How to Make Better Decisions at Work (+ Checklist)

Option 1 or Option 2? Or hidden Option 3? Or Option 1.2?

Reviewed by Chris Leitch


In the legendary book The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote: “The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.”

Regardless your industry or seniority, knowing how to make a good decision can be the key to getting the job done, developing your career or receiving a nod of approval from your boss. Unfortunately, for so many busy professionals, it’s a lot easier said than done, but there are steps you can take today to be more effective, enhance your leadership and have a good head for business.

Here's how you can become a better decision-maker at work and propel your business and career forward.

The importance of making good decisions

Whether you’re a junior, a manager or a C-level professional, your decisions impact not just yourself but everyone on your team. The higher your position, the bigger the impact, of course, but even less-experienced workers can sometimes solve big problems — or make them worse.

When your judgment is sound, it not only moves your company forward but it also helps you advance your own career. That’s because your decision-making ability makes you come across as reliable and trustworthy and, therefore, a crucial component to your team.

Good decisions can save time, money and unnecessary conflict. If your actions can contribute to this, you’ll certainly stand out from the crowd at work!

Habits that will make you a better decision-maker

The best way to get better at anything, be that making decisions or doing a perfect pirouette, is by practicing regularly. You most likely won’t be called to make life-changing decisions every day, however. So, instead, here are some habits you can form that will benefit you when the time comes.

1. Check your (over)confidence

Researchers have found that most people overestimate their performance, accuracy and work ethic. Every office has that one person who thinks they can get eight tasks completed in less than an hour or informs a team leader that they’re wrong about a particular projection. This leads to frustrated coworkers and lackluster results.

Overconfidence will never improve the quality of your decisions, either. Should you wish to be a better employee or manager, it’s imperative to begin winding down this personal trait. Remember: a good decision-maker is one who recognizes that their overconfidence could be a major problem.

2. Learn to slow down

You have likely heard of the expression “you better sleep on it” when it comes to making tough decisions. Well, this applies to a wide variety of circumstances, ranging from accepting that job offer from another firm to imposing a new system to streamline operations. By having a good night’s rest, you allow your brain to process all of the information and perform some critical thinking.

It's true that there will be times when you need to make a crucial decision at that very moment. However, a lot of your day-to-day activities in the workplace or life-changing career options can be accomplished by taking the necessary time to think carefully about it.

3. Keep a curious mind

The better you understand a complex problem and all its parameters, the better your decision-making will be. That’s why it’s important to make a habit out of lifelong learning and keep broadening your knowledge and skill set, ultimately increasing your confidence as a professional and your ability to see different points of view at once.

Ask questions, weigh the pros and cons, brainstorm, exchange ideas. All these things will have a positive effect on how quickly you arrive at viable solutions to problems and how resilient you feel in the face of them.

4. Be honest with yourself

Self-deception will derail your career. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday and for the rest of your professional life. Studies have found that 33% of graduates generally lie on their résumés — but as the lies accumulate and become more frequent, you could risk believing them.

Unfortunately, a lot of entry-level staffers, young entrepreneurs and even executives lie to themselves because they’re frightened of being seen as “less-than”. However, if you’re not aware of your own motivations and genuine strengths, how can you expect to make sound judgment calls?

5. Learn how to let go

Yesterday is gone. You cannot keep looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is dead and buried. These may be clichés, but they’re still relevant to your daily decisions.

One of the key factors that’s holding back your true potential is a mistake that happened a day, a week, a month or a year ago. We all make errors; but the only way to make your mind up is by learning to ditch the past, and focus on the present and the future. As long as you learn from your blunders, then those mistakes will have no bearing on the decisions you present today.

Ways to make better decisions

We’ve looked at some habits that could contribute to making better decisions. Now let’s look at some actionable ways you can enhance your decision-making skills.

1. Set clear goals

Regardless what you’re trying to decide — whether that’s resigning, changing career paths or firing an employee — you have to keep your greater goals in mind, as well as the company’s, in some cases.

What direction are you trying to move in? What could you gain out of this outcome and at what cost? If you don’t have a clear bullseye to aim at, then your decision-making will be nothing more than throwing metaphorical darts at the board at random.

By staying focused on the path that you’ve chosen to walk on, and keeping future plans and aspirations in mind, you can resist picking easy decisions over difficult ones, as you’ll know they’ll eventually pay off down the line.

2. Set and stick to timeframes

Conducting a survey with more than 1,200 participants, McKinsey & Company concluded that “faster decisions tend to be higher quality, suggesting that speed does not undercut the merit of a given decision.”

Although it’s important not to rush when making big decisions, it’s just as vital not to mull over your decisions indefinitely. The longer you take to make up your mind, the more complicated a dilemma will start to appear.

Instead, set yourself deadlines for when you need to have made up your mind by. If it’s a personal decision you’re trying to make, such as going from full-time to part-time work and starting your own online business, involve a loved one in the process to hold you accountable.

3. Develop your reasoning ability

Reasoning refers to a person’s ability to process information accurately, draw inferences and reach conclusions upon taking into account all available evidence.

Some good ways to improve your logical thinking skills include solving Sudokus and crossword puzzles, learning how to code, playing chess or video games, and visiting escape rooms. All these activities will require you to think strategically as well as encourage you to find out-of-the-box solutions.

4. Develop your emotional intelligence

In her paper titled Rationality and Emotions in Decision Making, philosophy professor Olga Markič writes: “Human decisions and actions are much more influenced by intuition and emotional responses then it was previously thought.”

Unless you increase your self-awareness and up your impulse control, you’ll risk making decisions based on fleeting emotions like anger or desperation. What seems like a good idea in the short term won’t always help you achieve your goals in the long term.

5. Involve others

One of the key factors that can contribute to burnout (and subsequently poorer decision-making) is lack of social support. When you’re juggling multiple things at once and have no one to share some of the weight with, your stress levels are bound to increase. This, in turn, can affect your judgment.

So, when faced with another dilemma, ask the people you trust for their opinions and ideas. This is particularly important if you’re in a leadership position, as leaders are often afraid to reveal their weaknesses or uncertainties, which can be incredibly isolating and it can end up backfiring.

6. Use evidence

How many times have you depended on that little person inside your stomach to make a call? Well, it’s time to kill, bury and forget them. They’ve been a hindrance to your career for far too long.

Consultants generally recommend that businesses adopt evidence-based management, or EBM. This is a style of management that utilizes scientific evidence to make decisions, instead of using what’s worked in the past or relying on your instincts. If the status quo has not succeeded, then it’s time to make sure you incorporate evidence into your final decisions.

Evidence should be current, complete, relevant and objective. If not, then the data, details and information will be of no use to your firm or your career.

7. Consider the other side

In Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, he writes: “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.”

In today’s world, people are stubborn, and they fail to consider the other side when they’re about to reach a conclusion. Despite all the objections by colleagues, evidence put forward by management and suggestions made by clients, many follow the concept of “my way or the highway”, and this breeds a toxic company culture because workers feel ignored.

This also extends to a diverse panoply of everyday instances, too. For example, you might believe that you’re socially awkward at business functions, so you rarely head out to these events. Or you may think that you’re a terrible communicator, so you avoid applying for that promotion.

Simply put: by examining all possibilities, you naturally become a better decision-maker.

8. Practice your creative thinking

Sometimes (or should we say: most of the time?), problems and dilemmas have no straightforward solution. To solve the problem in those instances, you might need to get creative.

As shared in an article on Forbes, the Young Entrepreneur Council has some suggestions to make when it comes to enhancing your creative thinking ability. Jotting things down by hand can get your creativity flowing faster than typing on a computer, and so can reading books you wouldn’t normally read as well as immersing yourself in new experiences.

YEC also recommends joining a mastermind group if you can. If you’re not familiar with the term, that’s when you gather up with friends or coworkers to exchange ideas, provide support and hold one another accountable to making changes.

9. Develop a growth mindset

A growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, refers to a person’s willingness to learn from mistakes. It also refers to viewing your intelligence and abilities as ever-changing rather than fixed. As such, it’s vital to have for anyone hoping to crush their career goals.

Some ways to develop a growth mindset include:

  • Making a conscious effort to notice the positive in unfavorable or tricky situations.
  • Dedicating yourself to lifelong learning. The more ideas you expose yourself to, the better your brainstorming sessions will be.
  • Practicing gratitude and affirmations to boost your sense of resilience. The more confident you feel, the less intimidated you’ll be by problems.
  • Looking back to where you where before and how far you’ve come. Reminding yourself of past achievements and successes can inspire you to keep moving.

10. Develop your adaptability

Good decision-makers need to be flexible and adaptable. The quicker you let go of your idea of how things “should be”, the faster you’ll be able to accept what’s actually happening and move on to strategizing a solution.

Starting each workday with the intention to approach challenges with an open mind and curiosity is a good first step. Practicing emotional self-regulation and dual awareness can also help. Both entail identifying what we’re feeling in response to a situation and differentiating that from the situation itself, thus effectively responding to it rather than merely reacting.

Challenging yourself and leaving your comfort zone often will also give you an increased sense of self-esteem. When you feel confident, it encourages you to take healthy risks, such as changing career paths (like you’ve dreamed of doing for the past seven years) or finally rebranding your product to have it better align with your current values.

Top tips to follow

Good decisions don’t occur in a vacuum; they’re the result of consistent effort as well as learning from mistakes. Here are some broader tips on developing your decision-making ability that involve your time outside of work, too.

1. Take breaks from work

According to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2023, 72% of leaders “feel used up” at the end of the workday. When you don’t take regular breaks while working, and you also fail to “leave work at work” when you clock out, you could be setting yourself up for decision fatigue at best or burnout at worst.

2. Take your self-care seriously

You can’t have your mental, emotional or physical state dictating how effective you are at making major decisions at work. To be able to rely on your judgment, you’ll have to prioritize your work–life balance, ensuring you get enough rest, socializing and exercise in.

3. Implement stress management strategies

Exercise, meditation, mindfulness and strategic breaks at work can all contribute to a calmer overall state and a more effective decision-making process. The Harvard Business Review suggests taking micro-breaks regularly in the morning and longer breaks in the afternoon, as fatigue levels tend to worsen the deeper we are into our workday.

4. Carry out self-evaluations

Overconfidence can muddle your judgment and cause you to underestimate a problem. But a lack of confidence can also negatively impact your perception of a situation: there’s no trusting your gut when you don’t think you have what it takes to pull through. That’s why objective evaluations of your aptitudes and knowledge are important.

5. Accept that mistakes will happen

At the end of the day, no matter how much you develop your decision-making ability, bad decisions are sometimes still bound to happen. Accepting that there will always be things you can’t control or predict can help you feel more relaxed in the workplace. As Chinese philosopher Confucius famously said: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

Effective decision-making checklist

As a little gift, we’ve created a quick and easy-to-follow checklist for you which will help you effectively tackle any problems at work!


Get the template

Key takeaways

Let’s be honest: in today’s world, where we rely on Google and Alexa for answers and opinions, we’re often not using our own brains very much. It’s true that being decisive is not an easy characteristic to adopt, but it’s one that we need to start embracing if we wish to get that raise, obtain that promotion or advance that career.

In conclusion:

  • Taking breaks from work and decision making in general can have a positive impact on the choices we make.
  • Thinking things through is desirable and can be helpful, but only to an extent. Mull over it too long and you’ll risk confusing yourself further.
  • Sharpening your logical reasoning ability by solving puzzles and riddles can help you become quicker at thinking accurately on your feet.
  • Enhancing your emotional regulation skills and staying level-headed under pressure can be beneficial when it comes to making effective decisions.


Further reading:

Can you think of other ways to be a better decision maker? Join the conversation down below and let us know!

Originally published on July 11, 2018. Contains contributions by Andrew Moran.