So many decisions, so little time… how to simplify decision-making?
How many decisions do you take every day?
It may come as a shock to learn that we take somewhere between 23,000 and 35,000 decisions every day. If that sounds too much, it is because the majority of decisions are made subconsciously: reaching out for a cup as we make a coffee and crossing the road are some of those unconscious decisions.
The estimate is that we make around 70 conscious decisions each day. This is still a lot considering the mental effort required by each of them.
My Master’s dissertation on the behavioural influences on group decision-making opened the doors to this fascinating subject.
This first article is a lighthearted introduction, looking at personal decisions. It is the first in a series blogs on the subject decision-making. I believe the more we learn about the mechanics of decision-making, the better we become at this essential activity.
How do we take decisions? Can we get better at it?
I remember a few years ago, my new flat was in desperate need of a new coat of paint. And there I was at local DIY store, staring at a wall of white paints. I never realised before that white is not one colour, but there are endless shades of it. After a long day at work, my cognitive brain was not playing ball and I could not decide which white colour to choose.
Every day we are faced with decisions like these, and this is what I have learnt:
1. Plan decision time
Complex decisions take up energy and mental effort, and we easily reach decision fatigue. The simple act of reserving a dedicated time slot for a decision can be enough to assure a better outcome. If you have a big decision coming up, choose a time, a place and reserve your undivided attention.
2. Reduce options
Sometimes there are just too many options. Looking at some coffee menus, it is wonder we can make it through the day. It may sound obvious, but what I have learnt (and apply as much as possible) is narrowing down those options. Thus my predilection for restaurants with a short menu and shops with a smaller selection of products.
3. Eliminate choice
Some of the advocates of this approach wear the same clothes every day, which become iconic on the way. Choosing the black polo neck or the grey t-shirt and hoodie, means one less important decisions we need to take each morning. The same applies to many daily decisions, it may be boring always having the same lunch, but it frees up mental capacity.
These three simple rules work for me. We are all a bit different, therefore it is important to understand ourselves and choose the approach that works for us.
Learning and applying these three techniques has become a habit over time. Of course, I can’t always avoid too many options, delay decisions, and I get bored with the same lunch every day. However, I have noticed this approach to decision-making has been a positive improvement to my life.
The next articles in the series will focus on business decisions and in particular on the behavioral influences that impact group decision-making There are many instances when an acquisition did not go as well as planned, or a project went over budget. Does this sounds familiar? Do you want to learn more about how to avoid some of this potential problems in the future?
If you would like to learn more and talk about how you can improve decision-making, get in touch.