Business Skills: Can’t Decide? Here Are 3 Rules To Help You Make Tough Decisions

by | May 3, 2018 | 0 comments

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Decisions, decisions, decisions.


What is it about making decisions? Why is it that we’re so bad at making even the most mundane ones.


What would you like for breakfast? Cereal or toast?


Mmmm, not sure. Let me see…What did I have yesterday? Cereal. In that case, toast. Oh no, hang on..should I have bread? I think I’m eating too much bread. Maybe I should just stick with cereal. What do you think I should have?


I wish I hadn’t asked!

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We spend enormous time and energy deliberating over apparently trivial options in everyday situations like whether to have toast or cereal or which dress to wear for that dinner party.

If we spend that much time procrastinating over mundane options, imagine how much time and energy we waste deciding on important business and personal issues.  Should we take on (employ) more staff? Should we introduce a new product or optimise our existing range? Should we advertise more? Should I invest in that online English training programme? Should I initiate that difficult conversation?


These questions are followed by more questions. If I am going to have that difficult conversation, when should I do it? And how should I start? If I sign up for that course, will I get the results I want? What if I don’t have time to complete the programme? And on and on..


How can we handle decisions of all kinds more efficiently?

In his article for Harvard Business Review, Peter Bregman outlines 3 methods we can use.


#1: Use habits as a way to reduce routine decision fatigue


The idea is that if you develop a habit,  for example, always work on your English every Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings between 7- 8am, you avoid the decision entirely and can save decision-making energy on more important issues.


I totally get this.


Ever since I started scheduling certain tasks (writing, research) and activities (weekly runs) in my calendar, I no longer procrastinate over them. I just do them.  It’s such a relief NOT to have to decide.


This works for predictable and routine decisions. But what about the unpredictable ones?


#2: Use if/then thinking to routinize unpredictable choices


You could apply this rule in this way.

Say someone interrupts you all the time in meetings and it really irritates you but you’re not sure how to respond.

You tell yourself: “if she interrupts me two times in our next meeting, then I’ll say something.”

“If I finish early today, then I’ll spend an hour reading in English.”

“If we win that contract this week, then we’ll place that order for new machinery.”


But how about the more strategic decisions that are not routine and unpredictable?


Decisions such as:  how to respond to a competitive threat? Which products to invest more deeply in?  Where to reduce a budget? When to invest in a training programme? How much should I spend on my professional development?


According to Peter Bregman, these are the kinds of decisions “which can linger for weeks, months, or even years, stalling the progress of entire organizations. These decisions are impossible to make into habits and can’t be resolved with if/then rules. Most importantly, they are decisions for which there is no clear, right answer.”

And precisely because there’s no clear, right answer or outcome, we spend hours, days, weeks and months mulling over the issue.

Let’s say, you want to invest in a coaching programme to improve your English. You’ve identified a programme you really want to take, but you’re not sure if you’re going to have the time to fully commit to it. Should you do it now or should you wait when things are quieter and you have more time?

There’s no clear, right answer. So what do you do?

  • You collect more information by trawling through more sites and programmes
  • You weigh up excessively the pros and cons of taking the programme now or later
  • You ask friends and colleagues for alternative recommendations
  • You delay while you wait for a clear answer to emerge.


The fact you don’t have a clear answer may just help you make a faster decision.

How? This is where Peter Bregman introduces his third method.


#3: Use a timer

If you’ve gone through all the pros and cons, you’ve looked at the information and both options seem attractive, then admit it there’s no right answer and just decide.

It’s absolutely no point deliberating for hours, days and weeks on end seeking more clarity when it’s never going to happen. All you’ll have done is wasted precious time. The waiting becomes counter-productive and leads to more confusion.


Set yourself a deadline, make the decision and move forward.


Peter Bregman’s challenge to you

“Pick a decision you have been postponing, give yourself three minutes, and just make it. If you are overwhelmed with too many decisions, take a piece of paper and write a list of the decisions. Give yourself a set amount of time and then, one by one, make the best decision you can make in the moment. Making the decision — any decision — will reduce your anxiety and let you move forward.

The best antidote to feeling overwhelmed is forward momentum.”


Happy decision-making.

Ciao for now



PS: If you found this post helpful and feel that your friends and colleagues would benefit, please share it with them.


Source: Peter Bregman’s Article