How To Make Good Decisions

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One thing that follows us all day around is the need to make decisions. Right from the time we wake up to the time that we go to sleep, we keep making decisions, one after the other. Some of these decisions are simple and don’t impact our lives much, while some of these decisions could have an everlasting impact on not only our lives but also those that live with and around us.

We also have learnt from research that

  • There are a lot of biases that are inherent in our thinking and can creep up in our decisions affecting the quality of our decisions.
  • Decision fatigue is real. Decision making is tiring and the more decisions we are to make in the day, the probability of making a bad decision increase multiple-folds.
  • Most of the times we are not making decisions consciously. We wake up one day and realize that we are on a path that we did not decide to be on.

So, the question then is the following:

What can we do to make more good decisions than bad ones?

Here are some strategies that we can use in our lives to increase the probability that we make more good decisions than bad one’s.

Explicit vs Implicit Decisions:

One of the first things we need to do is to reduce the number of decisions we need to make through the day so that we avoid decision fatigue. This means that we decide upfront what are the areas of our life that we need to make conscious choice and decisions and what are the areas of our life that we can allow implicit decisions to happen or let someone else decide for us.

Eliminate the need to decide in the moment:

Decision fatigue sets in when we continue to make one decision after another in the moment. One way to avoid decision fatigue to set in is for to reduce the number of decisions we need to make in the moment through the day. For example, we can make eliminate some of the need to make decisions in the moment by deciding ahead of time.

For example, I have decided that I will only wear black shirts. Now that the decision is made, my entire wardrobe is full of black shirts only. This way, I have eliminated the need to decide what shirt I will wear on any given day by deciding this ahead of time.

We can do the same thing with many day-to-day decisions. We can do the same thing in many areas of our lives. Shopping with a list and buying only what is on the list is one such example. Another example is having clearly defined routines for how we work, where we work, how do we get to work, etc.

Research has also found that many highly productive people have set daily routines for most of their daily tasks and they follow it religiously. Though they might not be aware of this but by following a set routine, they eliminate many micro-decisions that they need to make in the moment throughout the day.

Define the Decision Criteria ahead of time:

If we can’t make the decision ahead of time, we should at least define the criteria that we will use to decide ahead of time. This ensures that in the moment we are not swayed by our emotions and biases to make the decision but at least have the potential to make the decisions based on a pre-defined and a thoughtful criterion. We could still make bad decisions but at least we are making them through thoughtful deliberation and not because of any bias or swayed by our emotions.

Once we decide the criteria that we will use to decide, we need to ensure that we have access to the criteria in the moment that we need to make the decision. Where possible, we can ensure that this information pops up at the right time in the right mode. Technology today makes it possible for us to ensure that we can get information scheduled and made available on-demand or even in real-time.

Decide who will make the decision:

If there is someone else involved in the decision-making process, we also need to decide ahead of time, who will make the final decision. And in some cases, also how will the decision be made.

  • Will it be an individual who will decide, or will it be done via a committee?
  • If there are others involved, does the decision needs to be by majority (how many votes count as majority) or will it need to be unanimous?
  • If we don’t get to the majority or unanimously agree, what will be the process to decide?

Once this is decided, we need to then allow that person or the committee to make the final decision using the pre-defined decision criteria. All of the others can still share their opinions, but the final decision is made by the person (or team). Once the decision is made, everyone needs to stand united behind the decision made.

Decide when will we review and learn from the decision.

Most often once a decision is made, we usually move forward and never visit the decision made and try to understand if the decision we made turned out to be a good one or a bad one. For decisions that are important and can have significant impact, we need to be able to look back and learn from how we decided and improve the ability to make good decisions.

In order to be able to do so, we need to record the decision, the criteria used for the decision, the assumptions that informed the decision and who/how the decision was made and schedule time upfront to review the decision.

We need to look at the following in this review:

  • What was the quality of our assumptions? Did our assumptions pan out? IF yes, why do we think they did? If not, what made us assume that it would? Where did we go wrong?
  • Did we use the right criteria to make the decisions?
  • Did the right person or team make the decision?
  • Is there a way that we could have made a better decision given the assumptions, criteria and choices we had?

In conclusion:

Decision making is one of the most important activity that we do on a daily basis. Every decision we make has an impact on us and those around us. Some of it could be meagre and can be ignored, while some of it could be significant and the importance of getting those decisions right can be of paramount importance.

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