Merge's Blog

Struggling with making a decision? Set a short time limit

timerI’ve previously blogged about the pitfalls that come from amassing too much information in advance of making a decision (Does the wisdom of Segal’s Law help or hinder decision making?).  Today, I thought I’d offer an idea on a related subject –what to do when you face an issue to which there is no clear, obvious, or right solution, but yet you’re responsible for making a decision.  One very powerful answer, set a short time limit.  Now I know that this won’t sit well with many of you, but hear me out.

If you’ve reached the point where you’ve explored all reasonable options and there is still no clear answer, then set a timer for 15 minutes (or 5 or 10 or 20), and at the end, just decide.  Decide.  Yeah sure, there may be an infinitesimal chance that if you spend more time on this, a distinct solution will emerge, but the significant cost you incur is the time you have wasted waiting for that clarity.  Just make a decision and move forward.  It’s easy to be seduced into discussing a certain issue at length, particularly if it’s complex, or important, or risky.  But at some point, you have to make the best decision you can, given the information you have available.  So do it sooner rather than later.  Making a decision (any decision) lets you move forward, and moving forward is enormously more anxiety-reducing than standing still.

By the way, I’ve seen senior executives employ this technique for making a decision very successfully, particularly when they’re working with a team to brainstorm and problem-solve.  But I’d love to hear about your experiences.  Have you tried this, and does it work?  If you haven’t, what mental (or other) roadblock is getting in the way?  Please share.

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