Productivity & Work

How to make better decisions

If you’re going to make an important decision, make it in the morning. Your natural levels of serotonin are dopamine are higher, your focus is sharper and your brain will be more rational.

The afternoon, meanwhile, is costly for decision-making. You’re more likely to be tired, hungry, and to acquiesce to the status quo.

The longer we wait in the day to make decisions, the increased chance those decisions will get postponed or lazily agreed to. And desultory decisions might as well be indecisions.

To think different and combat conformity requires a certain amount of energy and belief that’s scientifically more prevalent before noon.


Wait Too Long

Belief is the fiction that’s a stimulus for positive action. The world dies a little bit when you stop believing in yourself.

The only reason to quit is to pivot somewhere else. Maybe it didn’t turn out exactly you had dreamed. Maybe it was too easy, or you lucked out.

People generally have two choices when choosing persistence: harness what you know and exploit it or explore more and see the world a bit differently. Time is just waiting for you to decide.


The Umbrella Dilemma

“Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.” – Bob Marley

I ask myself the same question every time I walk in the rain: shouldn’t I just buy an umbrella?

But the answer is almost always no. Umbrellas have short life-spans. They either get crushed in your bag, destroyed in the wind, or left on the train or at work (obviously speaking from personal experience).

Owning an umbrella can be more burden than an aid. So lately I’ve been using a new strategy. I carry around a lightweight poncho in my bag and use a weather app to time the rain’s ebb and flow so I can island-hop coffee shops on the way to and from work.

I always walk in light rain. I actually like the little tickles of drops on my skin – it’s a subtle reminder that humans are powerless to nature. I also enjoy watching the skyscrapers reflect off the puddles as if the buildings are built into the Earth, propped upside down. Here’s an example.

There are times, of course, when I need to make a meeting and end up running through a downpour. Those are the moments of regret, when a simple $5 umbrella would’ve prevented me from wearing wet socks all day. The protection we get for convenience sometimes outweighs the price we pay for stinginess.

How can we scrape by and still win? Hence the dilemma of any investment, particularly with umbrellas.


Embrace the dialectic

Right or wrong, decisions jumpstart action. Indecision or maybes are also valid decisions.

There are opposing forces in every direction you choose. The satisfaction of being done is better than perfect. But sometimes perfection requires more work.

The Germans have a saying for concurrent possibilities of “Yes” and “No,” called Jein.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

It doesn’t take a genius to move forward despite a simulatenous contradiction of opposites.

Nothing is completely wrong nor completely right. Every decision is situational. Move forward with the best course of action at that time.

I’m in favor of whatever works in the particular case. – John Kenneth Galbraith

Sometimes it’s doing simply what ought to be done, even if it means risking everything.

If you can’t decide, start by identifying the things you certainly don’t like.


McDonald’s Theory

via giphy

I use a trick with co-workers when we’re trying to decide where to eat for lunch and no one has any ideas. I recommend McDonald’s.

I call it the McDonald’s Theory: people are inspired to come up with good ideas to ward off bad ones.

Deduction is a pathway to decision-making.

In order to define what you want, it helps to know what you really dislike first. Acknowledging the antithesis is a smart way to jumpstart creative thinking around practicable alternatives.

Decide, then deduce; even when you need reassurance.



We need reassurance because we need help deciding.

Reassurance is social. We can’t possibly reassure ourselves, since we’re the ones doubting.

But what happens when we can’t get a second opinion? That’s when we have to make our own decisions.

Whether you know it or not, your brain is going through or has already gone through a deduction process.

For example, in buying a new pair of shoes:

  • Is this the right pair of shoes?
  • Do they fit?
  • Do I really need a new pair?
  • Are they comfortable to walk in?
  • Can I afford them?
  • Is today the only day they’re on sale?
  • What do I do with my old shoes?
  • Do they match what I often wear?
  • Where will I most be wearing them?
  • What will others think of them?

Most of these questions are predetermined before you even go to the store. The reason you’re trying shoes for example, may be because you actually need a new pair.

Whatever we decide, we’ll still seek social approval. We need others to justify our choice, even if they lie to us.

The smallest decisions can pose tough gut checks. No one can possibly decide for you because they can’t understand the countless variables and thoughts going through your mind. The choice is yours.

If you understood everything I said, you’d be me ― Miles Davis