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How to Optimize Your Daily Decisions

You have a lot of decisions to make. So do I. So does everyone, every day, and at all times. It can seem like our lives are nothing but a series of decisions. Big ones, little ones, life-altering ones and inconsequential ones.

In some twisted irony, it’s the tiny, inconsequential ones that often make us agonize and second guess ourselves the most. Think about the last time you had to order from a menu. It’s a meaningless decision, but choosing what to have for lunch or dinner can take much more time than it should. It’s not our last meal. We’ll have plenty of opportunities to try something else next time. And yet, for many of us, it’s excruciating to decide.

Indecisiveness can be exhausting. A decision that affects the rest of your life should take some time and effort. But what to have for breakfast, or which tie to wear today, should not.

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer for Facebook, says that “done is better than perfect” in her book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead”. She’s not alone. It’s a life philosophy that many believe and preach. Make a decision, finish and submit that report, or complete that project. Done is better than perfect.

Easier said than done, though, right? Many of us suffer from a condition called analysis paralysis. It’s overthinking and overanalyzing every little thing so that a decision is never made. It can bring life to a screeching halt...because, again, we’re called upon to make dozens of decisions every day.  

To combat it, many people turn to elaborate decision-making processes and solutions. The Bigg Success Blog, for example, advocates the use of SOLVE IT whenever you have a decision to make

  • Statement - what specifically is the decision that must be made?
  • Origins - where is the decision coming from? Is it you, an outside source, or somewhere else?
  • List - what are the possible choices?
  • Verify - what are the pros and cons of each?
  • Eliminate - which options are undesirable or impossible? Get rid of them until you have only one choice left.
  • Implement - put the one remaining option into play.
  • Test - check (immediately, the next day, next week) to make sure the decision is having the desired effect. If not, start from the beginning again.

Are you going to do something like that for each and every decision? Of course not. You’d never have time for anything else. So is there anything you can do to optimize your decision making process?

You bet your sweet bippy.

See Also: Decision Making Styles to Consider

1. Go With Your First Instinct

For many of life’s decisions, you’ll have an immediate and instant gut response. Sometimes you ignore it, and that’s usually a mistake. But when it comes to the tiny, minuscule, insignificant decisions you’re called on to make, always go with your first instinct. What’s the worst that could happen? Glance at a menu and order the first thing you notice. At worst, you may not love it...but you’ll survive. Trusting your gut for the trivial decisions frees up time and energy for the bigger ones.

2. Decision Fatigue

Our ability to make decisions and our willpower to resist temptation are finite resources that we use up over the course of the day. There’s only so much to go around. Use that knowledge to your ability, and a) don’t waste it on small, meaningless decisions, and b) plan to make more important decisions earlier in the day when you still have a full tank. In the late afternoon, you’re tired, hungry, cranky, and ready to go home. The last thing you want to do is spend time and energy on a decision, so you’ll either make a snap, rash one just so it’s done, or you’ll put it off until another day.

Plan your decision making (whenever possible...decisions don’t always wait for us) for the morning when you’re at your emotional, physical, and mental best.

3. Sleep On It

You’ve heard this advice. It’s been around forever...because it’s true. We don’t always have the luxury of several days to make a decision, but when we do, you should absolutely take advantage of it. You’re grandmother and mother probably said the same thing, and who am I to call them wrong?

But even better is to take a night when you’ve already made a decision. To optimize your daily decisions, plan to decide one day, sleep on the decision you’ve made that night, and then implement it the next day. Why? Because it’s much easier to change your mind before you’ve done anything. Of course, this doesn’t apply to something like your lunch entree (how weird would that be?!), but bigger decisions with bigger consequences might benefit from the wisdom that comes with mulling it over while you sleep. If you still feel good about the decision the next day, you’ve probably made the right one.

4. Set a Time Limit

Parkinson’s Law states that work will expand to fill whatever time is allotted to it. If you have 3 hours for something, it will take you three hours (even if it could theoretically be finished faster). The same is true for decisions. If you give yourself a week to make a decision about something, it will take a week to do so. Or worse...if you don’t have a limit of any kind, you’ll agonize, mull, and reconsider forever.

To combat this human tendency set a strict, hard, and short time limit on all decisions. Small and meaningless. Give yourself a single minute. Bigger and more important. Perhaps an hour. Whatever it is, set the limit, and stick to it. Under no circumstances short of divine intervention are you allowed to miss the deadline.

5. Choice Architecture

Coined by Anne Thorndike, choice architecture has to do with the way that choices are presented to us. She suggests that we can set ourselves up for better and easier decisions with a little forethought. Her study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that people purchased fewer soft drinks and more water (almost 26% more) in a cafeteria because of simple product placement and a colour-coded label system.

This can be extended to your daily life and the decisions in it. Set yourself up for success by making your decisions easier. Remove options.

Need to decide whether to workout? Place an exercise mat beside your desk. Trying to decide whether to bring a healthy lunch, or convenient (but less than nutritious) processed food? Have the healthy option waiting on the counter in the kitchen when you get up. Choice architecture is all about designing better choices. Trying to drink more green tea? Have the teabag in a cup sitting on your desk. Do you always agonize over your lunch selection at a nearby restaurant? Call and order it ahead of time.

See Also: How to Make Your Toughest Decisions

Decisions are a part of life, but they need not be time-sucking, willpower-sapping exercises in futility. Plan ahead, get them done early, and set yourself up to make the right decisions whenever you can.

Trust your gut. Get them done early. Sleep on decisions, not decision making. Give yourself a concrete timeframe. And create a default decision.  

What’s your trick for making faster decisions? Leave your thoughts in the comments below...

SOURCES
Design for Default
How to Stick with Good Habits
How to Stop Analysis Paralysis

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