Decisions made easy

Feb 26, 2016

C8063AC75FHow we approach the decision process is as important as the decision itself. We all make dozens of decisions each day. Some are relatively simple, such as which shirt to wear in the morning. Others are complex, such as deciding whether or not to go public with your company. Some decisions points are self-generated, while others are pushed upon you. For example, I forced you to make a decision about reading this article. Would it be relevant? Would I learn from it? Would it be worth my time or just another time moocher? I know a former CEO who was so overwhelmed by the dozens of decisions he had to make each day. Some were literally life-or-death decisions. “Frankie” made some very logical, rational, and tough decisions during his tenure, but his home life was another story. When he had to make simple decisions at home, he absolutely locked up. Frankie’s low point came after a particularly stressful week at work. When he and his wife, “Lola,” went out for dinner at a local restaurant, he froze at the sight of his menu. Beef, chicken, pork, seafood, vegetarian, salad, or pasta. His eyes glazed. Each menu category had sub-options, giving him dozens of combinations from which to choose. It was overwhelming. How many decisions are you faced with each day and how do you approach them? Here are several approaches you could take.
  • Cut the clutter. I’ve seen a lot of enterprising project managers build elaborate PowerPoint presentations for their clients describing in excruciating detail the logic behind their recommendations. It was not uncommon to have over 150 slides of graphs, pictures, quotations, and caveats. How does one respond when presented with a mountain of details before making a decision? I cut out the clutter. Eliminate the information that doesn’t directly contribute to a decision.
  • I’ve worked for a C-suite executive who set a limit on the number of slides he would view on a given project. If you couldn’t persuade him in three slides, then your logic was faulty. I was allowed as many back-up slides as needed to support my analysis and recommendation, but he did not want to see more than three slides. That approach made it easier for him to digest the information and ask the questions that were important to him. He trusted me to look at every angle of a project, but he wanted it presented in a format tailored to the way he processed information.
  • Break decisions into bite-sized chunks. Back to my CEO friend, Frankie. Years earlier, he had made a brilliant decision and married a wonderful woman who understood how he made decisions. Sensing Frankie’s dinner meltdown, Lola took over and broke the menu into bite-sized chunks for him. She offered him a simple yes/no choice. “Frankie, would you like a Caesar salad? No? I know you enjoy a good steak. Would you like a ribeye cooked medium-rare?” Her approach allowed Frankie to continue processing the more complex decisions, while she guided him through the simple ones.
  • Keep it simple. Is anyone in today’s connected environment is anyone really going to read your 60-page white paper on the pros and cons of granite versus marble? Oftentimes, a one- or two-page paper is all that’s needed to convince someone about the benefits of one over the other. A one-page paper is much harder to write than a 60-page paper, but they’re usually more powerful.
  • How long are your proposals to your potential clients? Cover the critical information, but keep your proposals brief, to the point, and without the extra buzzwords. That will help them make a decision without having to wade through extraneous blabber.
  • Sleep on it. Studies have shown the old adage “sleep on it” has merit. For simple decisions, such as chicken or beef, either answer is correct, so don’t waste time making a decision that won’t really matter tomorrow. For the complex problems, I make better decision when I take a break from the issue. I’ve found that running clears my head and allows me the space to think, while playing solitaire on my iPad, with its linear structure of columns and suits, helps me organize my thoughts. Find an activity that helps you think clearly.
  • Set a deadline. I recently led an exercise for an MBA class where I gave them an hour to develop a marketing plan for a given product. Nearly every student told me they wished they had more time, yet they all finished within the allotted time. How much more time would have been enough to decide on a better plan? If I had allotted three hours, it would have taken them three hours to make a decision.
  • Write it down. One of my mentors confided in me that he could not remember the details of many of the decisions he made while he was in charge of a $400 million organization. That’s a little frightening! Fortunately, he had a great executive assistant who kept track of those things for him.
  • Keep track of the major decisions you make along with a short explanation of your rationale for that decision. That will come in handy if your decision is later questioned or your firm is revisiting the same issue.
Decision making can be stressful if you allow it to take over your life. With a few simple techniques, you can minimize the stress involved in a range of decisions. Simplify the issue, spend some time away from it, set a deadline for your decision, make the decision, and move on! Indecision is a decision and it can be very painful for those who are depending on you.

Bill Murphey is Zweig Group’s director of education. Contact him at

This article is from issue 1139 of The Zweig Letter. Interested in more management advice every week from Mark Zweig, the Zweig Group team, and a talented list of other guest writers? Click here for to get a free trial of The Zweig Letter.

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