5 Actionable Strategies To Improve Your Decision Making Skills For Greater Productivity

pennyArticles, Productivity

decision making productivity

What comes to mind when you think about the multitudes of decision-making you go through every day? Do you think about decision fatigue, do you feel stressed? How would you like to improve how you make decisions? This post will talk about making decision rationality and other principles of becoming productive in your decision-making process to prioritize effectively, improve your problem-solving skills and make the best of all situations.

We live in a microwave society where response times and expectations are measured in seconds. Life is busy, and your attention is pulled in many directions. Our lives revolve around doing things fast, such as fast food, convenience stores, online shopping, and express lanes. You have multiple competing priorities with demanding projects and work, market challenges in growing our businesses, family needs, and your health and well-being to consider. There are not enough hours in the day to do everything that you and the people around you need to get done. And that results in increased levels of stress.

With that all said, most people think that managing their time will make them more productive and find some resemblance of balance. Yet when we focus on time, we create even more stress in our lives.

Once you awaken and embrace the truth that decision-making is at the heart of productivity, your life will become easier, more focused, and you can take back control. Productivity is a bi-product of the decisions you make and the speed at which you make them. This is why we need to focus on productive decision-making.


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My Story:

Here is a short story about how this awakening happened for me:

I had just been landed a sweet position as the Chief Technology Officer at a direct marketing daughter company of GFK, one of the largest market research companies in the world. I was offered the job after an extremely rigorous interview process with the board chairman.

After creating, running my own Technology business for the last 4 years, and then selling it off to a public company, I was so excited about the thought of getting back to a larger company. I was already thinking how great it would be to have a large company’s significant resources and support system to reach the corporate objectives: no more shoestring budget, 24-hour workdays, or limited staff. Or so I thought.

Before my official start, the Chairman called me to let me know that I needed to start earlier than discussed and that he wanted me on a task force to re-organize and sell the company.  My jaw dropped when he told me that I would then become CEO of the entire group holdings. I would be in charge of five group companies and 150 people across 4 different countries. This didn’t sound like the easy ride I had been imagining.

This wasn’t what I signed up for. I wasn’t even sure that I was capable of doing that.

Before I even started, I was building the story in my head. I didn’t have this experience. Why should they follow me? I can’t even speak German very well, and a majority of the staff speak German. My heart was pounding as it would come out of my chest, and I felt incredibly anxious and overwhelmed, even before I started working there.

After the first day on the task force, I was anxious, afraid, and frustrated. I went to see Peter, the Chairman. “I’m not sure I am the right person for this position,” I told him. He sat there and said nothing. The silence unnerved me, and I continued my verbal dump to him.

“I have never managed this many people directly or indirectly, let alone through a turnaround. I just came out of 4 years of working ungodly hours, and this is not what I was looking for.”

He continued to look at me in silence, completely relaxed.  “I understand you feel a bit overwhelmed at the moment,” he finally spoke. “I watched you closely during the hiring process, I saw how you approached the process, the decisions you made on what was important, and how you conducted yourself through the interviews. You are the right person for this role. I hired you for your ability to make decisions; what you do with the rest of your time is up to you.”

I was more than a little frustrated by this seemingly oversimplified statement.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he was right. I was making it more complex than it needed to be. As the leader of this organization decision-making process was the most critical aspect of my role. It was and Is that simple.

Whether the focus is personal or professional, your true power is realized at the moment of decision. YOU decide what to eat, what to wear, to lie or tell the truth, to be grateful or resentful, to laugh or to cry, to be stressed or at peace, to blame or be accountable, to focus or be distracted, to hire or fire, plan or wing it, to innovate or copy. There is no doubt that the decisions you make or don’t make determine your results and ultimately direct your focus, level of engagement, and success.

Read this: Get into the productivity zone

Why is decision-making key to our productivity?

Decisions help us avoid procrastination and mitigate perfectionism. Ultimately, the decisions you make will get you in and keep you in your Productivity Zone.

A fast decision may be efficient but not effective in results due to the speed by which it was made. The Productivity Zone is the balance between efficiency and effectiveness.

Obstacles keep you from making your decisions

Before we improve your decision-making process to improve productivity, it’s essential to address what holds you back. Is it fair to say that you often know what to do but don’t always do it? Awareness of those elements that hold you back allows you to remove the obstacles to either do what you know or learn to create that knowledge and progress. Progress is Productivity.

I use this approach because of another mentoring moment with my boss from above. From time to time, I would go into his office frustrated and demotivated, speak with him, and then leave feeling full of energy and direction to take on the world. One day in his office, I asked him, “How is it you always know just what to say to motivate me?” His answer was this:

“It is not my job as a leader to motivate you. It is my job to remove the obstacles that kept you from your motivation.” Peter Hofer

What keeps you from effective and efficient decision-making?

Stress is the number one productivity killer. It changes our physical state, which in turn distracts us from the tasks at hand. It takes our awareness away from the present moment.

Stress creates specific physical, mental, and emotional responses. There is a physical change that happens in our bodies that causes us to breathe more shallowly. Our heart rate increases and cortisol is sent to your brain, putting you on high alert, ready to fight, flight or freeze. This impacts effective and efficient decision-making processes; as our emotional response increases, our ability to access logic and intellect decreases. That is why decision-making in emotional states can produce undesirable and unproductive results. To simplify the picture, we are stressed when we are exhibiting any form of perfectionism or procrastination.


Pick your poison: Procrastination and Perfectionism

These are all signs and behavior of the evil sisters’, Procrastination and Perfectionism:

Procrastination Perfectionism
Can’t seem to get started Can’t seem to finish
Not the right time Not quite right
No plan Over plan
Not clear Every detail
Denial Blame
Ignore your decision Doubt your decision
Excuses Guilt
Frustration Shame
Diversion One more thing
Apathy Critical
Scattered focus Externally focused
Fear of imperfection, fear of success Fear of failure
Lack of self-confidence Lack of self-confidence
Unaware of Risk Risk-averse
No expectations Too many expectations, should dos
Boredom Obsessed, never satisfied.


Do you recognize any of these in your own behaviors? Self-awareness is the first step to overcoming your obstacles.

Part of the solution is to identify counter-productive self-talk and in what contexts you find your self-procrastinating or caught in the trap of perfectionism.

We are stressed when we are exhibiting any form of procrastination or perfectionismWe are stressed when we are exhibiting any form of procrastination or perfectionism Click To Tweet

Who, me?

I was late in delivering the business plan, and all eyes were on me. How did this happen? I am not a procrastinator, I always start with the end in mind and plan my way backward. I acknowledge my habit of over-functioning, but procrastination isn’t like me. I had to ask myself what was going on here. When I considered why I was not completing the business plan, I concluded that it was a fear of success. I realized that I was not 100% sure I wanted the responsibility for this project.

The biggest drivers of procrastination and perfectionism are often tied to fear, fear of failure, and success. The two states often flip-flop from one to the other. Sometimes it is just too hard to be perfect, and you get tired of never meeting these high standards, so it is easier not to start at all. It is easier to put the decision or task off to the last minute, so there is an excuse why perfection isn’t possible.

But, how does that relate to your decision-making process? At the root of both procrastination and perfectionism, decisions are not made on time, if at all.

You end up caught up in the unending loop of what if’s, second-guessing, doubt and fear.

Have you ever been so focused on what could go wrong and what people will think of you if and when it does? You built the story so vividly in your mind how awful it will feel with all eyes on you. You feel it with intensity and have all the physical manifestations of it happening – It is your reality, but not the truth.

If you don’t make the decision, then you can’t be criticized or fail. If there is no decision, there is also no real commitment or accountability. You can avoid it all.

Or can you?

productive decision making

How to break unproductive patterns stopping you from productive decision making

A pattern of thought leads to a pattern of behavior. These dysfunctional or unproductive patterns of thinking hold you back from the very things you want. You are not unlike the frog that stays in the pot of warm water until she is slowly boiled. It feels comfortable, and the situation meets short-term needs, although it isn’t good for you in the long run. Before you know it, you’re cooked!

Break the pattern of unproductive thoughts and self-talk that creates that loop of procrastination and perfectionism. Decide on the next step.

Decisions move you to action. Action overrides fear. That’s how you break that pattern of unproductive choices. Ready to improve your decision-making process? Here is my advice based on my vast experience in productive decision-making.

5 Steps to Improve Productivity Through Effective Decision Making

1.      Get clear on the result you want

To decide, you must know your desired outcome and connect to what will be different when you achieve this outcome. How important is the outcome on a scale from 1-10? Why is it important? What value does it have for others? How important is the impact? What will make you do what it takes?

Clear purpose provides the passion and drives necessary to commit to a decision and see it through regardless of the obstacles. You need a purpose to create accountability and follow-through.

When we decided to put a man on the moon, the United States Government brought in the best minds, invested time and money to make this a reality. There were failures, but they accepted and overcame them to achieve the desired goal.

You, too, can overcome obstacles that block your decision-making by locking in on the result you want and need to achieve.

2.      Get perspective

You can’t find new ideas if you are part of the problem. The problem is all you see. However, it is only one perspective. You don’t even realize, the more you talk about the situation, the bigger it gets. The narrower your perspective gets. The focus is the problem and not the problem-solving.

To solve the problem, find innovation, and create something new, you have to step out of the current situation to see it for what it really is. The real problem is usually not what presents itself; it is often a symptom. When you get outside of the situation, you can gain perspective, increase flexibility and solve the real problem faster.

Efficient and effective decision-making is rational and lets you see things as they really are. Not better and not worse. Often because of how you experience the event, your emotions involved have you see things better or worse than they are. As I said earlier, when you are emotional, your ability to think clearly goes down. Your brain literally goes into fight, flight, or freeze. Then we no longer have access to our problem-solving skills. This is not the best time to be making decisions.

Here are 2 of my favorite ways to get perspective.

Remove the emotion:

To remove the emotion of a situation, step outside of yourselves and ask some clarifying questions of the initial thoughts you have about the situation. Byron Katie says to ask the following questions: Is this true?

Is it really true? Is it true without a shadow of a doubt? Steve Linder says to ask these questions: What does this mean? What else does this mean? The first meaning is usually charged with emotion and can get you in trouble due to your limiting perspective at that moment. These questions help you to get clarity on the situation as it really is. The more you ask them, the more perspective you get. Then you can be the fly on the wall.

The most important decision we make and the most fundamental is determining what action or event means. We make this decision unconsciously. By bringing this process into your consciousness, you are awakened into your power. You can decide which meaning you want to give something.

These simple questions helped me manage my divorce in a way that I am proud of, helped me manage a seemingly incompetent supplier that missed an important client deadline, helped me negotiate some challenging business deals, it helped me when a client didn’t get the results, I wanted for them, and many more situations. People often tell me that I come across calm and confident. I think this is because I exercise my control by deciding on productive meaning interactions and events in my life. The power of these questions has been an immeasurable gift to me.

Get a 360 View:

Richard Branson is known for his risk-taking. He told a young reporter that he doesn’t see it as risk-taking because he gets perspective. He asks himself two questions 1) what is the worst that can happen, and 2) can he live with that if it happens?

How do you really determine what the worst that can happen is? Other scenarios? This framework aligns the heart and mind to support the decision through a combination of quality questions.

An NLP tool called Cartesian coordinates can help you with a few powerful questions set up in the following format.

This framework has helped me with many decisions that were causing me stress and leading to indecision. After using this framework, the decision was clear, and I could connect and own the decision knowing I have all perspectives on the scenario.

3.      Define clear criteria for the decision

Productivity can come to a screeching halt if the team members don’t buy into the decision being made.

I can share from experience the great value of shared criteria buy-in: in one case, implementing a project that saved the company from bankruptcy.

While managing a technology project, we needed to produce top-line data for retailers in a few days, which was a very different process than the in-depth detail it took us 20 days to produce. Most people were skeptical if it was at all possible. My team and I found a solution that was cutting-edge technology. Many in the IT department were against our proposed solution because the technology was unknown to them.  So they offered other possible solutions within their preferred technology even though it was clearly not capable of the speed of data processing we needed.

Emotions and budgets ran high in this decision-making. It was the largest project budget ever requested. We needed to get the IT department and the management team on board. Internal politics and egos made the process even harder. Through a workshop with all involved, we defined the criteria together for proposal selection. With all in agreement on the criteria, solutions could be compared and evaluated more effectively. That helped focus on the problem and solution, as opposed to tangential and less significant elements.

As a keynote speaker on leadership, I believe that before you evaluate a new job, change business strategy, hire someone new, or even get a divorce, you need to clearly define the criteria by which the decision is being made. This will increase the odds that you are collecting and reviewing the appropriate data when making a decision.

Open communication and joint development of the criteria make sure all parties involved own the resulting criteria. People support what they create, so their involvement is critical to the decision.

Read this: Get rid of perfection; Find Good Enough

4.      Own Your Decision

You will never have ALL of the information you need to make a decision. By then, you are stuck in perfection and likely missed the opportunity by over-thinking it, someone else innovated the idea, or just opportunity lost.

Here’s one of my favorite decision making quotes by Theodore Roosevelt that clearly explains this:

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Malcolm Gladwell’s research on the habits of highly successful people found that most decisions made by highly successful people were made quickly with about 60% of the facts. They then focus on the implementation to achieve it. Decisions move you to action. Action with purpose creates implementation focus.

The fact is, not all decisions will produce the desired results. To be truly productive, I realized that I needed to eliminate the blame, guilt, and shame that I felt when a decision I made did not achieve the desired results. There are many reasons for the result, but those feelings do nothing constructive or productive to help me learn the lesson and apply it going forward. I can have learned to let it go quickly so can you.

Stop saying that is the way I am, and stop blaming your lack of results on someone else. Those actions prevent you from learning and prolong the undesired results. Indecision and lack of ownership push you out of the productivity zone, creating stress for you and those around you.

You are 100% responsible for your decisions, whatever the results may be. But also realize that the impact of your decision or the level of your performance does not determine your self-worth; your integrity and accountability define… Click To Tweet

5.      Implementation: Just do it!

Once the decision is made, energy and focus can shift to the implementation. Achieving milestones and steps toward your goals creates momentum. Momentum is critical in the implementation process so that you can ride the wave. When I wrote my first book, I made the cover first to give me the anchor or symbol that the book was already on its way to being complete. It was the fuel for my momentum.

With every step of progress I made, the cover kept me focused, even after the 50th edit. Had I not set the release date and told people publically, and created a campaign, I might still be editing the book. You have to find external ways to hold yourself accountable, so there is no turning back. Admiral Cortes is said to have done this by having his men burn the boats. Success becomes the focus when there is no going back.

Here’s another favorite decision-making quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson to inspire you” “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

6.      Adapt and adjust

Someone once said, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” conditions and circumstances change, and you have to adapt and move quickly. Planning and contingencies are important, but rational and quick decision-making during implementation are at the core of progress and, ultimately, your desired success.  Decision-making doesn’t stop when the big decision for direction is made; impactful decisions are made throughout the process. You need to be open to various forms of feedback.

Back to the Heart: Decision making is the heart of productivity

The human body is an excellent complex system. At the core of this system is the heart. It pumps 100,000 times a day and pumps blood through the circulatory system to every part of the body. Your decisions are the heart bringing energy to everything you do through action and direction.

Effective and efficient decision-making is a muscle that needs to be built and creates muscle memory and automatic state over time.

Concluding thoughts

Productive decision-making is essential. As a keynote speaker on leadership, I have had my fair share of opportunities where I had to juggle multiple priorities and decisions to make every second.

To recap, here’s how you make effective and efficient decisions. First, you need to focus on identifying what obstacles are keeping you from the best productivity. Next, you need to consider the facts before you; remember, you don’t need all the facts. Having about 60% should be enough. Then get rid of emotions and take a 360-degree view over every aspect of the decision. Finally, own your decision, implement and adapt as changes happen because they will happen. This post contains a remarkable number of ways you can improve your decision-making. Why not get started right away? I also recommend journaling and recording your progress as you go.

Overall, we make a multitude of decisions every minute. However, by improving our decision-making skills, we can witness incredible results all over our lives.