How Might I Think About Decisions?
How Might I Think About Decisions?

We make decisions all day every day. Some will echo for 10 minutes, others for 10 months whilst a few will echo throughout our lives. How do we distinguish and decide accordingly?

Here are a series of guidelines and heuristics I have found helpful in approaching decisions. Remember:

  • Guidelines are like signposts. Just because they are there doesn’t mean we have to follow them.
  • Heuristics are shortcuts. All shortcuts are helpful until they aren’t. Sometimes they add value, sometimes they don’t.

Decision Hierarchy: Does the Time Spent on a Decision Reflect its Importance?

  • Ever find yourself in a meeting spending a long time discussing a topic that truly is of little consequence and almost no time on a really crucial issue?
  • My experience is that:
    • A lot of energy is spent on decisions that ultimately have very little importance personally or to an organisation but have some psychological importance to the decision-makers; and
    • Comparatively little energy is given to those decisions that echo for years.

Pro tip: Rank issues by order of impact and assign meeting time and energy accordingly.

Decision Process: How Are We Deciding?

I have been in endless meetings where the larger the decision and the longer its impact, the more the group found it difficult to even think about it.

  • Firstly, how much thinking does this decision warrant?
  • Secondly, what is truly being decided? Is this about what is on the table or something else?
  • Thirdly, who is ultimately deciding?
    • If you have a say in the decision, what is your role?
    • If you are not the decision-maker, why are you involved in the decision?


  • What does a good decision look like?
  • What do we need to get there?

Pro tip: It is important to think about the pathway to a good decision. At the very least, be clear about who should be involved and what do they need to consider.

Logical Vs. Psychological

  • Expose a problem to logic and any problem that can be solved by logic will rapidly disappear.
  • Whatever problems can be solved by logic will be.
  • Whatever remains cannot be resolved purely by logic.

Pro tip: These are psychological problems and can only be solved psychologically. Your decision-making process needs to account for this.

Multiple Solutions: Why Stop at the First Answer?

  • There is a tendency to think about a decision as a problem with an answer.
  • There is thus a risk that we stop when we find the first logical solution.
    • And yet, how do you know that there is only one solution?
    • Or that the one you have found will lead to the best outcomes?

Pro tip: The more important the decision, the more possible answers (logical and psychological) worth exploring.

Perspectives: What Sort of Decision Do I Think This Is?

  • We inevitably frame decisions based on our experience and what we are seeing.

  • What we see depends on where and how we pay attention.
  • Our focus often dictates our perspective.
  • So, ask yourself: To what am I paying attention?

Pro tip: Ask yourself, what might others be seeing? This exercise, which invites us to consider the viewpoints of all stakeholders, may inspire: Go Around the Decision-Making Table.

Decision Deadline: When Does the Decision Have to Be Made?

We often want to get decisions out of the way and ticked off the to-do list. This may or may not make sense for a particular decision. So, ask yourself:

  • By when does the decision have to be made?
  • Is there a benefit to making this decision early?
  • Is there a benefit to waiting until closer to the deadline?

Pro tip: Ask yourself: Am I making the decision now because it suits me or because this is the right time to make this decision?

Tracking Decisions: How Do You Know You Are Making Good Decisions?

One way to improve our decision-making is to keep track of decisions.

  • What was the issue?
  • What did we decide?
  • What was the outcome?
  • Are there any lessons to be learnt?

Whilst decision-making should not necessarily be judged based on outcomes, it can still be helpful to assess whether there are lessons to be learnt.

Pro tip: Temporarily set aside emotions. Rather than thinking in terms of right or wrong or good and bad, simply focus on what might be learnt.

Decision-Making: Process or Event?

I dislike binary questions because they lack nuance and yet this felt like the appropriate title. A more neutral question might be “Is decision-making an event?

In truth, the key moments in decision-making are not necessarily in making the final decision but rather the questions we ask along the way because they ultimately change the route we take and the options we see.

Even so-called final decisions are merely signposts because they may never be acted upon or not come into being as envisaged. In that respect, the true final decision lies with the person taking the action.

Pro tip: View decision-making as a process from discussion to action. The real power lies in the latter, as action is the ultimate decision-maker. Up to then “decisions” are merely aspirational.

Questions in the Image:

  • How might I think about decisions?
  • What is really being decided?
  • Who is ultimately deciding?
  • What process is being used?

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. I’m increasingly fascinated by non-verbal questions. I encounter them throughout my day. Because they are non-verbal, they often ask for non-verbal responses. For example, the rain hitting my window just now is simply asking me to pay attention.

About Tom O’Leary

I coach, mentor and teach leaders who are shaping a brighter future.

Leadership can be lonely, the challenges daunting, and the workload overwhelming. I help leaders feel heard, gain clarity, take action, build confidence and thrive! Leaders matter. Their work matters. We need them at their best!

The first step? Becoming more curious. I see curiosity as the key, allowing us to unlock deep insights that directly enhance our ability to think, act and lead.

This means spending time contemplating what might be possible so that when we take action, we can bring all our energy and power to bear.

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