There are only so many hours in a day, and you want to make the most of them. Being more decisive will help you reclaim the time you spend going back and forth (and back again).
But for many people, it’s more natural to waffle. That’s because—especially at work—you want to be sure you’ve really thought through your approach and are making the very best choice.
Now, what if you could still make good decisions, and just do it faster? Sounds pretty ideal, right?
Luckily, this is a skill you can improve at. Here are four strategies to make it easier:
1. Practice in Your Comfort Zone
You’re already stretching yourself to make—and stick to—a decision, so don’t pressure yourself to work on this skill when you have a million other things going on. If you’re distracted by a totally unrelated urgent deadline, then it’s not the moment to challenge yourself to make a choice without second-guessing.
Instead, look for a time when you don’t feel pressured to multitask. Seize that window to think through some decisions, like what direction you want to take an upcoming project, or which of two approaches you think makes the most sense.
I know, this may sound a little far-fetched at first, but you set aside time to work on hard skills and you make space to think creatively—why not block off some time to focus in on making decisions?
Sometimes pushing outside of your comfort zone is important, and there are situations when you’ll have to make a choice regardless of whatever else is going on. But part of doing it well when push comes to shove is first giving yourself time to acquainted with how you think.
2. Make Small Decisions—Fast
Decision Coach Nell Wulfhart points out that people who find themselves going back and forth on big decisions, generally struggle with the little things, too. In other words, if you can’t decide whether or not to go for a promotion, you probably also keep changing your mind about speaking up in a meeting, and even whether or not to pour a cup of coffee before you sit down.
If you’re chronically indecisive, build that decision-making muscle by starting small. Give yourself 30 seconds to decide what you’ll have for dinner, what movie to watch, or whether you want to go out tonight. Follow through on that decision. Repeat. Then work up to bigger things…Making small decisions in a timely fashion will help train your brain to think through questions more quickly.
So, start with the inconsequential choices. Because if you hate the new sandwich you ordered, you don’t have to get it again—but you’ll still have made progress towards making all decisions faster.
3. Build Yourself Up
Let’s revisit the sandwich example. You challenged yourself to make a snap decision, you decided to try something new, and it ended up becoming your all-time least favorite food. In the end, whether you eat it anyhow or pick up something else on the way back to work really doesn’t matter.
What counts is what you say to yourself in the moments afterwards. One option is to berate yourself: I’m an idiot for ordering a salad with brussels sprouts when I’ve always hated them. That’s $9.00 down the drain. While that’s a completely natural reaction, it’s going to hold you up the next time, because somewhere you’ll be thinking, Don’t be an idiot.
Another option is to tell yourself: So, the salad sucks. But I’m pretty proud of myself for making a choice the moment and trying something new. That shift—from blaming yourself for a terrible outcome, to complimenting yourself for making a decision—will encourage you to make a choice again the next time.
Afraid that positive reinforcement will lead to a slew of bad choices? Keep in mind: You may’ve landed on that order whether you spent one minute or 10 minutes deciding, so it’s OK to pat yourself on the back for making a quick choice.
4. Give Yourself Feedback
Of course, you don’t want to leave it at praising yourself—especially if your choices aren’t helping you accomplish your goals or you end up going down the wrong path on something major.
The most productive thing to do next is to troubleshoot your process after the fact to see how you can do better next time. This is different than second-guessing the choice itself or dwelling on something until you make yourself feel bad. (But if you have trouble being decisive, I bet you spend time doing that, so you have time for this!)
Maybe after paying close attention, you realize that, whenever you’re on the spot you pick whatever option’s immediately in front of your face. Or, maybe whenever you’re not sure, you let others speak first and agree with whatever they say. Or, maybe you autopilot to whatever you’re most familiar with.
Dig into what your tendencies are—and why they made you fall short. That way, next time, you can catch your bad habit before it happens.
As with any other goal you work on, part of getting better means setting realistic expectations. It means there may be some setbacks, or things you think could have a bit better. And that’s OK. As ironic as it sounds—just deciding to work on being decisive is a solid first step.
Photo of person thinking courtesy of Thomas Barwick/Getty Images.
Sara McCord is a freelance writer and editor, who most frequently covers the career beat. For nearly three years, she was an editor at The Muse, and she's regularly contributed career advice to Mashable. Her advice has been published across the web (Forbes, Newsweek, Fast Company,TIME, Inc., Business Insider, CNBC and more). Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. Learn more and send her a note through her website, or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author