It is often overlooked that good decision making skills are an essential part of time management. Effective decision making can significantly improve your planning skills and help you use your time better. We learn about decision making in time management because, as experience shows us, good decisions always save us more time than the consequences of bad decisions!
The typical approach to developing decision making skills is:
- Be clear about the objectives of your decision
- Think about your alternatives
- Evaluate pros & cons
- Evaluate feedback
Most of our decisions shouldn’t require this complex approach. And while most of our daily decisions are simple, we seem to dwell a lot on them.
Most of our decisions shouldn’t require this complex approach. And while most of our daily decision are simple, we seem to either dwell on them or not stick to them very well.
Have you ever wasted more time procrastinating and re-deciding when to finally do a certain task than it has taken you to accomplish it. Or have you found yourself jumping from one task to the next? Or started a task and then jumped onto an email? No time management system will ever work if you a) can’t decide what to do next or b) constantly change your decision when you are about to start.
Nobel Price Winner Daniel Kahneman describes in his landmark book “Thinking, fast and slow” (Amazon) typical decision making biasses that lead us down the wrong alley.
~~~ 9 Biasses that lead us down the wrong alley ~~~
Effective decision making is often impaired by common decision biases. You should watch out for them to improve decision making skills. Read through this list and ask yourself, “Which one of these is my typical decision making bias?”
1Confirmation bias – Just considering facts that support certain prematurely made conclusions and disregarding other facts.
2Jumping to conclusions – Trusting gut feelings only.
3Complacency/inertia – Following same thought patterns.
4Thinking inside the box – Not considering different approaches or feeling constrained by the current norm.
5Expectation – Deciding based on what’s expected, not what’s right.
6Too hard basket– Dismissing the correct choice because execution is perceived as too hard.
7No time – Delaying important tasks due to perceived lack of time.
8Avoiding decisions out of fear – Making the wrong decision or no decision out of fear.
9Abundance of choice – Having too many choices often leads to making no decision at all. We all have a tendency to one or more of these. Which one is yours?
Improve Your Decision Making Skills
How does all this help us to improve our decision making skills? I suggest to group the most common biases into two categories to simplify them.
“In any moment of decision the best thing is to do the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt
~~~ Too easy ~~~
Confirmation bias, Jumping to conclusions, Complacency/Inertia, Thinking inside the box are biases that make it too easy for us to decide even if it is a complex problem. All these decision motives guarantee stagnation and boredom. If your decision was too easy, or most decisions seem to be easy, you might be making decisions along the same lines. Another good sign for falling into these motives is that you do not want to reflect on your own decisions, or when confronted, you become defensive.
You can improve decision making by questioning your own thinking and consider alternatives. Look from different angles, ask how would this or that person decide. If you were in your customer’s shoes, how would the decision look? If you were guaranteed success, how would you decide? List alternatives and go for the least preferred option, or just flip a coin. Challenge yourself and your decision making and follow it through!
~~~ Too hard ~~~
Fear, Expectation, Too-hard basket, Abundance of choice, No time indicate a perceived difficulty of the decision. “Is it a mistake?” “What will others think?” “It would never work.” “Will I be blamed for it?” Questions that do not revolve around the core of the decision point indicate some sort of “too-hard” concerns.
Focus on the core decision point and rule out other considerations. Often many factors can be considered: technical, financial, relationship aspect, exploiting an opportunity, and so on. This can be confusing. Ask yourself what is the most important factor and forget everything else. Do you recognise the Pareto principle in this tip?
“Too hard” is poison to decision making - Even if it’s true!
The worst thing you can do is to avoid deciding until a deadline comes up and then panic. Even if you don’t make the decision right now, tackle it proactively. Clarify which questions need to be answered, problems to be solved, people to be involved to come to a decision.
In most cases we know the right choice instantaneously / subconsciously. The rest of the time we work on rationalising this. Trust yourself and your experience. Decide as described by Malcolm Gladwell and Richard Wiseman. Do what you decide is right.
If there are too many choices, discard the worst 50%. Repeat until you are down to 3-5 options. Take it from there. The list of excuses for not making a decision is long and eclectic. Listen to your instincts and bring the source of your concerns to light and consciously deal with it. Learn to spot your personal reason for avoiding decisions. Whatever the difficulty, actively drive to a decision! And then learn to stand by the right decision!