How to harness the power of total decision making


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Every day we face a barrage of decisions, from the macro (including hiring, launching, and product development) to the micro (personal clothing, coffee department…even the way to go). With the increased rate of change and pace of working life, business leaders who aren’t smart about categorizing options run the risk of succumbing to their sheer size. Decision fatigue is very real, but for many, it is completely avoidable. Here’s how:

Deal with as many macro decisions as possible

Macro decisions are big picture elements: the direction of the company, key employees, and new product launches or offerings, to name a few. These extend beyond professional to personal areas, such as choosing a partner, buying a home, and having a child. Of course, they also end up being the people we spend the most time thinking about, including weighing the pros and cons and enlisting the help of friends and colleagues. What we may not realize, however, is that macro hubs have the power to point us in a direction that makes many small decisions for us, if we let them. The goal is to answer big questions like “What would this business be?” , “what shall we do?” and “What are our goals?”

Related: The number one question every business leader should ask

The psychological exhaustion of small, unmade decisions

‘Stuttering’ or faltering is an important cue for an ongoing (and unmet) challenge, which, in my experience, has to do with the interaction between macro and micro decision making. The last category includes items with smaller tickets: modest business expenses, change of assistant role or fonts to use on a website. This category also contains personal components (whether to work out in the morning or at night, when to take days off and what to eat for lunch).

Oftentimes, these small decisions can have a ripple effect: We may think we are paralyzed by the enormity of the macro moves, but it is usually the micro aggregate that stops us in our tracks. If not dealt with, it interrupts conscious efforts, manifesting as a subtle current of stress and pressure that can reach breaking point. This is one reason we find ourselves in a state of decision-making: a symptom of staring at the sandwich table in confusion, not being able to choose what to watch on TV or shoving a small daily item onto the next day’s to-do list.

Related: Careful management is sucking life out of you. Here’s how to stop.

The result of effective total decision making

The overall moves refer to the ship, which should have a cascading effect on their little cousins. In other words, if you answered definitively to large image queries, you also handled the majority of small image actions.

Let’s connect those big items.

“What would this job be?”

If you’ve answered this question at the macro level, then you have a primary oriented identity. New partnership proposal? Armed with the answer to the sentence above, the right choice will suddenly be obvious. New ideas for brands? They either reflect or not reflect the now proven knowledge of what your business is, so basically the decision is also made. Macro decisions work like the North Star: anything that doesn’t line up shouldn’t deserve much attention.

“what should we do?”

Preparation for implementing a brand identity or company vision usually takes the form of a roadmap, KPIs, quarterly goals, etc. All of these are macro decisions that immediately qualify or exclude smaller tasks and activities. The sparse opportunities along the way either fit or don’t flatly fit into this broader business – they are in or out, with little consideration required.

“What are our goals?”

Knowing your professional and personal goals usually means making plans for one year, five years, ten and twenty years. This puts metaphorical fenders on the track, and beyond there are all the little moves you wouldn’t need to take into account. Branding, staffing, budgeting, new initiatives, office location: it all either helps or doesn’t help you achieve these overall stated goals, so the weight to be given to it has already been decided.

Can it really be that easy?

These examples may seem like an oversimplification, but they are really illustrative. If part of what “what my job would be” for you was to set up a world-class copywriting agency, you wouldn’t consider hiring junior content writers, providing graphic design services, or anything else other than writing related. If these extraneous choices present themselves to me (and they often do), I don’t have to suffer thinking: Such smaller decisions have already been made by the big decisions of my business identity. To use another example, let’s say part of a personal goal is to be fit and healthy, then it’s a piece of cake (as it were) to open a restaurant menu and immediately rule out the majority of options. It also makes it easy to organize a schedule—knowing that the question isn’t “if I’m going to the gym,” but when. This radically reduces mental gymnastics.

Related: 5 decisions every entrepreneur must face

Classification exercise

Most of us do annual and quarterly planning. Here is my suggestion: get a piece of digital or physical paper and make a vertical line. Label the left column ‘Macro’ and the right column ‘Micro’. List all your left side decisions, both professional and personal (new car, vacation, hiring, budgets, business goals?), then Make Those decisions are made in batches, because they will inevitably affect each other. (It may also change due to circumstances beyond your control, but it will be a start.) For each macro decision, list the small decisions about it, and you will find that many, if not all, of them are made for you as a result from that first step. This reduces the “gray space” for unexpected everyday choices, because if there’s anything we know about productivity, it’s that the more predictable patterns become, the faster people are able to engage in tasks.

Differentiating between the big and the small considerations is also a vital exercise in honing your instincts. The more you settle on the cardinal directions of life and work, the more intuitive you will be in guiding your ship, every day.



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