In the seven years that I've been running my own company, I'm astounded by the volume of decisions required every day. Before 2011, it's likely I'd not experience decision fatigue, but it's something that I struggle with every week running a business.
This regular fatigue has affected my personal life for years. I'm regularly so tired from work that I'll avoid making decisions. I'm missing out on planning fun things I could do with my wife, and decide what I want to do for my 40th birthday.
The simple answer is to make decisions faster. A quicker pace is going to make you uncomfortable, but it becomes more comfortable with the experience.
One of the first changes, I made was to not stress so much about individual purchases. Most purchased don't mean much so you can make them faster.
Do I buy a new laptop or fix my slow laptop? Have you ever spent hours researching, reading reviews, price comparing? Instead of spending 20 hours making a decision, I commit to making a purchase and then try to get to a decision quickly.
I do lean heavily on things like The Wirecutter, Consumer Reports and friend recommendations.
Stop trying to optimize every purchase.
Low-cost purchases should be made quickly with very little consideration because if it's the wrong thing, you can buy something else.
Large impact purchases should still probably not get more than 15 minutes to 1 hour of consideration. If it helps my business and reasonably valuable, I should buy it.
A Paralyzing Decision
Some decisions have entirely paralyzed me for months or years.
About five years ago, I had considered making it so we could track our meal plan downloads. Over the course of a year, I had several conversations with my partner and friends, I thought about it often but was very fearful of implementing it. I imagined it creating hundreds of customer support issues, and software bugs I couldn't fix. I tinkered one-time with the programming needed but hit a roadblock and quit.
I discussed the idea with friends at Microconf in April of that year, and I decided to give it a try again. This time I quickly came up with a creative solution which probably took less than 4 hours to complete. Zero customers support issues, and no bugs.
The link tracking data unleashed a series of features that benefited both the customer and our business.
For example, we created a customer score that measured engagement; I used a grade scale A through F based on the ratio of recent downloads. This grade has been used heavily in our customer support and analysis of customer behavior, and it's a good predictor of whether they are going to cancel their membership.
I did a terrible job of evaluating the risks of tackling this problem.
There's every indication that link tracking was a standard software pattern and a low-risk change that would provide much value to my business. However, I was focused entirely on adverse outcomes and inflated the actual risk profile.
Our fears drive us.
What should I have done instead?
I should have made a list of potential positive outcomes and unfavorable outcomes. With that list, I could have weighted each of those items based on their impact on our business and the customers. What are the costs, time needed, and the financial upside?
Evaluate the benefits and risks on their own merits, and be wary of your opinions and emotions.
In summary, I want to get better at making decisions, so I have to be willing to get uncomfortable. I need to develop my tools for making decisions. Moreover, I have to make more decisions quickly.