We can’t avoid decision-making, but we can look for ways to improve and streamline our decision-making processes.

Share story

We are faced with multiple decisions every day. Some are basic, like what to have for breakfast. Some are momentous, like whether to relocate for a new job.

Big or small, one thing is true: The more decisions we’re called upon to make, the greater our stress levels rise. It’s tiring, too. Decision-making is like a muscle that can get exhausted with overuse.

We can’t avoid decision-making, but we can look for ways to improve and streamline our decision-making processes. Some ideas:

Eliminate small decisions by turning them into routines. Many successful people have the same breakfast every day, or even wear the same type of clothes every day (think of Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck). Putting minor items “on automatic” frees up mental space for more important issues.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Stop dithering. It can actually be faster, and more efficient, to correct a snap decision that turned out to be wrong than to waste weeks or months trying to gather every possible piece of data in an effort to make the “perfect” decision.

Sleep on it. At the same time, when we act too quickly we often tend to overreact. Sleeping on a decision — thus allowing emotions (negative or positive) to run their course — can aid clarity of thought. Just don’t let this phase drag on too long!

Ask for advice. You don’t have to do everything alone. You can seek out wise counsel. An expert opinion from someone with greater knowledge and experience can save you much time and agony. But do limit yourself to true experts, and don’t feel you need to poll a whole roomful of them.

Save big decisions for the morning. Facing an important choice? If you can, wake up early and work on it when your mind is fresh and distractions are minimal. A similar strategy is to save relatively unimportant matters for the evening, when decision fatigue is greatest. For example, setting out what you need to take with you the next day is not only a minor decision (and OK to make when tired), it frees up your fresh morning brain for weightier matters.

Good decision-making skills are a hallmark of successful people everywhere, and well worth the time and energy needed to acquire them.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at wg@karenburnsworkinggirl.com.