Leave the Big Decisions Until the Last Minute

Be honest with yourself and make the right call.
Owner, Lateral Action
August 29, 2013

Have you ever made a decision in haste and regretted it at leisure? Maybe you were too tired to realize you were too tired to think straight. Maybe you were rushing to complete your daily to-do list, and forgot that sometimes more haste equals less speed. Or maybe someone was pressuring you for a decision, and you gave them an answer to get them off your back.

Whichever, you ended up deciding without thinking through all the implications. Or you simply chose something that you didn’t really want. I have a personal rule that I don’t make important decisions after four o’clock in the afternoon. To my friends and family, this is just one more tick in the column labeled “eccentric.” But to me, it’s perfectly logical.

For one thing, all of us are subject to circadian rhythms of arousal and rest during the daily cycle. If you want to be truly productive, you need to know whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, and take advantage of the times when you are most alert to do your most important thinking. For me, that’s the morning.

And for another, toward the end of a typical day I’ll have spent several hours doing mental and emotional heavy lifting—writing, planning, delivering coaching or training sessions, and dealing with all kinds of people facing all kinds of challenges. If the mental batteries aren’t running a little low by this time, then I probably haven’t been working hard enough. Your day is probably very similar. But the main reason I prefer to consider decisions in the morning is that a wise decision is based on emotions and intuition as well as logic. Toward the end of the day, especially when I’ve been using digital and social media intensively, I’m likely to be “in my head” and slightly out of touch with my body. Whereas in the mornings, having started the day with meditation, I’m much more centered in my body and aware of my gut feeling about an issue.

When I’ve made a decision based on logic alone, I’ve often made mistakes. But when I’ve combined reason and intuition, I’ve never made a decision I couldn’t live with. My friend John Eaton would say this is because I’m in touch with bodymind, the distributed intelligence of the body, incorporating the solar plexus, endocrine, and immune systems, as well as the neurons that happen to be located inside my skull.

And I often decide very quickly. I once made a snap decision to move to London, at a friend’s invitation one Sunday afternoon. The next day I handed in my notice at work and to my landlord, and the next month I was living in the capital. One of the best decisions I ever made. There’s nothing wrong with a quick decision, but decisions made in haste—i.e. rushed, and without considering your emotions as well as the logical pros and cons—can be dangerous. This is why the Vikings were reputed to make every important decision twice—once when sober, once when drunk.

So how can you decide when it’s time to decide?

1. Don’t stress about trivial decisions.

You’re probably safe to choose your paperclips or menu order whenever. I’m talking about the big decisions, like taking on a new project, changing job, booking the family holiday, or what you’re going to say to that tricky request from a client.

2. Get to know yourself.

Pay attention to your levels of energy and alertness during the daily cycle. When do you feel most clear-headed? When are you most aware of your body and emotions? As far as possible, make it a priority to consider important decisions during this time. If it’s not possible, especially if you’re in a high-pressure job where you need to make decisions at all times of the day and night, pay particular attention to the next three steps.

3. Get “out of your mind” and into your body.

This will help you tap your feelings and intuition. I’m not suggesting you go for the full-on “Viking method,” although you may sometimes find that your feelings are clearer after talking to a friend over a beer. More “work friendly” ways to get centered in your body include yoga, meditation, exercise, going for a walk—or even just getting up from your desk, stretching, and walking around the office.

4. For each option, weigh up the pros and cons.

Write them down on two different columns if it helps. Ask yourself: (a) What’s the opportunity here? How will I feel if I succeed? How will I feel if I turn it down? and (b) What’s the risk? How will I feel in the worst-case scenario? Could I live with my decision?

5. Ask yourself: How do I feel about this?

Take the question literally. Pay attention to the physical sensations in your body. What does “YES!” feel like to you? Light, energized, animated? How about “NO!”? Tense, heavy, uncomfortable? Learn to tell the difference. And watch out for any mismatch between what your head tells you and your gut feeling—when this happens, slow down, take more time, and get more information.

This article was originally published on 99u.com.

Mark McGuinness is a coach who helps creative professionals create more, suffer less and attract more opportunities. He is the author of the popular blog Lateral Action and the book Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success.

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