So Decide, Already


By Odette Pollar,

A headhunter calls and sets up an interview for you which goes well. You are offered the job. Do you take it? Two people in your department are up for a promotion and you like both candidates. How do you make the selection?

How do you feel about decision-making? Are you fairly comfortable or does the thought of having to choose stop you dead in your tracks? Making decisions and setting boundaries is the cornerstone of using time well and setting priorities. If you have poor decision-making skills, it not only wastes time but also increases worry and stress. The most difficult aspect of some situations is not the individual elements that make up the experience. It is the agony associated with making a choice; risking a mistake, fear of a bad outcome or a missed opportunity. It is possible to make a good, well-reasoned decision and still have a bad outcome for reasons beyond your control. Remember the distinction between a poor decision and a poor outcome. An outcome is the result, consequence, or aftermath of a decision. A decision is the result of a process. Here are four common styles and ways to improve your own decision-making skills.

Jump Right In

Do you make decisions too quickly before you get key information? Are you so fast that you do not really make reasoned judgments? Do you make snap choices and then have to live with the unforeseen consequences? For you, getting the decision made and behind you is paramount. Often hailed as decisive, those who must live with the results would more likely say rash.

Tip: Don't make a hasty choice, particularly one that goes against your gut instincts, just to quiet others who are clamoring for a decision.

Tip: Try studied disregard. Often called “The Rule of Three,” this strategy, used by a senior manager at AT&T, is to ignore problems that will solve themselves or that might never need to be solved. Wait three days on any significant issue. In that period, the problem has either resolved itself or intensified and therefore proved itself worthy of attention.

Worry Wart

Do you agonize over each option and play the "what if" game? Every potential scenario gets a full dose of worry and anxiety. As a result, do decisions take a very long time due to constant reevaluation every few days, weeks, or months? As more time passes and other options present themselves, do you conduct another re-analysis, further delaying a final choice?

Tip: Do not agonize over minor decisions. They are still minor with or without the agony. Postponing decisions about small problems generally means that they simply turn into larger ones later.

Tip: Make decisions in a timely fashion. In many instances, ignoring a problem creates a whole host of other problems. After you have gathered the data, and perhaps slept on it overnight, decide and move forward. Rarely does waiting significantly improve the quality of the decision. Recognize the greater unpleasantness, work, loss of money, time, and stress, not to mention loss of sleep that results from delay.

Research Unto Death

Do you research or investigate an extraordinary amount? Getting caught up in gathering data can take up so much time that the opportunity itself can vanish before the research is complete. Here is a case where information paralyzes rather than frees. Not all information is pertinent to making an informed decision, yet over-researchers do not make this distinction.

Tip: Learn when to stop gathering facts. Gather enough information to make a sound decision but not all of the possible data. Some decisions really are affected by time constraints and the extra two weeks or months spent searching for the last morsel of data can mean that you have missed the window of opportunity.

Tip: In cases where making a selection seems impossible, often an outside, more objective viewpoint can shed light on the situation. This may be a mentor, business associate, or other person whose judgment you respect.


Do you let someone or something else make the decision for you—whoever yells the loudest or whatever has the earliest deadline? Some Avoiders even remain in unsatisfying jobs hoping things will get better while not taking steps to create the desired change.

Tip: Do not seek to find a path that has no risk. It is fruitless. There is no such thing as a completely risk-free decision. A good decision simply minimizes the risk and increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.

Tip: Decide to decide. Once you do this, life becomes much more simple. J. W. Marriott, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Marriott International, said, "Early in life I chose to put my family first, then my church, then my business. There is satisfaction to be had in standing firm against the temptations that come with contemporary life." Recognize and accept that there's only so much you can do or handle intelligently.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: Visit us at: call: 1-800-599-8463.


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