. It's also essential to ensure your sources are trustworthy and knowledgeable - asking people at random will not do.

Sometimes, getting a different perspective on a situation can be the nudge you need to have a breakthrough moment. However, concluding independently is equally important. After all, it's your decision to make; trust yourself that you can make the right one.

If you want to live your best life, you need to be able to make better decisions. Lucky for you, it is an art that you can easily learn with practice. Developing your decision-making abilities will benefit you personally but will also set your career forward.

Long gone will be the days you spent duelling over dilemmas or struggling to correct the outcomes of a thoughtless decision. Not only will your performance improve substantially, but you will be able to have ease of mind, too. So, the next time you have an important decision to make, keep these steps in mind.

Which of these steps did you find the most useful? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!