Timely decisions

I like to think about our mental space as real estate. 

There is only so much we can focus on in a day. The quantity and quality of what we allow to occupy our mind matters a lot. 

One way to free up precious mental energy is to make timely decisions. That’s because whenever we postpone making a decision, somewhere in the back of our mind we are still debating what to do. It’s using up space, and there is an opportunity cost to that.

Instead of vaguely “taking time to think about it”, I find it more useful to see decision making as a process. In the end it’s not how long we wait to decide that makes a good decision, but the quality of our process. And it can be worth it to invest in improving our decision making skills.

The book How to Decide, by Annie Duke, is one of the best I’ve come across. It is a great read, with countless tools and examples.

Here are a couple of ideas from the book (quotes in italic):

First of all, ask yourself if this will matter a year, a month, a week from now.

If the answer is no, you can speed up the decision. If you have ever agonized over what gelato flavor to pick, you are not alone. Just realize how unimportant this will be to your happiness in a very short timeframe. 

Then, if a decision is worth spending more effort on, realize that your goal is to make an educated guess about possible future outcomes. It is not to find the “right” thing to do. 

(Thinking) that there is only “right” and “wrong” and nothing in between, is one of the biggest obstacles to good decision-making. Because good decision-making requires a willingness to guess.

So first, figure out if there is any data that can help you guess more accurately. Can you access this data and is it worth the cost?

Once you have all the information that you can reasonably collect, there will still be uncertainty. It will still feel uncomfortable. You can give yourself a night to sleep on it. But other than that, waiting for something to happen so you can feel more certain and comfortable

about the decision is unlikely to help in any way. In fact, you can feel certain, but that depends on you deciding to focus on your reasons for making a certain choice, instead of your doubt. 

And that leads me to the last point. 

Don’t judge the quality of your decision by the outcome. This is the thought error of Resulting.

Resulting: A mental shortcut in which we use the quality of an outcome to figure out the quality of a decision.

This also means: don’t be super mean to yourself if things don’t turn out exactly as you hoped. It is not fair, because (bad and good) luck is a thing, and also, you didn’t know then what you know now. You will also make it so much harder to decide anything in the future because you’ll be afraid of how you will treat yourself if you don’t “get it right”.

If you need help with an important decision, reach out and I will be happy to help.