How to Make Decisions When You Have Too Many Options

You know what it’s like. You stand in the toothpaste section trying to decide between ultra-white, super-white, or optic-white. Perhaps you need to choose between the 354 shades of white paint at the home center. Or maybe you’re stuck behind a person in the coffee shop who is overwhelmed by the difference between the upside-down caramel macchiato and the cookie mocha crumble macchiato with whip.

The world has too many choices. The other day, I needed to send someone a very large digital file. I Googled my options. On the first page alone, I found five alternatives, all free. They just wanted my email address. It can be exhausting to navigate through the average day when you’re bombarded by thousands of options.

So, how do you make well-considered decisions when you’re faced with too many choices? Allow me to share a few strategies from the top thinkers I’ve interviewed and observed over the past three decades.

Make fewer decisions – Every decision you make, large or small, consumes some of the blood glucose (sugar energy) your body needs to function. This is the reason you feel tired having battled traffic on the way to work. The same is true if you spend the first 30 minutes of the day clearing emails, Slack messages, texts, and Linked In notifications. The best decision-makers take stock of all the decisions they make during the typical day and work to eliminate, delegate or automate as many as they can. This leaves them with more energy to focus on the issues that count.

Focus your criteria – When was the last time you made a significant decision based on impulse? The options overwhelmed you. You might have simply surrendered because you were tired of thinking. You might have said, “Fine, I’ll just go with that option,” just to get the issue off your plate. The most effective decision makers take time to think through the elements and options before going to the meeting, entering the store, or meeting with the vendor. They also prioritize these elements to reduce the chance of getting sucked in by the “bright shiny object” rather than the critical consideration.

Ask for advice – Effective decision makers proactively ask for the input of others. Where others hesitate for fear of rejection or appearing dumb, these individuals approach anyone they think might be able to share helpful information or insights. That said, they are careful to examine the context within which the input is provided. In an unfamiliar restaurant, they will ask a nearby patron for menu recommendations rather than the waiter who wants to upsell them. In choosing a vendor, they will listen to other customers rather than the team member who keeps pushing for a particular option. Don’t be afraid to ask for input. Just keep it all in perspective.

One of the main reasons people have a hard time making decisions is that they are afraid of losing options. As a result, it can be easy to get stuck out of a desire to keep your options open. This phenomenon has been magnified in recent years by the endless choices on the internet. The best thinkers recognize how easy it is to be overcome by the fear of making a mistake. In response, they work hard to make fewer decisions, focus on their priorities and ask for trustworthy advice. In concert, these three practices enable them to act with confidence and without fear of failure or regret. You should too.

Managing a Boss Who Makes YOUR Decisions

Casey, a young colleague of mine, complained recently that her supervisor continually makes decisions about issues he has delegated to her. This is includes such things as spending her budget and forgetting to tell her and making commitments on her time and letting her know after it’s already be scheduled.

Since this supervisor held her position immediately before being promoted, he knows it inside and out. As a result, it is second nature for him to simply act, rather than taking the time to nurture her development. Besides, many colleagues still think of him as being in that role. So, they still go to him with their issues. Being a new professional, she reasonably assumed that he would act in a logical manner. If he delegated a task, shouldn’t he let her complete it? Unfortunately, that is not happening in this case.

Casey is getting an uncomfortable dose of reality about one of the vagaries of management – the boss who doesn’t let go. This type of scenario is not confined to entry-level jobs, of course. It can happen at all levels. It just gets more nuanced further up within the organization.

Sadly, I’ve heard this story too many times. The incidence of less-than-consistent supervision pervades lots of organizations. As a result, we sometimes break the spirit of enthusiastic newcomers. If this happens enough, these emerging contributors develop a jaded sense about supervision in general. Over time, this becomes very costly if not addressed through effective management training and coaching.

Like you, I feel for Casey. We have all had to navigate at least one manager and their inconsistent ways. So, here’s what I suggested. See if you agree.

Begin by taking a breath. Casey needs to be careful not to let her frustration overtake her perspective. No one likes to have their authority undercut or circumvented, especially when it comes to scheduling and budget. That said, this is an evolving relationship. Since her supervisor held her position just prior to being promoted, she needs to accept that there will be difficulties like this until they reach an understanding about boundaries.

Have some empathy. Since he was recently promoted from her position, this makes him a new supervisor. As much as she is stretching to learn her position, he is stretching to learn how to be a boss. Those new to supervision sometimes lapse back into doing the job they were comfortable with. Why? Because it provides a sense of comfort and security. Unfortunately, it also gets in the way of establishing the parameters necessary for a healthy supervisory relationship. If Casey is patient, much of this issue will probably subside as her boss gets busy with his new responsibilities.

Define the specific issues needing to be resolved. Casey will need to prioritize her concerns. She’s not going to be able to “fix” her supervisor. These issues are best handled one at a time. If she marches into his office with a list of concerns, it won’t go well. She needs to choose her battles. Which is more important right now, for instance, control over her personal schedule or control over her budget? If she is observant, by the way, she can learn about how to manipulate the budget, something she probably has little experience with.

Develop an approach that is supervisor-centered. While Casey is the one with the issues, she is asking her supervisor to change his ways. This is not something easily accomplished. We are all a product of our habits and routines. She’s going to have to convince him that these changes will be for his own good. It will save him time. It will reduce his heartburn. It will provide opportunities for him to establish better relationships with the other people he supervises. It will also make him look good when his boss sees that Casey is thriving in her job independently.

Keep your eye on the bigger picture. This is the first of what will be many supervisory relationships Casey will experience. Each one is a learning experience. Patience can be in short supply among new professionals anxious to make a difference. The best leaders and decision-makers discover that preparing well, anticipating others moves, and supporting their bosses priorities is the best way to navigate organizational culture and advance their own careers. Casey can either embrace this or resist it. Hopefully, she will embrace it.

What do you think? Is my advice on target? What would you add? What would you modify? I, and she, would like to know. Comment on the post or e-mail me at bobw@commonsenseenterprises.net.

Do Beliefs Inform Behavior?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend reminded me of the old saying “beliefs inform behavior.” Everyone reading this post has heard this adage, or something similar. While we mostly invoke it when considering our outlook and perspective, it is critical for supervisors to consider it as well.

In managing people in a variety of settings over the past 35 years, I’ve always found it fascinating how different people respond differently to identical instructions. Some just put in their time and the absolute minimum effort. Others put everything they’ve got into the task, regardless of what’s involved. Then there’s the bunch that fall somewhere in between.

If you’re a seasoned manager, you’re probably thinking, “All of this is common sense.” Maybe, but how much do you use these insights to inform the way you supervise people?  Here are a few suggestions, based on my experience and those of others I’ve observed over the past three decades.

First, find ways to assess work ethic. The longer I study management and supervision, the more I am convinced that everything starts with selection. If you are not placing candidates in a situation where they are compelled to demonstrate their skills, work ethic, and creativity you’re only getting half the picture. You can’t change someone else’s work ethic. So if they don’t have it to begin with, don’t hire them, no matter how much you’re tempted. If you already have an existing team, consider what seems to motivate each individual. Even those who count the minutes on Friday afternoons are engaged by certain things. You just have to find out what they are.

Second, ask people what they think. I read Jon Huntsman’s autobiography recently. Over the past 40 years, he and his team have built the second largest chemicals and plastics producer in the world. Time and again, he mentions that the key to acquiring and turning around failing chemical plants has been to ask the people working there how to improve the company’s functions. When was the last time you asked your employees how to improve things and incorporated those suggestions?

Third, offer opportunities your people will find engaging. Once a skill or routine has been mastered it becomes repetitive, regardless of its complexity. Even the most devoted employee will grow bored with day-to-day tasks. The formula is sadly familiar: Boredom informs belief. Belief informs behavior. Whether you provide cross-training, release time for new research, industry association involvement, or some other activity, consider what can you do to reinvigorate solid performers who feel locked into a dead-end routine?

With the turnover of each employee costing tens of thousands of dollars these days, paying attention to belief and outlook is an essential element of supervision.

Knowledge is Not Power If You Don’t Share It

The phrase, “knowledge is power” is commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon in the 1600’s. Regardless of its origin, some people interpret this statement as an entreatment to collect information for the purposes of building control and influence. After all, if you know it and someone else doesn’t, you have the power.

The best decision-makers recognize, however, that there is a critical corollary to this principle; You cannot leverage this knowledge if you do not share it. Leaders who keep secrets unreasonably, make those they lead suspicious of their motives. Managers who refuse to empower others with reasonable authority, engender resentment, distrust and employee turnover. The same thing is true of researchers, policymakers, and anyone else who trades in the currency of knowledge. Those who openly share their knowledge, with proper discretion of course, enjoy the trust and support of those around them. When challenging times arise, it is these people who rush to aid the decision-makers making tough choices.

Granted, the journey to this philosophy can be uncomfortable. First, there is our natural tendency to want to hold on to something once you’ve got it, whether this is property or influence over others. Then there’s the issue of trust. Will those with whom you share the knowledge use it appropriately and help you achieve your goals and objectives?  Finally, there is the discomfort fostered by the establishment of a new habit or practice. It’s just so much easier to remain in your comfort zone and do what you’ve always done. This is true, by the way, whether you’re a front-line supervisor or senior executive.

But no has one ever achieved the levels of success and influence society applauds by hoarding knowledge. So, how do you go about making this transition?

Observe and learn from those who do so. Consider the best decision-makers you know. How do they disseminate their knowledge and information? With whom do they share it? On what basis do they make these choices? If you don’t know, ask them. The best thinkers are usually happy to share their strategies. That’s how they developed their skills and insights. To open the conversation, you might say something like, “I’ve admired how you seem to use your knowledge to lead others. Might I buy you a cup of coffee sometime to find out how you do it?”

Decide what will be most helpful to share. Consider the knowledge you use to do your job. Who might benefit from knowing it as well? Sharing your knowledge allows you to delegate tasks, thereby saving you time and allowing you opportunity to learn new things and make new connections. It’s been said many times that the only way one moves up within an organization is to find a suitable replacement for your present position. The only way you can do this is by sharing your knowledge. Besides, if you covet information, people will eventually find ways to work around you. You don’t have to be an open book, by the way. In fact, oversharing can send the wrong message.

Begin incrementally. As I mentioned above, adopting this approach can be uncomfortable. You might be nagged by the thought that you’re giving your power away to others. Start by assigning the little tasks you should not be doing anyway. Train the appropriate person on how to perform the task. Then empower them by saying something like, “This task is yours now. Make your own decisions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, but I am expecting you to make it your own.” If it is a considerable task, they might be uncomfortable at first. But if you persist in empowering them, they will embrace the authority.

Leveraging knowledge is how the best decision-makers empower others, leverage their time, enhance their personal power and achieve their goals. What can you do to implement the three strategies above to leverage your knowledge?

Making Decisions When the Boss Won’t Share

I was chatting with a woman during a seminar break. “All of what you’re saying sounds great,” she said. “But my boss provides information on a need-to-know basis. I don’t know if he’s insecure or doesn’t trust me. I just spend lots of time asking for what I need to know rather than him giving me all the details at the beginning. I feel like I’m playing Mother-May-I all the time and it’s irritating as hell.”

I’ve dealt with this question any number of times. I’ve also been a victim of it. I suspect she’s right. Most of this information hoarding comes from one or two sources, insecurity or a lack of trust. Regardless of its origin, it saps productivity and fosters employee turnover. After all, who would want to work in that type of environment?

Given clear direction and the necessary information, most employees can complete assignments and make decisions without asking endless questions. After a while, they come to understand their supervisor’s style. They discover the boundaries of their authority and how decisions are typically made within the organization.

Sometimes, however, a task is delegated without the necessary information or resources. I have found this is especially true when it comes to budgets. This is the boss who assigns a task but requires the person performing it to ask for approval for even the smallest amount. Solution? Ask the boss what your spending authority is. Even the most tight-fisted or insecure boss will be compelled to give a number. If they don’t, they know it will make them look controlling or distrustful.

If, over time, that spending authority turns out to be too limited, the person performing the task can always go back and ask that it be increased. The best way to do this is by pointing out the number of times the boss has had to be interrupted to give an approval. If this becomes a nuisance for the boss, he or she might even increase it without being asked.

Another flavor of this are the bosses who delegate tasks or authority, but then interfere. They make commitments without informing the person they have delegated the responsibility to. They spend money without letting this person know. Sometimes they show up at meetings where they aren’t needed and undercut this person’s authority simply by being present. Solution? Begin with the words, “I’m having trouble.” You might say, “I’m having trouble completing the project because I’m not sure who you’ve made commitments to.” Or you might say, “I’m having trouble staying on top of my budget because I don’t know what you’ve spent.” Then follow up by saying something like, “Can you help me find a way to make sure we’re on the same page?”

No one feels comfortable challenging or trying to correct the boss. Using the phrase, “I having trouble” is a diplomatic way of saying, “Please help me by getting out of the way.” You may find this difficult the first couple of times you do it. So plan out your approach and rehearse it out loud with someone you trust. In essence, you are managing your boss and that’s okay. At one time or another, all bosses need to be managed.

Finally, there is the boss who wants to be in on every decision. This can be the most maddening since it telegraphs distrust even if it isn’t. The boss may be simply curious. But that’s not how it comes across to the employee. Solution? Say, “I’m a bit confused about how far my authority extends.” Typically, the boss will say something like, “Tell me more” in response. That opens the door for you to provide three or four specific examples where you felt reluctant to make the decision since your boss was in the room.

Once again, approaching the boss in this manner requires some planning, rehearsal and confidence. Consider the different ways the boss might react and prepare for them as well. All of this takes some effort. But the alternative is to remain this decision purgatory and no one wants to do that.

Have other dilemmas like this? Send me an e-mail at bobw@commonsenseenterprises.net. I’d be happy to help.

 

 

 

At What Point Does Digital Technology Harm Employee Development?

A recent article in Vertical Distinct describes how Amazon.com uses digital technology to regulate its workplaces. The company has come under scrutiny a number of times because of its hyper-focus on improving productivity. It is understandable that productivity would be a focus in an environment filled with repetitive and monotonous tasks. At what point, however, does this focus become counterproductive? More globally, what impact do these practices have on the development of decision making and critical thinking skills among those who work for the company?

Amazon currently employs 850,000 people in the US and throughout the world. The vast majority of these individuals will move on to work at other firms over time. So, what happens if Amazon’s hyper-focus on productivity on prevents these employees from honing the skills essential to thinking independently in future work environments?

Imagine hiring a twenty-something who has spent the first five years of his working life in an Amazon distribution center where his every step and action is programmed and regulated. If you ask him to think for himself, he may not know what that looks like. Will he have developed the workplace problem solving skills one might assume of someone in their twenties? Multiply this challenge several million-fold over time and you begin to see the significance of the dilemma.

Firms hiring Amazon alumni would be wise to consider this fact during selection. No firm wants to spend extra resources teaching basic thinking skills and workplace resourcefulness. Amazon is not solely responsible for this phenomenon, of course. But as goes one of a nation’s business leaders, others are sure to follow.

Sadly, this phenomenon contributes to the learned helplessness we are already complaining about in society. Learned helplessness is fostered by three factors that have combined to create a sense of personal dependence rather than personal resourcefulness. First, there is menu-driven thinking or the over-dependence on digital menus and technology. Regardless of age and experience, we are all manipulated by these systems. This is especially true for digital natives.

Second there is the belief that everyone is entitled to success as they define it. An example of this are “trophy kids, along with educators and others who believe we shouldn’t keep score during games because the loser may have their feelings hurt. Third are the enabling managers who answer endless questions, rather than compelling their people to develop the critical thinking skills to “figure it out” independently. Effective decision skills evolve over time as life’s obstacles are confronted and overcome. Much of this takes place on the job.

Some managers reading this might argue, “My job is not to teach critical thinking skills. My job is to get the most out the people I supervise.” While this feeling is understandable, one must wonder where the threshold lies between productivity and workforce development as a responsibility to both workers and the marketplace in general.

Is there a solution to this dilemma? No. Rather than a solution, there is more likely to be an on-going tension between the desire for productivity and profit and responsibility to the greater good. There are, of course, consequences if there becomes an imbalance in this tension. If too much focus is placed on productivity and the bottom line, employers will experience high turnover and heightened tension between management and those it employs. (We have recently witnessed a bit of this at Amazon.) If the focus is placed too much on employee development, then productivity and profits may be impacted.

What are your thoughts on this conundrum? I would like to know and so would others. Post your comments below or send me an email to bobw@commonsenseenterprises.net.

Ready – Fire – Aim Revisited

Back in the 1980s, the phrase “ready – fire – aim” was popularized by management experts as a solution for growing companies at a rapid pace. More recently, business titan, Jeff Bezos, was quoted as saying, “Being wrong might hurt you a bit, but being slow will kill you.” If you think about it, both observations make the same essential point – make a decision! You don’t, however, have to be a Wall Street wizard to apply this principle.

Several years ago, I had dinner with Jay, a successful friend of mine. He had just attended a day long retreat for colleagues running multi-million-dollar companies. I asked him what he had taken away from the meeting. “See-do,” he said. I asked him to explain.

“As we went around the room sharing ideas, one of the things I noticed was that every one of us, talked about a usable idea we had discovered and every single one of us had attempted to implement it immediately. Not all of them worked out, but I was stuck by the fact that none of us hesitated or overthought the concept. In other words, we saw and we did.”

I have tried to live by that principle ever since. It’s not easy. Our always brain wants to protect us. Therefore, any time we introduce uncertainty into our routine, it begins to flood our thinking with all the reasons this new idea could be harmful. To make matters worse, it releases the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol into our nervous system making the feeling of uncertainly all that more intense. Since no one likes discomfort, our first instinct is to draw back and be careful. Unfortunately, this reaction has one of two effects: 1) It discourages us from acting all together or 2) It compels us to analyze the idea to death, in a desperate attempt to remove all the risk. There’s even a term for this – analysis paralysis.

Successful decision makers, like Jay, acknowledge this and act anyway. Might there be some initial discomfort? Probably. Is there a chance for the decision goes wrong? Sure. But if you continue to make decisions and learn to manage the discomfort, you’ll be further ahead over time even if you make lots of mistakes.

What’s the great idea you have been tossing around for the past few days, weeks, or even months? Uncertainty of outcome prevents most of us from becoming more successful than we are, no matter how we measure this. Do you need to have a clear plan for implementation? Yes. Do you need to have your resources in place? Sure. But don’t spend so much time getting ready that you never act on the opportunity. Success is about making decisions, not over-analyzing them out of fear. Put your discomfort aside, pull the trigger and enjoy the adventure.

Save Energy by Managing Your Appoplexy

It is so easy to find an app for every little convenience these days. Whether you’re looking for travel short-cuts, recipes, or simply games to pass the time. Search any topic on Apple or Android and you’ll find millions of them, most free or less than five dollars. Installing them is as easy as clicking on “open,” authorizing installation with your thumb and waiting a few seconds for it to load. Voilà, instant convenience and fun.

In many ways, however, apps have become a crutch as everyone reaches for their smart phone seeking assistance with everything under the sun. But there is a more insidious cost of having an app for every need imaginable. All these apps can be a source of decision fatigue. Imagine trying to save a bit of money by using the app you’re positive you’ve downloaded to save a couple of bucks on Bar-B-Que. As you page through each screen, your brain has to examine each app’s icon ever-so-briefly to determine whether or not that’s the one you’re looking for. Each one of these neural transactions consumes a bit of the sugar energy your brain depends upon to focus and function.

Too many apps can clog up the system. There’s the conference app you downloaded for that meeting in Detroit back in 2016. There’s the Sit or Squat app you downloaded to help your aging parents find the closest public toilet on last year’s vacation. There’s that car seat helper app you used seven years ago, except now your kids are in middle school. If you can’t remember the exact name of the Bar-B-Que app or what it looks like, you could spend five minutes looking for something that will only save you two bucks. And once you’ve found it, you’ll probably spend another couple of minutes updating it, depending on the speed of the local internet.

Sometimes in seminars, I’ll ask those attending to pull out their smart phones and count the number of apps they have downloaded. The record so far on one device is 241. That’s ten full screens of 24 apps each. Here’s the bottom line. When it comes to apps, the more convenience you have, the less convenience you have.

Decision fatigue is caused by making too many unproductive decisions. Looking for that “needle-in-a-haystack” app is a great example of why we feel tired halfway through the day. This is a phenomenon I call “appoplexy.” So here’s a quick solution. Take out your smart phone right now and delete an app you really don’t use. Then make a practice of doing so whenever you’re on line at the grocery store, waiting to get your car washed, or waiting for the movie to begin. Eliminating little decisions will conserve the energy you need for the bigger decisions throughout the day.

One Sure Way to Reclaim Your Life from Decision Fatigue

You probably know the feeling. You get up in the morning, get ready for the day and drive to the office. Then you sit down at your desk and brace yourself for the onslaught of messages needing to be cleared. You navigate the pop-ups, opt-ins and opt-outs, the unsubscribes, and the reply-alls you don’t need to see.

Then there’s the pressure to get more done. Just about the time you’re caught up, something lands on your desk that needs to be done “right away.” In the midst of all this, you deal with texts, Slack messages, and e-mails from customers, bosses, and co-workers who seem to think that you should be immediately available 24-7-365. After all, in this globalized economy, it’s always 8AM somewhere.

There’s just not enough, time, energy and focus. Does this sound familiar? This is the beginning of decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is when you make poor choices because your brain is overloaded due to the overwhelming demands of modern life. It is directly linked to a concept called satisficing – not making the best decisions, but decisions that are good enough. The reason? Each one of these “micro-decisions” consumes a bit of the blood-glucose energy your body produces every day, based on what you eat and the amount of sleep you get. In making 100 or more of these micro-decisions at the very beginning of the day, by clearing email and other distractions, you take the edge off of your concentration for the more important tasks later on.

So, how do you deal with this challenge? Plan to clear your e-mail and other messages after the first project of the day. Now, I can hear you thinking, “Yeah, right! You don’t know my boss, my customers, my company, my culture.” As a matter of fact, I do. And what I know is that there are individuals in any organization who have found a way to manage the email and message onslaught rather than becoming a victim of it. Frankly, what you may be fighting more than the culture is your fear of missing out (FOMO).

Most of us have become so conditioned to answering e-mails and other messages first thing every morning, that we feel a visceral discomfort if we don’t. It hangs over us and feels like a big incomplete until we satisfy the craving. How do you accomplish this change of routine? Here’s a simple five-step process.

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Second, sell it to your boss. There a few draconian bosses out there who may demand an immediate response to whatever messages they send. For the most part, however, the average supervisor is more interested in your output than an arbitrary measurement of task completion. If you frame it as, “I get my best work done first thing in the morning,” chances are they will buy into the idea of not hearing from you until 9 or 10AM. In fact, you may even start a trend. More than one workplace has improved its productivity by relaxing the expectations around the timeliness of message response. All bets are off, of course, if you’re in a position where timely response determines quality of customer service. But then you knew that, right?

Third, announce it. If you think it is appropriate, create an auto-responder that reads something like, “Thanks for your message. I usually focus on high-focus projects early in the morning and don’t generally return e-mail before 10AM. Thanks for your patience and understanding.” Do not, however, end with a sentence like, “If you have an urgent need, text me at 123-456-7890,” because they will. If it’s really urgent, they’ll figure it out.

Fourth, remove environmental triggers. Rethink your morning routine. Work on that project before you head to the office. Complete it at a coffee shop. Find a secret spot in the building. If you remain in the same work space where you have a deeply-routed cadence, your brain will send you endless discomfort signals that will be impossible to ignore. Change the rhythm by replacing with it something novel.

Fifth, focus on the reward. Decision fatigue sneaks up on us more than we realize. Take time to revel in the one or two hours you have every morning to attack a project, complete it to the best of your ability and check it off your list. By setting parameters around your time like this, you’ll make better decisions and have more peace of mind.

Leveraging your energy is a key to making the best decisions. If you consistently pursue this strategy for 30 days, it will become an ingrained routine. You’ll enjoy the freedom and those around you will be more respectful of your time.

How to Say “No” and Get Away with It

You know the drill. The boss says, “I need you to . . . .” or your team leader informs you that everyone else decided that you’ll be one to . . . “ or maybe a new initiative comes down from above without warning. In every case, you’ve already got too much on your plate. You may feel like people are dumping. Inside, you want to yell, ENOUGH!”

But it’s the boss, or the team, or someone else you feel you can’t refuse. But maybe you can. After all, there are only so many hours in the day and most of them are supposed to belong to you. So, here are three strategies for doing what some people think is unthinkable – Saying “no” and getting away with it:

Challenge the delegation with a reasoned and rehearsed response.The last thing anyone should do is simply tell the boss “No.” But after you’ve accepted the assignment, revisit the situation when the time is right. Here’s how – Begin by thinking through why you shouldn’t be completing the assignment. Too much on your plate? Is there someone better qualified or can complete it more efficiently? Maybe you’re concerned that with so much to do, you won’t be able to do your best work. You get the idea. Then develop your reasoning for saying “no” and offering an alternative outcome. Make it succinct. No one likes a big long story.

Rehearse what you’re going to say to make sure it comes out the way you want. Finally, approach your boss, team leader or whomever. You might begin with, “Could we revisit the project you assigned me yesterday?” or “I have a concern about the assignment you gave me yesterday.” Anticipate how the person might respond and be prepared to defend what you’re asking for. Hopefully, the delegator will consider your reasoning fairly and work with you to ameliorate the situation.

Ask the person to prioritize your tasks.It is not uncommon for supervisors to lose track of how much they’ve assigned. Diplomatically asking them to prioritize the tasks on your plates will remind them of your work load. You might begin be saying something like, “I was doing some thinking about the assignment you gave me this morning. I have three other projects in process. Where would you like me to fit this task into my priorities?” Then wait for them to consider the question. If you are given an off-the-cuff response like, “I don’t know. Just get it done,” this is a red flag. Ask for clarity about time commitment, deadline, specific outcomes and so on. Hopefully this will result in you getting some breathing room. If they do it again, repeat this process. Hopefully they will get better over time about how they delegate to you and everyone else.

Approach the person about your overall workload and commitments. There are times when you simply have to confront the situation. Be careful, however, to consider the perspective of the person assigning all these tasks. You have to offer options and solutions. Appearing to simply complain will not be a successful strategy. Take some time to consider how to best rearrange your work to ease the stress and make you more effective. Then present your ideas in such a way that demonstrates that you will not be adding to your supervisor’s burden, yet easing your burden so you can work more effectively. You might consult with a couple of trusted individuals, asking them to help you think through the best way to do all this. There is no guarantee that your supervisor will go along of course. But if he or she sees that it is in everyone’s best interest, you’ll have a better chance of success.

As with any strategy, effectiveness is all in the execution. These tactics certainly won’t work every time. But it’s worth the try if you want to reduce your decision fatigue and find more balance.