Too many options can lead to analysis paralysis, where no choice is made, or decision fatigue, where the process of evaluating options drains your decision-making reserves and causes you to make a poor choice.
The process of eliminating options can also be used to speed up and improve the decision-making process, by restricting deep analysis only to options that are clear contenders.
To limit your options, try the following techniques:
- Filter Options
Eliminate options based on one or more attributes of each option. Use crisp criteria to determine whether an option should be excluded. Avoid criteria requiring judgement calls, which slow down the process and cause your brain to switch from filter mode to analysis mode.
- Divide & Conquer
Split your decision into two decisions by grouping options by a key attribute of your decision. Then first choose a group, then an option within that group. For instance, color might be a key attribute when buying a suit. First decide the color you want, then decide which suit of that color you want.
If choosing multiple options, arrange your groups to pick one option from each group. For instance, when evaluating marketing vendors, group all your search engine optimization vendors together and all your social media vendors together. Then choose one from each.
- Reduce Overhead
If you can’t split your decision, group options together based on how you’ll evaluate them. For instance, group all the items which share the same review site together so you can go evaluate each option without the overhead of bouncing between web sites.
- Sort by Importance
Rate how important each option is and sort by that rating. Then evaluate options in order from most to least important. Stop analysis after a certain number of options or after a certain amount of time. If you start hitting analysis paralysis or decision fatigue, pick an option you’ve reviewed. Since you tackled the most important options first, your decision will be better than if you tried evaluating all options half-heartedly.
- Select a Subset
Pick a subset of your options and then make your decision from an option in that subset. If sorting, choose one of the top 10 options. Or use a sampling approach, randomly picking 10 options to form your subset. If grouping, form a subset by picking one or two from each group.
When using these techniques, think in phases. First you might filter, then you might sort by importance, then finally pick a subset of options to do further analysis on. Or you might go through multiple filter phases before picking an option.
Whatever you do, avoid analyzing options in-depth and making trade-off decisions until you’ve reduced your options to as few as possible. Restricting options may feel limiting, but you’ll often make a better decision by doing so.
What other ways do you use to limit your options?
Credits: The photo used in this article was taken by Paul Joseph.