How To Rid Yourself Of Unnecessary Decisions in 3 Steps

HR insights and tips with Jeff Havens

Hello, and welcome to another installment of HR Intervention!  I’m Jeff Havens, and I have a confession to make.

My wife can’t handle the grocery store. (I didn’t say the confession was about me, now did I?)

She has her Ph.D. in organic chemistry, so she’s plenty smart, but she goes to pieces whenever I make the mistake of letting her come grocery shopping with me.

She looks at everything, goes down every aisle even if we don’t need to, stops in random places whenever an unexpected item catches her fancy, chooses to add things that weren’t on our list, and then second-guesses the wisdom of those decisions.

It takes three times as long for me to do our grocery shopping when my wife is with me than when I go by myself. It’s even quicker when I take my two-year-old son with me and leave her at home.

My wife can talk about aromatic rings and alpha amino radicalization with the best of them (those are both chemistry things, by the way, she’s tried to tell me about them), but the grocery store overmasters her.

The reason this happens is because the grocery store offers about 467,000 choices, and my wife doesn’t do a good job of filtering out the unnecessary ones.

When I go grocery shopping, I make a list, buy the things on the list, and ignore everything that isn’t on the list. There are aisles in our grocery store that I haven’t gone down in months – unless my wife drags me there to see what fancy surprises are hiding on those mystical shelves.

I am an unbelievably boring grocery shopper, but I’m definitely efficient.

Now this is just one example. I could have shared a different example where my wife is the disciplined one and I’m the overwhelmed one, but this is my article and so I’d rather make fun of her instead of me. However, I have noticed that there is a pretty straightforward pattern whenever either of us is doing a good job of being quick and decisive.

So in case you’d like to have fewer unnecessary decisions in your life, here’s what seems to work for us:

1. Have Some Idea Of What You Want 

If my wife and I sit down to watch television without knowing what we’re in the mood for, it takes forever to find something. If we agree to watch a drama or an action movie or a Pixar film, it takes about five minutes.

The same is true if you get in your car without having any idea where you want to go, or start your workday without any idea what you’re hoping to get accomplished.

Just having a rough plan of attack will drastically reduce the amount of time you spend thinking about what you’re about to do.

2. Eliminate Options 

The more options you give yourself, the longer it will take to weigh all of those options. So get rid of as many as you can.

If you’re trying to decide where to eat on Saturday night, choose from three options instead of seven. If you’re getting quotes from possible business service providers, stop at four instead of sixteen.

You can always get four more if you don’t like what you see from the first batch, but you might also save yourself a world of time by not asking everyone on the planet to tell you what they have to offer.  

3. Don’t Second-Guess Your Decision

Unless it’s a critical thing that you just decided, but usually it’s not. Are you going to have a massively different evening if you choose restaurant A over restaurant B?

Probably not.

Does it do you any good to obsess over whether or not you’ve chosen the right contractor after you’ve already signed the contract?

Not really.

Yes, you’ll occasionally make mistakes, but guess what – you’ll also make mistakes even if you thoroughly consider every possible choice you have. There’s never any guarantee that the decisions you make are going to be perfect, so don’t beat yourself up too much when they aren’t.

I hope this helps.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go buy some milk. I could send my wife, but then I might not see her again until tomorrow.

Looking to take your decision making skills even further? Check out this free guide with strategies to overcome the overwhelm:

Jeff Havens is a speaker, author, and professional development expert who tackles leadership, generational, and professional development issues with an exceptional blend of content and entertainment. He is a contributing writer to Fast Company, Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal; and has been featured on CNBC and Fox Business. For more information, or to bring Jeff to your next meeting, call 309-808-0884, email, or visit

Speaker, Author and Professional Development Expert