Our lives are defined by our ability to make decisions. Our careers, relationships, health—anything and everything about our present selves—boils down to the decisions we’ve made in the past, yet some of us struggle with effective decision-making skills.
We may have access to data, plenty of options, and generally have everything going for us, but when crunch time rolls around, we seize up and don’t know how to make good decisions. We can’t make that firm commitment to a choice.
Here are a few of the labels you may go by:
Have you ever felt like you were identified by any of these labels? We are at the extreme of the decision-making process, spending too much time thinking about our decisions with not enough time acting on them.
For people like us, we need to balance out our decision-making processes with a bit of “rashness” or by listening to our gut feeling. Here are some tips on how to be a better decision-maker.
5 Effective Decision-Making Skills
These are techniques that help us dive into our decisions head first and to stop worrying about the repercussions so much. Before reading the following tips, you can check out this interesting TED Talk by Patrick McGinnis, where he talks about how to make faster decisions:
Here are 5 tips to help us balance out our decision-making skills.
1. The 2-Minute Rule
The idea behind this tip is to force action through a self-imposed deadline. It’s simple enough to incorporate: Any time you have to make a decision, just set the timer and begin the process.
The time limit forces you to quickly assess the pros and cons while quickly coming to a decision. The simplicity behind this tip makes it very accessible.
One study found that “when people know when a focal task would end, they invest more effort in it because foregoing other activities becomes less costly.”. The same study showed that the students in the study reported feeling less fatigued. This is the power of deadlines.
If you’re simply slow at making decisions, then this tip is a lifesaver. You also don’t have to limit yourself to 2 minutes every time. Anything from 1-5 minutes should work fine as well.
If you find you have a big or important decision to make that will take more than 1 to 5 minutes, give yourself more time, but still apply a deadline. Whether it’s 24 hours, or 1 week, having a time limit will force you into action.
2. Think Black and White
There are times when we have more choices than we need. Excess of anything can overwhelm us. Research studies show that the average American adult makes an average of 35,000 decisions a day which leads to analysis paralysis or decision fatigue.
In this case, use your decision-making skills to judge your options as good or bad, simplifying and simplifying the process of weeding out the less optimal decisions.
This limited approach is ideal for the over-analyzers who insist on questioning every variable. It’s okay to dedicate some time to thinking so you can evaluate things better, but it becomes problematic when you start to overthink.
If you’re more visual, you can even make columns and put your choices on the “good” or “bad” side. This limiting of your options will naturally make the decision easier.
3. Put It in a Hat
This is one of the simplest decision-making skills. If all options seem to have roughly equal value, write down your best ones on separate pieces of paper and place them in a hat or bag. Your decision will be the one you pull out at random.
This is ideal for quick decision-making. This also works if you have many tasks you don’t want to do—these you could pair with a reward hat.
Do a task, and then, when it’s done, pull out your random reward from the other hat. This will help make the process more tolerable.
Try not to use this one for big decisions, of course. If you’re deciding where to buy your first home, I don’t recommend throwing all possible locations into the hat. However, if you have to decide which suit to wear to the party tomorrow, the hat can be very helpful.
4. Focus on the Present
We often become overwhelmed with the big picture, trying to see how our decisions will affect the future.
The process of reaching a decision becomes mentally draining because you’re trying to see every step along with every outcome. It’s better to save that energy for the task at hand, and simply try and make the best decision possible.
Live in the moment, and decide based on what will make the next step the easiest instead. Doing this for every step is a great choice for the chronic non-decision maker.
This is one of the decision-making skills that may involve visualization. Visualizing the results of each possible decision can greatly improve your performance.
To learn how to visualize results, check out this article.
5. Embrace the Idea of Failure
The biggest fear for us slow decision-makers is that our decisions may lead to bad results.
We then compensate by overthinking the situation, causing us to question every aspect involved in the decision. Ultimately, we risk making no decision at all because we waste time and energy on useless questioning—this line of thinking must be rewired.
In General Norman Schwarzkopf’s autobiography, It Doesn’t Take a Hero, he shares 14 rules for leadership. Rule 13 says, “when placed in command, take charge.” Making a decision is the only way to move forward. Yes, even incorrect decisions.
A person who makes a thousand wrong decisions is better off than a person who makes no decisions at all. Why? Because a person who has made a thousand wrong decisions has ruled out a thousand things that do not work for them. They are much better prepared to progress towards success than the person on day four of watching PowerPoint presentations on Plan A vs. Plan B.
Fear of failure means that something or someone will make that decision for you, which you will probably regret for the rest of your life. Overcoming this fear is one of the best ways to improve decision-making skills.
Improve Decision-Making Skills With These Techniques
- Pareto Analysis: Selecting the most important changes to make
- Paired Comparison Analysis: Evaluating the relative importance of different options
- Grid Analysis: Selecting between good options
- Thinking Outside the Box: Looking at a decision from different and all points of view
- Decision Trees: Choosing between options by projecting likely outcomes
- PMI: Weighing the pros and cons of a decision
- Force Field Analysis: Analyzing the pressures for and against change
- Opportunity Cost: Seeing whether a change is worth making
Strategies to Make Decisions Less Stressful
1. Checklists to Free Your Mind
Creating checklists for routine and everyday tasks can free your mind and reduce stress. I use checklists often, it allows me to breathe easily, and I’m never stressing that I am forgetting something. Once your checklist is ready, you don’t need to spend time deciding to do A or B; you will know that you will do B after you have completed A.
2. Block Your Time
According to the National Library of Medicine, managing your time effectively improves productivity, job performance, and well-being. 
Productivity and effective decision-making go hand in hand. Therefore, set aside a specific block of time for making your decision. Pick a location where you will not be disturbed. Set a timer. Give yourself enough time, but be careful about using too much, as you will turn the session into an unproductive procrastination session.
3. Limit Your Choices
Quickly rule out choices not suitable. Pick 2-3 interesting choices and part of your life plan or vision. This allows you to eliminate unnecessary information overload and will help you analyze choices quicker.
4. Right-Size, the Right Decision
Putting the right amount of effort into your decision-making will help you make faster decisions with less stress. Deciding “what’s for dinner” and making the decision about “where to go to college” both deserve the appropriate amount of time and effort. Understand that smaller decisions don’t need to be made into large ones because you feel “stuck.”
5 Techniques to Enhance Your Decision Making Skills
The Bottom Line
After reading this article, you know what decision-making skills mean. It’s rarely the case that the best decision to make is to not make one at all.
Those who struggle to make decisions through problem-solving risk letting their lives run them rather than running their own lives. This puts independence under constant threat, so it’s up to us to make sure that we are in control of our lives and our decisions.
Keep these tips in mind the next time you feel like you want to back away from a decision because you don’t want your life to be decided for you.
Featured photo credit: Jason Strull via unsplash.com
|Cognition: Cognitive performance is enhanced if one knows when the task will end
|National Library of Medicine: Decision Fatigue: A Conceptual Analysis
|Taylor & Francis Online: Visualisation of future task performance improves naturalistic prospective memory for some younger adults living with HIV disease
|National Library of Medicine: Does Time Management Work? A meta analysis