Decision fatigue is a very real thing, the quality of your decisions deteriorate as you make more of them. It is a huge contributor to burn out and you become less and less invested in the details of the decisions as you make each one.
When a “decision” is certain you can let go of it. If you let it wallow in a pool of doubt and second-guessing it will hang around. The longer this goes on for, the more “decisions” you will find on your shoulders, weighing you down. Dragging you into the depths of this pool of doubt. Burning you out emotionally.
People like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have done somewhat strange things to avoid making certain decisions throughout their day to leave themselves “more in the tank” to make those “big rocks” decisions.
They would have to make incredibly difficult decisions every single day. Some mattered more than others, so they have to choose to focus their energy on only the ones that matter.
The decisions that have an exponential knock-on impact, not just small linear returns.
- Should you double down your investment in area X, even though you are running low on money?
- Should you hire-in person Y or promote person Z and take a risk on them?
- Should you end your slowly toxifying relationship or try to work on it?
- What cereal should I buy from the supermarket?
- Should I get the bus or the train to work today?
- Should I ask to hang out on Saturday or Sunday?
Up to your turtleneck in decisions
These big decisions take a lot of emotional energy to consider. So these leaders of industry often remove all other decisions like what to wear or what to eat by having a set routine that does not change.
This may seem strange to some people. How can wearing the same thing everyday cause you to make better Merger & Acquisition calls? The trick is: it doesn’t.
It isn’t a direct causation where if you had worn a blue turtleneck instead of black you would have made a worse decision. It’s about putting yourself into a position to have more mental energy to consider the nuances.
While that is one strategy, it is one that considers only one party. You.
Jeff Bezos brought another strategy to the table when it comes to decisions that require discussion, debate and multiple parties:
“Disagree and Commit”
Disagree and Commit: Even if you feel their plan is not the best, if you have been unable to convince the others of your idea, and you trust them, it is better to move forward than to stall trying to make this decision.
He runs Amazon like this top-down, it permeates into the culture and allows for greater momentum.
When you are deciding which fork in the road to walk down you can’t be walking…
When the background information is incomplete (as it often is), the debate participants fill in the blanks with their presuppositions and biases.
That is one of the biggest reasons why some leaders succeed over others, their ability to make good decisions based on incomplete information.
However if this is true, it is better to just pick one and run with it, changing lanes later if it proves to be ineffective.
You will be much closer to the finish line than if you stood around deliberating which lane to run in after the gun went off.
Disagree and Commit. The team around you would have been hired to be competent and effective in their roles. If you have hired “A-players” it’s time to let them shine.
“It doesn’t make sense to hiresmart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”Steve Jobs
Perhaps you set it up as a “deadlock breaker”. If you get stuck in a longwinded and spiralling conversation then allow one party to invoke “Disagree and Commit”. They should only do this if they are confident in their approach. They will take on “ownership” of the outcome so it is not without risk.
You demonstrate trust and allow your team to learn they can execute autonomously. Plus there’s a real probability they are right, and you are wrong.
Down the road you are less likely to become a bottleneck for the whole organisation.
Plus you spend more time moving and less time idling at every crossroads. This creates momentum for the team. As anyone that has gotten a team rolling from a standstill knows, that is no easy feat.
You could try applying this to anywhere where you need to debate different possible approaches to something. Not just at work or your company.
When you lock two gears into each other and block their movement, and they continue to try to turn, that will really grind your gears.
If the gears are you and someone you are trying to decide something with, it will mount tension over time. Eventually leading to the gears having an explosive blowing out.
Vent valves, release the gears and lower the pressure. Make a decision. Provide certainty. Move forward. Own the consequences.
When a “decision” is certain you can let go of it. If you let it wallow in a pool of doubt and second-guessing it will hang around. The longer this goes on for, the more “decisions” you will find on your shoulders, weighing you down. Dragging you into the depths of this pool of doubt.
If the thought of making decisions inspires fear, take a look at this TED talk by Tim Ferriss on Fear Setting. I’ve been stuck in this crossroads many times, paralysed: Should I take this job offer for security or pursue my startup idea and risk it all? Should I end a relationship that has some good times but also bad times? Do I really need to fire this person or I can make it work? There have been many, many times.
I just try to remember:
There’s no such thing as a right or wrong decision, the only wrong decision is not making one.