When was the last time you couldn’t make up your mind? Was it when trying to figure out what to get for dinner or what color to paint the living room? Maybe it was whether to take a new job or choosing between two marketing concepts at work? In the course of a day, we encounter thousands of decisions at home and work. And our ability to make a decision and move forward is often the most important factor driving our productivity and effectiveness.
Indecision comes about for a variety of reasons, but most people are simply anxious about making the wrong choice and prefer the comfort of the status quo. It’s always easy to put off a difficult decision for another day. So, we hold meeting after meeting without coming to an actionable conclusion. We spend countless hours researching on Google. We decide to wait until we have more information, although in most cases, more information is unlikely to help.
Whatever its root cause, indecisiveness kills your productivity. Every decision you pass on today just becomes another task on tomorrow’s to-do list. And even worse, all the mulling and debating clouds your thinking, creating a lingering stress until a decision is finally made.
If any of this sounds familiar, take comfort that there are things you can do to improve the way you make decisions. Some leaders are naturally confident decision-makers, but not all. With a little practice and a few tips, you can get beyond decision paralysis:
Ask yourself one essential question
Whenever you find yourself about to put off a decision, ask yourself, “What is going to be different tomorrow that’s going to help me make this decision?” Sometimes there are valid reasons for delaying a decision—maybe you’re waiting for one crucial bit of information or you’re just too exhausted from a long day to think clearly. But if you don’t have a valid reason for putting the decision off, stop giving yourself the wiggle room and decide now.
Think in terms of opportunities, not problems
A lot of times we become indecisive because we get bogged down in all the potential drawbacks and problems that might result from taking action. When you find yourself dwelling in the negative, stop and reframe your mindset. Look at the upside and opportunities that will stem from each decision. The actual risks are usually much smaller than the nightmare you create in your head.
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Set a time limit
There’s a theory called Parkinson’s Law that has a big impact on productivity and decision making. It basically says that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” If you have a hard deadline of one hour to finish a task, then you’ll get it done in an hour. But it you have three hours, that same task will take you three hours—and the final product won’t necessarily be any better.
The same concept applies to decisions. When faced with a hard-set deadline, it’s much easier to make a quick decision. But if there’s no time limit, you’re free to mull over every little detail ad infinitum. That’s why it can be helpful to set a hard time limit for your decision. For example, give yourself two minutes for an easy decision and three days for something more complex. Then be sure to stick to that deadline.
Talk it over
When you’re running in circles, it’s often best to get out of your head and discuss your situation with a trusted friend or colleague. I usually find that just the process of saying each option aloud brings enough clarity to help me make up my mind.
If you choose to talk things over with someone, keep in mind that you’re looking for a new perspective, not to let someone choose for you. Be careful these conversations don’t feed into analysis paralysis: limit yourself to one conversation with one person. Otherwise, you can end up seeking input for months on end.
Trust your gut
It may be clichéd advice, but it’s true. The majority of the time your gut will be right. Start listening to what your inner voice is saying. Often times, the very first thing that comes to mind is a good choice. And often, it’s where you’ll end up anyways … just after way too much worry, debate, and analysis.
So my best advice is to listen to your gut, make a decision, and don’t look back. Any bad decision can be fixed, but you need to make a decision (any decision) in order to move forward.
About Nellie Akalp
Nellie Akalp is a serial entrepreneur and small business expert. She currently serves as the CEO of CorpNet.com, an online legal document filing service, where she helps entrepreneurs start a business,incorporate, form an LLC, and offers free business compliance tools. Connect with Nellie on Google+.