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Don’t Dilly-dally: Decide or Defer

Do you have a backlog of open decisions?

I just got off the phone with my friend John Knox who I interviewed for an upcoming episode of the Lean Decisions podcast. One thing he said struck a chord with me:

There’s a mental cost to having decisions linger.

Too often we leave decisions open. We don’t decide No, nor do we decide Yes.

We dilly-dally. We daydream. We say that all powerful hedge word…Maybe.

But there’s a mental cost to having decisions linger. The more decisions you leave open, the more drag you create on your ability to make decisions.

Drag comes from:

  • the interruption of your flow every time the decision pops into your consciousness
  • the time spent continually researching a decision with no clear stopping point
  • the energy spent rehashing arguments for or against without gaining any clarity
  • the hit to your self-esteem each time you feel bad for having not yet made a decision
  • the regret when you take too long to make a decision and you miss an opportunity
  • the mental weight of all the decisions you haven’t made

Drag drains your decision reserves and reinforces the habit of not making decisions, causing you to delay even more decisions.

In John’s case, he made the decision NOT to buy a brand new camera he’d been daydreaming about for months.

Once he make a firm No decision, he no longer needed to read reviews about the camera, save money to buy the camera or spend time daydreaming about all the great photos he could be taking “if only”.

He freed up the hold he had placed on his mental, time and financial resources by forcing himself to make a decision.

In the end, he either needed the camera or he didn’t. He asked himself a key question and decided he didn’t.

(Curious what that question was? Subscribe now to get the episode delivered straight to your inbox when it’s released).

“But I can’t make the decision now,” I hear you saying.

Fine. Then defer it.

Set a time in the future when you will make the decision, and forget about it until then. Stop wasting time and energy on the decision now.

But first, figure out the criteria that will allow you to make the decision.

Do you need certain information? Write down what you need. Do you need time to reflect? Schedule it.

Create a decision checklist that tells you what questions you need to ask yourself to decide if you’re ready to make this decision.

For instance, if deciding to buy a new cell phone, you might ask:

  • Has my existing phone started to crash too often?
  • Have prices come down enough?
  • Have I saved up enough money yet?

Periodically review these questions, then defer your decision until you can say Yes to all your criteria.

Leave out questions that involve research about your decision that may change between now and when you make your decision:

  • What phones are available?
  • How much do they cost?
  • What phones do people I trust like the most?
  • What features come with each phone?

Don’t get stuck on the research hamster wheel, continually replacing your old information with updates. All that previous information that you threw out represents wasted effort. Wait until the last minute to gather information that may change.

If you know what decision you want to make, but the conditions aren’t right yet to make it, define the criteria that will trigger that decision.

Make a contingent decision.

Decide now what conditions need to exist for you to hire your next employee.  Decide now at what price you will buy.

Where possible, automate or delegate those triggers. Create price alerts, set up notifications in your management dashboards, ask someone to tell you when the condition is met.

Once your conditions have been met, ensure the reasons you had for making that decision are still valid, then make it.

Become a more effective decision-maker by closing out those open decisions.

Aim to reduce your decision inbox to zero.

I can’t say I’m there yet, but I’m working on it. And every time I close out an open decision, I feel that twinge of accomplishment.

What open decisions do you have that you should decide or defer?


  1. Yours is a keen observation that goes beyond the “When-you-don’t-decide-you’ve-still-made-a-choice” saying. I find myself falling into researching a choice when I know that I won’t be executing on it in the near future, or if at all! This was a good reminder. Always pull the trigger. If nothing else, it gives clarity, so that you’re living your life, and your life is not living you.

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