With so many decisions to make, it’s inevitable that we’re going to make bad ones from time to time. While it’s nearly impossible to eliminate poor choices altogether, bringing awareness to some of the most common reasons why you make them can help you to understand where you went wrong in the past and avoid these pitfalls in the future.
Here are 3 common causes of bad decisions (and what you can do to prevent them):
Decision fatigue is the deterioration of our ability to make good decisions after a long session of decision making. What this means is that, with each decision you make throughout the day, your ability to weigh all of the options and make an informed, thoughtful choice steadily decreases.
Begin by looking for opportunities to eliminate inconsequential decisions and batch recurring tasks from your day-to-day life. For example, prepare your meals in advance or designate 1-3 times when you will check and respond to email throughout the day and stick to it. Next, identify the most important decisions you need to make and prioritize your time so that you make them when your energy levels are highest.
Research tells us that our performance suffers by up to 40 percent when we focus on two tasks at the same time. While you may think that you’re multitasking, what you’re actually doing is task-switching. Focus is a finite resource, and each time you switch back-and-forth between tasks it takes a mental toll – slowing you down, depleting your willpower, and causing more errors.
Carve out blocks of time to focus on the most important tasks you need to accomplish and give them your undivided attention (that’s right – no mindlessly checking your email every 5 minutes). Eliminate as many distractions as possible by choosing a productive work environment and turning off all notifications/alerts.
If you find it difficult to stay focused for long periods of time, try using the Pomodoro technique, where you work in short, focused sprints of 25 minutes, followed by a 5 minute break.
In this digital age, there’s an infinite amount of information at our fingertips. While this is extremely powerful and convenient, it can also result in overwhelm and lead you down a never-ending rabbit hole of research when trying to make an informed decision.
More information isn’t always better. When you need to make a thoughtful decision, first weigh the importance of the decision and ask yourself how much of a long-term impact it will have. Bearing this in mind, set a deadline for how much time you will give yourself to do your research and stick to it. It can also be helpful to seek out the advice or recommendations of trusted individuals who already have extensive knowledge related to the decision that you need to make.
Another key component of good decision-making is developing strategic thinking. In our signature women’s leadership program, HNS Accelerate, we guide participants to consider broader trends, widen the net of options they consider, and then reality test their assumptions with others. As a result, their strategic contributions increase, which sets them apart from others. You can learn more about how HNS can help advance women in your organization here.