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A quick Google search will show more than 485 million results about productivity, and there’s certainly no shortage of tips, tricks, and tools on the internet. From working out to cutting meetings from your schedule, many of these strategies are phenomenal ways to work smarter, not harder, but there’s one way to permanently supercharge your productivity in just a few minutes, and it’s something you’ve probably never thought about: make faster decisions.
Decision-making is a critical part of our daily lives both as individuals and entrepreneurs, and we’re making decisions almost every single second of every day. You made a (good) decision to click on this article, and you made a (good) decision to keep reading. You make decisions about what you wear, what you eat, what work you do first, and what happens in your business — an estimated 35,000 decisions every single day—and learning to quickly make better decisions is a valuable skill to master.
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with percolating on a decision — and some studies suggest that certain time constraints can negatively impact the quality of your decision-making — the inverse is also true. Analysis paralysis is very real, and it can impact your productivity, your workflow, and your bottom line.
So how can you make faster decisions and be certain you’re making the right ones?
1. Get enough sleep
Sleep is incredibly vital to our health and wellbeing, but it’s also a key component of our decision-making process. Studies show that sleep deprivation has a profound negative impact on our decision-making — and the quality of our decisions— and even suggest that increasing the amount of time you take to make a decision while sleep-deprived doesn’t necessarily improve the quality of your decision.
Translation? Even if you slow down your decision-making process when you’re tired, there’s still a chance you’re making less-than-ideal decisions.
2. Give yourself a time limit
One of my favorite decision-making tips is inspired by Mel Robbins’ TED Talk on the Five Second Rule. Robbins argues that if you don’t take action on an impulse — something you want to do or achieve — within five seconds, you won’t do it.
“Your problem isn’t ideas,” Robbins explains. “Your problem is you don’t act on them.”
And she’s right. If we want to do something — write a book, launch a new product, or travel the world — we need to do something quickly to act on that impulse and make it concrete. That doesn’t mean you need to buy a plane ticket right now, but it does mean you can buy that book about ethical travel and get the ball rolling.
The same thing applies to decision-making in general. If we’re making 35,000 decisions a day, I’d wager that most of those are made in five seconds or less…and that’s only the ones we don’t realize we’re making. What about the ones we do?
Give yourself an arbitrary time limit, and hold yourself to it. If you’re someone who avoids opening emails, set a thirty-minute window where you check your email every single day, and open — and respond — to each one without hesitating. Picking out your clothes or deciding on breakfast? You’ve got fifteen seconds. Choosing a restaurant for dinner? Don’t hesitate — just choose.
3. Flip a coin
If you’re still struggling with decision-making fatigue, even over the small, seemingly insignificant decisions in your day-to-day life, you’re definitely not alone. Making faster decisions is a skill I’m working to master, but there are still days when I struggle. My solution was created by my husband: flip a coin.
Whatever it lands on, he told me, listen to your gut instincts. If your gut lurches in the opposite direction, do the other thing. No hesitation, no questions asked. If it doesn’t, then voila! You’ve got your answer.
It’s a simple trick, but it’s an easy way to connect with your instincts and learn to trust your gut. For many of us, self-doubt and a lack of confidence make us hesitate because we stress about making the right decision, but we’re forgetting one key element: our own success record.
We’ve already got good instincts, otherwise, we wouldn’t have made it this far. Even with our potentially “bad” decisions, each one is a lesson that we can learn from and move past, meaning we’re certainly better than we were back then. And if another so-called bad decision happens? View it as a lesson to be learned, not a failure to hold over your own head, and keep moving forward.
4. Be strategic about asking for help making decisions
While some decisions require a trusted partner, or a team, to mull it over, we can fall into the habit of asking for help when we don’t actually need it. For major business decisions? Asking for advice is phenomenal. For things that you have the ability to decide on your own? Be wary about bringing more cooks into the kitchen.
Adding too many people to a decision-making process is a surefire way to slow things down, especially if you’re already hesitating. One person says something contrary to what you were leaning toward, and suddenly you want to ask someone else. Eventually? Many of us end up spending hours asking fifteen people what we should do — only to do the thing we originally planned on anyway.
Is it okay to ask for help? Yes. Is it also okay to be confident and trust yourself? You bet.
5. Practice, practice, practice
As with all things, practice is always the solution to getting better at something. The more you make quick decisions, the better you’ll become—and the less you’ll second guess yourself over time.
A simple way to make this easier? Put your decisions into context in relation to your day, month, or year. More often than not, we agonize over decisions that don’t have much significance in the grand scheme of our lives. We spend thirty minutes deciding what to watch on Netflix when, in reality, that decision doesn’t actually matter. There are no real consequences over choosing the wrong thing except lost time, but what about the thirty minutes you lost trying to pick something?
Obviously, this is a sliding scale, and it changes based on the importance of the decisions you make on a regular basis. However, it’s okay to nudge yourself toward making faster-decisions even when something might feel like a risk. If you’re sending an email to a potential client, for example, you might be wavering over the send button — but you’ve already spent the time deciding what to say, writing, and editing. What will happen if they say no? Is it world-shattering? If not, give yourself sixty seconds (or less) and hit it.
Remember, decision-making skills are a muscle, and you’ll get better — and stronger — the more you use them. And if you avoid decision making? Don’t be surprised if the skill begins to atrophy. Be patient with yourself, however, and don’t expect to be a quick decision-making machine overnight. Start small, keep working on it, and go from there.