Making decisions is hard. Your brain goes to great lengths to figure out the “right” thing, even, and perhaps especially, when such a clear-cut “right” thing doesn’t exist. Playing out a million scenarios in your head and trying to convince yourself that you have control when you don’t is exhausting. That’s why it’s so helpful to have a handful of heuristics: principles that you can apply to nearly any situation for direction.
Think of heuristics as your process for making decisions. If you trust and follow your process over the long-haul, the outcome is likely to be favorable.
The topic of decision heuristics has come up a lot recently with my coaching clients. All of these folks are high-performers. Many of them lead large firms and organizations. Rather than help my clients make individual decisions (there are simply too many coming at them too fast; plus, all my clients know more about their jobs and organizations than I do), I work with them to develop heuristics that can be readily applied to just about everything.
I figured I’d share a few of these heuristics, in no particular order:
What are the three things that really matter to me right now? Does this action work in service of those things?
Write down your three things and post them on your desk. Take an inventory of how you spend your time. You’ll be surprised how much you can eliminate. When new activities arise, test them against these three things.
If I say “yes” to this new commitment, to what am I saying “no”?
So many clients come to me with time management and schedule issues. The first step is often figuring out what really matters to them (see above) and wiping out activities that don’t align with their priorities. Once someone feels like they have the time to focus on what really matters, every new commitment needs to be time and energy neutral.
Where on the spectrum of letting it happen and making it happen does this fall?
The commision bias is a widely researched phenomenon that shows we have a tendency toward action over inaction. In other words, we like to feel like we are doing something. But there are so many times when the best thing we can do is actually nothing!
Does this action align with my core values?
I write my core values on a notecard and tape them above my desk. I reference them often. For example, I had all sorts of mixed emotions (and received all sorts of mixed advice) when I was deciding whether or not to write about my experience with OCD. Ultimately, staring at a notecard every day that had “authenticity” and “community” written on it led me to publish the essay. I’ll never know if this was the “right” choice or not, but at least I know it was in alignment with my core values.
Do I need to be hunkering down and gaining stability right now or do I need to be pushing forward and growing?
In his book What Matters Most, psychologist James Hollis writes, “Ask yourself of every dilemma, every choice, every relationship, every commitment, or every failure to commit: Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?” This is good, but sometimes you actually don’t want to be “enlarging” yourself. Some people are so busy figuring out ways to enlarge themselves that they quite literally blow-up. We all have different seasons in our lives. Being aware of of them, knowing the difference between winter and spring, and then making decisions accordingly is vital for health, wellbeing, and long-term performance.
Hopefully these heuristics can help you. At the very least, maybe they’ll prompt some brainstorming so you can develop heuristics of your own. If you’ve got ones you’d like to share, let me know on Twitter.