Hell in the Hallway: How to Make Faster Decisions

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“Where are you?” my wife said, waving her hand in front of my face. “Where did you go?” Well, to answer her question, I was lost in the labyrinthine paths of a difficult decision I had to make–whether to lay off some of my beloved team members at the tech startup I’m running.  I focused for a few minutes on what she was saying, but as soon as she finished, my mind snapped back, like a spring on a self-shutting door, to my challenges at work.

Do you ever get stuck making decisions? Does “analysis paralysis” ring a bell? Have you ever made a decision that you regret?

At the heart of all painful decisions is the deep rooted, and oft times subconscious, fear of failure. “If I make the right decision,” we think, “I’ll move towards success. If I make the wrong decision,…”

  • “It could kill my chances…”
  • “It may take longer and be harder than I expected.”
  • “It will damage my reputation.”
  • “I’ll lose leadership influence.”
  • Etc, etc

But the great cost we should be worried about is not the cost in the future–it isn’t the potential for future failure or future problems. It is the cost here and now. Ironically, we can get so caught up in the process of making the decision that the deliberation itself causes great personal cost today.

A friend of mine said once, when he was stuck between jobs, “Someone told me that when one door closes, another opens. I believe in that, but it sure is hell in the hallway!”

Some of us, on really tough decisions, not only deliberate, but obsess.  All of the factors going into the decision dominate our mental landscapes, bringing floods of emotional ups and downs as we consider all of the different outcomes that can happen with varying paths. We find it almost impossible to be fully present with others while we’re in the thick of it. It’s difficult to enjoy life in the moment because we’re living in a world of the future, exploring in our minds the data points that we’ve gathered, the possible impact of every outcome. In trying to make a “good decision” we are trying to mitigate risk, improve our chances…for the future.

In short, we are putting ourselves in a state of great uncertainty. We are stuck in “deliberation”. Being in the state of deliberation between where we are today and where we will be after the decision is made is the “hell in the hallway”.

This decision making purgatory can affect us even on small decisions. Many of us can get stuck, if only for a few minutes, on even the most basic, seemingly inconsequential decisions, such as what to wear or what menu item to choose at a restaurant.

So what is the cost of deliberating, especially ruminating (as psychologists would put it), on a decision? It is the toll it takes on us right now! The toll it takes on us mentally, emotionally, physically while we’re in the decision making process. The toll it takes on our relationships because we’re not present. The toll it takes on our attention that could be used on things that will move us forward. The toll it takes on energy that could be applied towards the actions we should be taking.

The goal: reduce the time in deliberation.

I love this quote from Rory Vaden in Procrastinate on Purpose: “Channel you emotion into the excellence of doing something rather than the mediocrity of deciding whether or not to do it.”

Making decisions faster we can avoid “hell in the hallway” and move with purpose through the door of action.

Action is where the living is. Action is where the learning is. Action is where progress is. Action is also where the pain is, and we should consider decisions, especially large ones, with purpose and care, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make even bigger decisions more quickly.

We must get better at decision making. Not so that we have a better future, but so that we have a better today.

How do we make decisions faster?

Here are Six Rules of Rapid Decision Making that have helped me. I hope they can help you.

Rule #1: Time Box the Decision

Give yourself a deadline. And make it shorter than you might at first think. This may sound overly simplistic, but it follows Parkinson’s Law, which suggests that we end up taking the amount of time allocated to something whether long or short. If that’s true, by setting a shorter timeframe for making a decision it puts our brain in motion quickly and reduces the time it will take. This has worked great for me and is the most important factor in speeding up decisions in my own work.

You might even categorize your decision into an “impact level” so you don’t have decide what the deadline is. It’s already pre-decided:

  • Level 1 – 1m or less
  • Level 2 – 3-5m
  • Level 3 – 2-3h
  • Level 4 – 1 days
  • Level 5 – 2-3 days
  • Level 6 – 1 week
  • Level 7 – 2 weeks
  • Level 8 – 1 month or longer (this should only be for life’s most important decisions, such as whom to marry, whether to adopt a child, etc.)

Bottom line: timebox. It’s the single most important rule for making decisions more quickly.

Rule #2: Share the Burden and Get Input

Sometimes, all you need to do is get some input or perspective from someone else, or have their vote of confidence to help you move out of deliberation and into action.

Ask for input, then make the decision and move forward.

Rule #3: Design a Decision Blueprint BEFORE Getting There

In many cases, you can design a decision process before you have to make the decision. I call this a Decision Blueprint. In fact, whenever you hire someone for a role, you should know ahead of time what the criteria are for whether or not you will fire that person. When you hire a salesperson, for example, will you continue to keep them on even if they don’t hit quota after six months? 8 months? Deciding these things up front make the decision making process easier and faster.

Use Decision Blueprints whenever you have a repeatable decision to make, especially if you find yourself stuck in deliberation.

Rule #4: Batch Frequent Decisions

By grouping some decisions into one decision-making session you’ll move much more quickly. A simple example of this is making a dinner menu each week. By deciding what you’ll eat on every day of the week, you don’t have to decide what you’re going to make in the moment. You make all of those decisions at once.

While making a menu is a common use of batching, I’m suggesting you become intentional about how you batch your decisions. Another example is putting together a task list at the beginning of the day. You decide in one session everything you’re going to do for the day. Then you don’t have to decide in the moment, “What should I be doing now?”

Susan Cain calls this “decision-free” living.

Rule #5: When Making a Group Buying Decision, Use Buying Enablement Software

Deliberation is at its worst when you are making decisions in groups, and this is no more apparent than when you have a large group of people making a decision about a purchase. In a B2B purchasing situation, consider using Buying Enablement software to help accelerate the process. This has been shown to reduce group buying dysfunction by as much as 60%.

If you are a sales leader, enable your buyers by wrapping your solution in buying enablement software that makes it easier for them to get personalized product education as well as data around how every stakeholder is engaging and what is important to them.

Rule #6: On Bigger Decisions, Involve Your Maker

I make no apology for believing in God. He has been involved in my life in so many ways, there is no way I can deny Him. That said, I respect others’ beliefs and I know not everyone has my experience. So whether you believe in an actual God or something akin to a positive force in the universe, appeal to it. Ask for guidance. Ask for peace. Make a decision then ask for a calm assurance that what you’re doing is right.

If you’ll do this, you’ll be amazed at how important this step is to avoiding post-decision regret. If you can acquire the feeling and conviction deep inside of you that the decision you are making is correct, especially on the most impactful decisions, you will not only move forward more quickly with purpose, but you won’t doubt yourself afterward and you’ll be able to work through obstacles that occur because you know it’s right.

What Techniques Do You Use for Faster Decision Making?

I would love to hear what kinds of decisions are hard for you and what you’ve learned about how to make them more quickly. How do you get out of Hell in the Hallway faster?

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