Have you ever been faced with what you thought would be an easy decision and then 20 minutes later you are still deliberating over a myriad of choices?

I certainly know I have. I am deliberate by nature and am guilty of spending 15 hours preparing for a Disney World vacation. My last car purchase involved using multiple spreadsheets to compare features and specs during a car buying search that spanned weeks and countless hours of analysis. I have even found myself staring at 40 different kinds of soap trying to decide which one to select in the grocery store.

In this post I want to share five ways you can reduce overwhelm and not only make faster decisions, but be more satisfied with the decisions you do make.

First let’s start with why this is important.

Barry Schwartz wrote a book called The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. The book’s theme is an interesting one.

 While we assume that having more choices and options will lead to greater satisfaction, too many options or too many choices can actually lead to LESS satisfaction with your selection!

Dan Gilbert has a great TED talk on The Surprising Science of Happiness that discusses the same topic.

  • The more options you consider the more regret or buyer’s remorse you will experience
  • The more options you encounter the less fulfilling your ultimate outcome will be

Ask yourself this question. When making a decision, would you rather have an acceptable outcome and be more satisfied, or have the optimal or best outcome, but be less satisfied?

You might be thinking, “but wait, if I have the best outcome, wouldn’t I be the most satisfied?” Not exactly.

For example, let’s take my car buying example. Would you rather spend months deliberating over 10 different car choices, the pros, cons, options and specs, select the best one, but second guess yourself during the next five years you owned the car? “Did I make the right decision, would I have liked that model better?” Or would you rather end up with a car that might be almost as good, but never second guess your selection?

Which result is better? It reminds me of a quote.

You can be RIGHT or you can be HAPPY”

So which is it for you? Is it more important for you to be right, to make the absolute best decision, or do put a higher value on satisfaction with your choice or happiness in general?

For me, I choose happiness and satisfaction, but there is another consideration as well, TIME.

Time is the most precious commodity there is. Once it passes, it is gone forever.

If I spend 60 hours analyzing my car choices, that is 60 hours that can’t be used for anything else. I could have used some of that time to play with my kids, spend time with my wife, socialize with friends or write a blog post!

So where do you go from here?

Try setting rules for yourself that will create a structure and framework to help you make better and faster decisions. This will not only free up more time, but give you greater satisfaction and happiness in the process!

Here are some ideas to get you started

1) Don’t go round and round with decisions until you can ACT on it. Don’t waste time ruminating and going round and round in your head with a potential scenario until you can take action on it. Consciously decide to set a time and place to consider any future decisions that you are unable to act on in the present. Setting a time and place for future deliberation can help release your brain from the open loop that will drain your energy and motivation.

 2) Don’t postpone decisions just to avoid uncomfortable situations. I can think of an example just last week that comes to mind. Our neighbors invited us over for dinner. My wife wasn’t up to it and knew she would decline, but delayed responding for three days. Over those three days, she brought it up to me at least 6 times and there is no telling how many times it popped into her head knowing that this situation was hanging out there. With that decision looming over her, it caused unnecessary stress for three days. A simple text immediately in the moment would have not only freed up time, but unnecessary worry and stress. She didn’t want to hurt their feelings by saying no. But she ended up saying no anyway in the end. A simple, “I think we have a commitment / conflict already, but let’s get together soon” is a soft approach that would have allowed both parties to move on immediately.

 3) Make non-fatal or reversible decisions as quickly as possible. Not all decisions are created equally. The less risk, the quicker you should strive to make a decision and move on. Next! Move on to more important things.

 4) Limit your options. Another solution is to set a personal rule to limit your options for any decision. As quickly as possible, narrow your choices down to just three options. Immediately cutting it down to three choices will reduce overwhelm and speed up your decision time immensely. It will also help reduce buyer’s remorse and regret.

5) Set a time limit on decisions. Give yourself a deadline and stick to it. Whether it be 60 seconds for minor decisions (think soap at a grocery store), or 1 week for a major decision, giving yourself a deadline will help provide focus and keep you from over analyzing and getting lost in endless back and forth deliberation.

If you can set parameters for your decision making, these can work as guidelines to not only help you make decisions more quickly, but will lead to greater satisfaction with the decisions you do make!

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Your partner in success,

Josh Paulsen

This post was inspired by a Podcast I listened to by Tim Ferriss last week. Thanks Tim!