How Much Time Do You Need To Decide?

“It’s not easy for me because I am thoughtful!”

This was David Letterman’s famous and applauded response to Bill O’Reilly badgering him about his measured reaction to an “easy” question. Letterman hit on a critical and growing flaw in our communication today – the demand for immediate answers.

This demand only leads to rushed decision making, and we spend more time dealing with the fallout than if we had only taken a little more time up front to think it through. In fact, research has shown that we spend more than 60% of our time cleaning up after poor decisions.

I have a close friend who talks and texts at lightning speed. His thoughts are fast and furious. In a text conversation we can end up on different pages, as I can’t respond as quickly under the pressure. Only later do I realize what I’d meant to write.  It happens a lot in conversation, as well. It is becoming a regular habit for me to send a follow-up text or call 20 minutes later to say what was really on my mind.

In business we face the same pressure to have answers, perspectives and opinions right now! We are wary of asking for a little time to think, for fear our knowledge, confidence and ability to build the business will be questioned.

Pressure and expectations on entrepreneurs are excessive. Thoughtfulness is not valued as it should be by investors and other influencers. We are told to develop our instincts, or “go with our gut.” I see a lot of indigestion. Sharp decision making comes from developing insightful judgment, perspective and scenario thinking. That doesn’t happen at “twitter” speed.

Some decisions really are quick and easy. But with starting up and scaling your company, more thought is usually required. Like swatting a butterfly could start a hurricane somewhere in the Caribbean, one fast but flawed decision can set off a series of events that result in a storm of unexpected outcomes, even to the point of unravelling the business. Making decisions is a key element of our jobs as entrepreneurs and I think we need help in improving our approach.

I used to be proud of my ability to make snap decisions. With depression, I was initially dismayed by how much more time I needed. I felt I was losing my grip. My quick mind has always been one of my strengths, and it seemed to be slowing down. Making decisions during – and after – deep bouts of depression took me time and I needed to look at things from a number of angles before being able to move ahead.

As a result, I have found that my decisions have actually been more thoughtful, better rounded, and result in more positive outcomes. In slowing down, I seem to have improved my thinking. How crazy is that?

In the past few years I have been researching not only decision making but the relationship between our mental health and the quality of our choices. For me, I think there is tremendous value in slowing down to think and process the big decisions.

I have found five methods that have helped me immensely, and I believe you can use them too, no matter your situation.

  • Scenario thinking is incredibly helpful, as I can move back and forth on potential options (sound familiar?). I like to set the criteria for success first so I am not influenced by any one option. Identify the four or so outcomes that will make it feel like the right direction (rather than right answer) for you. From there, consider the viable options and develop them into scenarios. Map out the route each potential option will take – good, bad, and, unlikely, but possible. What will it mean to different people around you? Assess or rate the options against your criteria and see which one fits best.
  • Logic and emotions! Who would believe that would ever come from me? I take time now to look not only at the logic or rationale behind a decision route but also the possible emotional outcomes and feelings that could result. How will that fit for me?
  • Ring of perspective is something I now love to do. I seek out 3 or 4 perspectives from people I trust, who have my best interest at heart (best interest over expertise works for me), and then make my decision from there. I don’t always take their advice, but I listen and then decide.
  • Take a hike! Really, there is nothing better for me than a weekly hike along the cliffs over the ocean to think things through. Some of my best decisions have been made there. You’ll find your own place, but walking or hiking alone and pondering a decision, while being mindful of where you are, can help you access deep insights from within. I find I am most honest with myself on a hike by the ocean. I call it “thiking.”
  • Sleep on it! There is nothing better than coming to a decision and then just taking a day or so to sleep on it and see if you feel as strongly. You’ll be thankful for the extra time.

Making decisions can affect your confidence and if you start questioning your ability to get to the right answer it can create anxiety, and become a vicious cycle. With stress comes pressure and that only results in an unhealthy environment and more poor decision making.

My goal is to promote healthier entrepreneurs so we can create healthier businesses and lives. To get there I think we have to follow Letterman’s lead and not be afraid to push back. Just say, “I’m a thoughtful person and for this one I want to take a little more time.” You’ll be glad you made the right decision.