Marketing Strategy, Product Thoughts, Productivity

Fight Decision Fatigue by Limiting Choices

Lots of choices.
Lots of choices.

You’ve seen it, probably several times today. It’s the opportunity to take in more information and wait before deciding. It could be simple, like “what should I have for lunch?” Or it could be more complicated, like “Where should I live, given all the factors that I know.” Research suggests that decision fatigue is real, and that if you limit the choices for a decision, you’ll be happier. Many retailers disagree, suggesting that more choice is always better. I believe that consciously limiting your choices will help you to make decisions faster and ultimately, will help you to make better decisions.

Can I prove that limiting choices help you make better decisions? Not immediately, but consider the following. If you take the hypothesis that many decisions are equal in value (no, I’m not suggesting all decisions are equal), making these decisions faster gives you information about the result faster. And if you use an evaluation model to allow you to assess, decide, and react (what should I be doing, what are the choices, and what was the result), you’ll know pretty quickly where or not your decision was good. If the decision is higher in value (risk of making a bad decision is higher), then try to break down the big decision into a series of small decisions that will help you avoid not deciding.

Decisions will give you results. Because evaluating whether a decision is “good” is subjective, it helps to make sure that you’re not just picking blindly, or by having a model uninformed by events. Nate Silver’s new book examines both political pundits (they are not accurate very much of the time, it turns out) and groups that offer precise but inaccurate results (ratings agencies managing collateralized securities). Silver points out that the best way to make correct and precise decisions is to test your assumptions, to continue making decisions over time, and to get more data points. Also, if your decisions about big events are very different from the crowd, you might be wrong. Or you might be right only once in a while.

In my experience, lining up the available decisions and knocking them down (adopting the practices popularized by David Allen in his GTD or Getting Things Done method) helps me to make these decisions faster. By spending less time making decisions on small choices, I have more mental energy available to approach bigger questions. What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Fight Decision Fatigue by Limiting Choices

  1. I definitely agree with you here Greg – giving yourself more time for the big decisions is super helpful. In addition, I think that like many things in life, practice helps. So, those who spend too much time making every single decision give themselves less “reps” than those of us who try to make decisions more quickly and continually learn from them.

    Also, if you haven’t checked out the “Paradox of Choice” it’s worth a read (happy to loan it to you): http://www.amazon.com/Paradox-Choice-Why-More-Less/dp/0060005696

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