One of the more difficult skills I’ve had to develop in the past few years is decision making.

Given two or more choices, which one is the best path to take? Should I eat this or that? Should I hire this person or not? Should I spend money on this thing that I don’t need but want?

In terms of the how, my process has involved three distinct elements:

  1. Time
  2. Positive and Negative Futuring
  3. Ignorance

Time is the most obvious. This means taking in all of the information and letting it marinate. Some decisions can be made quickly—don’t get in the car with the stranger who has a gun on the seat next to them—and others require a bit more deliberation.

For the one’s that require deliberation, I make a point to have time with the problem and time away from the problem. Time with the problem means portioning out time to think about the problem actively. My favorite way to do this is to get in the car and drive for an hour or two, talking aloud to myself.

Time without the problem means not thinking about it consciously and seeing where my subconscious takes me. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that I tend to solve problems while I sleep. I wake up with a clear memory of having worked the problem in my head while I slept (and sometimes even catch myself waking up in a half-conscious state while solving the problem).

Obviously this behavior isn’t in my control so I can’t recommend it, but the notion of “sleeping on it” is important. A good quote around this is “make haste slowly” which I’ve adopted from the philosopher Baltasar Gracian. Make a decision, but don’t pull the trigger too soon. A good time timetable that helps:

  • Small Decision = within the hour
  • Medium Decision = within a day or two
  • Big Decision = within a couple of weeks or months

When it comes to positive and negative futuring, this has to do with actually playing out scenarios in your mind. Given A, B, and C as decisions, what will be a positive outcome if I chose A, B, or C? What will be the negative outcomes?

What’s nice about this is that you confront any fears or doubts you have head on. It’s a hell of an antidote to the overwhelm and anxiety you feel when you’re faced with a ton of decisions at once.

This is where ignorance comes in. Whenever I get to a point where I have so many decisions that I need to make that I get overwhelmed, I ignore each one based on its urgency.

For example, I have a dentist appointment coming up that’s going to require some expensive work. From the time of my last appointment, I had ~2 weeks to decide whether to have the work done or skip it and take my chances.

Concurrently, I had to decide whether or not to sit up and burn the midnight oil to launch the new version of our site over at Clever Beagle and get some rest (ultimately making my promise to launch that day a fib, albeit small).

Though both decisions were on my mind and getting me keyed up (and admittedly, frustrated), I decided to ignore the dentist dilemma completely and pretend it didn’t exist. I literally acted as though I’d never gone to the dentist and received the news that I’d need more work done.

This allowed me to move forward with the more pressing work on Clever Beagle and then, once that was complete, shift my thinking back to the dentist.

You’re probably reading this and thinking “what a nut job.” I’ll admit, writing this down it sounds strange. But it works and it helps. I used to get absolutely freaked out over the sheer number of decisions I needed to make until I started doing the above.

The nuclear option: remember that none of this matters, you’re going to die, and when all is said and done you’ll be a speck on the timeline of humanity.

That tends to make dental work sting a bit less.