Decision making is something I struggled with as a young woman. I'd agonise and procrastinate, always waiting for a better offer or for a more perfect opportunity to come along. Meanwhile the things I was meant to be deciding on passed me by and life got on without me.
Who was I kidding? I didn't just struggle - I was lousy at it.
My work around was to schedule my life within an inch of it's life so that my calendar and work commitments forced me to make decisions by the very nature of a looming deadline.
'I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.' ~ Douglas Adams
Spring forward 25 years and I'm now married to a decision making expert.
Yes, the gods must truly be laughing.
But things have definitely changed. With the wisdom of age I now practice the art of defencelessness, letting go of the need to be right.
As a result I've become far better at decision making, far faster with less agonising and with far more comfort about course correction as needed. After all, as my resident decision making expert says "any decision, even the wrong decision is better than no decision". And I've learned he is right.
In fact, one of the reasons I'm really interested in gender diversity came from my own struggle with decision making. This drove an interest in male and female brain biology which, combined with data that demonstrates that organisations make better long term decisions with equal numbers of men and women on the leadership team, has shaped this significant part of my career.
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED?
Many people and organisations struggle with decision making. Despite the negative stereotype that women change their mind more than men, paralysis by analysis is not limited to women. I'm hoping the following six curious factoids, based in research, will help you make decisions more easily.
1. Decision overwhelm is a thing. Ever gone onto Airbnb thinking you'd spend a quick 15 mins to book your weekend away, only to give up 60 mins later because there were too many properties to choose from? That's decision overwhelm, where you are presented with too many options so it's far harder for you to make a decision.
We live in an era where we're spoiled for choice, but quite possibly it's slowing us down and making us less effective. The fix? Give yourself only a few options to choose from. You'll have your holiday booked in no time, with no regrets as well. You can thank me later.
2. We make better easier decisions in morning. Yes, we are prone to decision fatigue. It impacts on the quality of our choices as well as our ability to make a decision. That's why it's far easier to make healthier choices in the morning, and far easier to sit on the couch drinking red wine, eating dark chocolate and watching reruns of Jane the Virgin, when you know you should be out working on your networking strategy!
So what does this mean? If you've got a big decision to make in the evening, make a decision to sleep on it! Make the big decision the next morning instead. Schedule important decisions or options in the morning when your decision making muscle is stronger and your willpower isn't wilting. You can thank me in the morning when you've slept on it.
3. Gender, decisions and stress - under intense pressure, women tend toward safer decisions and men tend towards riskier decisions. Fascinating. Two things spring to mind here
Proactively manage your stress and wellbeing so you don't have to deal with the impact of stress on your decision making. Prevention is always better than the cure.
Keep this in mind next time your significant other makes a decision that appears either outrageously cautious or outrageously risky to you. It may not be their fault, but the fault of their biology instead.
4. Time limits increase likelihood of making a decision - hmmmm, apparently I was onto the right track as a young woman. I've always known I performed well to a deadline. After all, work expands to fill the time allocated, so when you give yourself time limits you'll be able to make a decision more easily. I love the Pomodoro technique as a tactic to tackle projects far more efficiently. 25 mins on followed by 5 mins rest x 4 cycles. Work. Rest. Rinse. Repeat x 4. Because when we know time is short we're able to prioritise far more effectively and in just under 2 hours we can get far more done than we might do in a full day with no deadlines. Time limits will help you prioritise. Prioritising will help you make decisions more easily.
5. We tend to throw good after bad if we've already heavily invested - whether that's time, money, energy or ego. This is called the sunk cost fallacy. When we're heavily invested, we're more likely to keep going in the direction well past what might be sensible to an outsider. For example, you've already invested heavily in a particular direction in your career (you've told your boss, you've spent money, you've exhausted yourself every weekend doing it and wasted a year already) so you might as well keep going, even though you're desperately unhappy and potentially making a silk purse out of a sows ear.
The fix? Get another perspective, and practice that defencelessness I mentioned earlier. Being aware of the sunk cost fallacy will help you make better decision anyway. And remember, it's okay to change your mind despite the negative stereotype. Sometimes you simply have to cut your losses and move on.
6. Things that are undecided take up mental ram and emotional energy - yes this sounds a little woo woo, but those who make more rapid decisions, move on more rapidly too. They're already scaling the next mountain, and we haven't yet bought a ticket to Katmandu because we couldn't work out which airline to go on!
When we procrastinate on undecided items, it causes friction and slows us down, personally and professionally. The freedom of a freefall, that comes from making rapid decisions, is liberating. Because it provides more data that helps you progress far more easily. You can always course correct later as you need.
There is an old saying - action precedes clarity. Combine this with the fact that success is really closely correlated with more rapid decision making and you begin to get the picture. When we replace perfecting, proving, pleasing and polishing with purpose, passion and progress, life becomes a whole heap easier anyway.
And that success you are searching for? A whole heap closer.
Your thoughts? What helps you make more effective decisions? Drop me a note and let me know.
PS you might have noticed I've had a fabulous new photoshoot. The header image features "the bees knees" and other fun ways of reminding yourself that you're actually doing okay. Looking forward to sharing more with you in coming months. Why not follow me on Instagram as well?
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