We receive information that demands split-second micro decisions hundreds of times per day.
Whether or not we are aware of it, we immediately start a protocol of complicated internal functions in our brains.
Typically, we are trying to figure out what to do with the information. This involves sorting through cognitive skills, emotions, biases, and mindsets.
Like right now…if you are still reading this.
Bottom line: I’ve found that helping my brain sort and take control of how I process information is the key to decision-making. I invite you to read on to learn more.
Tip #1 Sort Information
We are all wired differently to process information. Some need time to process internally before speaking (introverts), while others don’t know what they think until they say it out loud (extroverts). Embrace your own unique processing preference; be aware of what process works best for you and try to situate your workflow and schedules to fit your style.
However, this is only the beginning. Be aware of the other processing components that you need to take into account:
Facts, questions, and circumstances are information. But what about our emotions and feelings?
I’ve learned to try to name my emotions or visceral responses and consider them information, too. They serve as prompts for deeper questions of meaning and thus need to be inventoried.
For example, when I was a young adult, I often went with my “gut feeling.” I concentrated on only the “pros” and discounted the “cons” (which were never well thought out). “Should I buy this expensive sporting equipment that’s on sale by putting it on a credit card? Or should I wait a few more paychecks so I can pay in cash?” My “gut” told me that I deserve this now and I don’t want to wait. This is why credit cards are not a good idea for young adults.
As I matured and had more debt, I started the Ben Franklin’s Pros/Cons list for decisions. However, I found that by the time I started writing I had subconsciously already made my choice and was only trying to justify it to myself . The Pro/Con list is simply a starting point to get the information out.
If we are trying to make bigger decisions with long-term consequences like: moving, careers or family, we often need some better tools to help make the decision.
The truth is that we don’t always receive information on our own terms; life can be disruptive and unpredictable. While we can’t control all of the external factors, we can manage how we process and sort the information.
So how about those daily decisions – responding to emails, productivity, and self care?
A method that I’ve adapted for daily decisions comes from Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. The key to his method is sorting things into your own categories for processing and action, allowing you to respond how and when you’d like to. I highly recommend his book. With this, here is my process for managing daily emails:
- Ask “is this actionable in less than two minutes?”
- If “yes,” then do it immediately and move on
- If “no,” then put into one of my sorting systems
- Sort by:
- Current project
- Future project
The goal is to get my head uncluttered by sorting and focus on the tasks at hand to be more productive.
Tip #2: The 85% Test
If I have to make a big decision with significant consequences and implications, I create criteria that must be met before I decide. I’ve adapted what I call the “85% test” from Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
First, clearly write down the opportunity that is under consideration.
List three minimal criteria that must be met in order to even consider the opportunity. If these are not met immediately, say no. If these are met immediately, then proceed to the next step.
List three extreme or ideal criteria for the opportunity to be approved. If the opportunity does not meet 2 of the 3 criteria, then say no. Here is an example:
Opportunity: Should I take a part-time job that has been offered to me?
Minimum criteria: 1. Pay my rate, 2. Flexible schedule, 3. Furthers my life goal
Extreme criteria: 1. Education reimbursement, 2. Path to full-time, 3. Path to knowledge expertise
If the job opportunity did not meet the minimum criteria, it is an easy “no.” However, if I have commitments to 2 of my 3 extreme criteria, I would say “yes.” Therefore, if 5 of the 6 criteria (85%) are met, you can feel more confident to say “yes.”
How does saying “no” make you feel?
Tip #3: North Star
Much of life is sailing without a compass, or a journey where you’re not 100% sure of the destination. The ancient sailors navigated by the stars and were confident that those fixed points of lights would help them find their way, especially if they were lost.
If you need to create your own 85% rule criteria – or even if you make a poor decision – your own personal North Star can help provide clarity.
My North Star is my sense of calling and purpose in life: to be a servant leader to my family, my customers, and my community. That helps me orient myself when using the 85% rule criteria.
What is your North Star that gives you direction?