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Are You Using Your Decision-Making Time Wisely?

We make numerous decisions each day, starting with “Should I click on snooze?”

The moment we wake up we are faced with a myriad of choices. Our brains are like computer chips, and just like the processors in our electronic devices, there is a limit to how much data we can process at any given time. Consequently, we must be strategic in how we use our mental bandwidth to avoid wasting precious minutes in unnecessarily-protracted decision-making.

During the three months I spent working in Washington, D.C., it took significantly less time for me to get ready for work in the morning compared to the time it takes at my permanent abode. It took less time because most of my morning routine choices were pre-decided. For example, I knew exactly which clothes and shoes I would wear every day because I had a limited selection of wardrobe during my temporary stay there. If I make those micro-decisions the night before, I won’t waste any time thinking about it when I wake up the next day to go to work.

Another choice that was pre-decided was whether or not to get some exercise in the morning. While in Washington, I knew I would get my exercise walking to and from work, 30 minutes round-trip, virtually every day. Unfortunately, I don’t have the opportunity to walk to my permanent worksite in Dallas, Texas. I tend to waste time in the morning debating in my mind whether or not to exercise. I recently discovered that a daily 30-minute walk is more healthful than a one-hour workout every other day. Based on that revelation, I decided to go for a walk every morning before work. That’s one less micro-decision I need to make every day.

At the other extreme of the decision-making spectrum are macro-decisions. I use this term relative to the decision’s impact. In other words, a macro-decision is one that has severe and/or long-term implications. A subset of macro-decisions are values-based decisions. Having clarity about the values that we will adhere to help us pre-decide the choices we will face in certain situations. For example, if I’ve been working late and on my way out of the deserted office, I stumble upon an iPad Pro’s unopened box in the hallway, that is not the most opportune time to decide whether or not I will take something that doesn’t belong to me. That should have been pre-decided long before I faced the temptation.

Many years ago I was walking through an inside corridor in a gargantuan office building when I found a hand-truck piled high with boxes, some with electronics manufacturers’ brand names. Apparently the courier had temporarily left it there while delivering a package deep into the maze of offices. I’d like to say that I walked by it without thinking about taking some of the items but that would be a lie. I stopped and looked down the hallway for a potential escape route in the event someone witnessed me grabbing some of the packages. Thankfully I decided that whatever was inside those boxes was not worth the risk of ruining my future. That was a watershed moment for me. Then and there, I made up my mind that I would never again consider taking someone else’s property. That’s one macro-decision I won’t have to revisit.

We are all required to make numerous decisions throughout each day, some with little impact and others of significant consequence. If we pre-decide the predictable smaller and bigger choices we will face, making those micro- and macro-decisions ahead of time will free up more time for us to carefully deliberate before making the rest of our decisions.

Michael Folkray is developing the next generation of world-changing leaders. After a decade in private industry, he chose to dedicate the rest of his career to public service, spending the first 7 years of his government career with the United States Department of Justice. Since 2003, Michael has served in various leadership positions within the United States Department of Homeland Security. He is the founder and leader of a leadership book club for his office’s management team. Michael earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a graduate of the Federal Executive Institute. You can read his posts here and follow him on the following platforms: LinkedInTwitterInstagram.

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