Are you one of those superstars who’s able to check off every item on your “to do” list by the end of the day every day? If so, then congratulations – and you can stop reading right now.

On the other hand, if you’ve ever had something linger on your “to do” list for days or maybe even weeks, then know that you are not alone.

Often, procrastination occurs when you’re at a crossroad – a fork in the road where a decision must be made.

Decide and Move On

Recently I found myself dragging my feet on getting an important email out. Since I was asking for something, I obsessed about how to approach the request, and kept flipping back and forth between two options.

Then I was struck by a moment of clarity: I was choosing between two perfectly valid options, either of which could work.

Dithering about it was not going to solve the problem or make it any easier to decide which way to go. All that mattered was that I pick one approach and act on it. Because the only sure “no” was to never ask at all.

This reminded me of a time in my corporate life where I had the same problem, only on a far bigger scale. Looking back, I can see that this would have slowed down my career progression.

It started when I was a junior analyst and had trouble deciding what to order when we all went out for dinner together. By the time I was a Vice President, I had graduated to a full on “analysis paralysis” – after all, there’s always something else to consider before deciding, right?

My procrastination habit got so bad that the head of the department ended up calling me into his office to tell me, “May, you have to decide, and move on. Decide, move on.” As he said this, he made vigorous slashing movements with his right arm – downward for “decide” and a push to the left for “move on”.

I was applying a degree of rigor to decisions that simply did not deserve that level of brainpower. There are some questions that can only be known for certain after the fact, and doing more thinking or analysis only adds complexity.

That makes it doubly bad for your productivity and mental wellbeing. Not only is it wasting time and energy, it also saps your strength for all the other things in life.

Good Things Happen When You Decide

I finally “got it” and began to make decisions. And once I got the hang of deciding, good things started happening.

  • I felt better. More confident, freer, and hey, guess what? I was getting more things done.
  • I started getting results. Funny how that happens when you get those invitations sent and those calls made. Then others have something to react to.
  • The world did not end. In fact, it made me realize that this was not such a “big deal”. Looking back, most of the things I obsessed about were little mole hills and not monumental world changing decisions.

All of which made it easier to keep making more decisions.

How to Decide and Move On

So, going back to my story, even though I got the message, it was still hard to implement. Here’s what has helped me to decide and move on more often:

1. What’s at stake?

If you’re deciding on the really big things, like whether to uproot your entire family to move halfway around the world, by all means, take the time to do some more homework.

But if it’s within the realm of the normal, then it’s a candidate for simply deciding and moving on. By the way, most things are going to fall into the realm of the normal.

2. Is it a recurring decision?

Will you have the opportunity to decide again – like what to have for lunch, whether to go to the gym, how to say no while maintaining a relationship?

If so, then routinize it. Have a set of language in your saved folder that you can cut and paste into a “no” email. Have a “go to” set of items you order. Or, pick one and you can always pick a different one next time if you don’t like the outcome.

3. Is the decision reversible?

If so, it matters less. More important to just pick one and go for it, and look at the results and adjust if you need to.

4. How big a deal is this… really?

  • Are the outcomes roughly equal and hard to measure, as in “six of one, half a dozen of the other” (as they say in the US) or “much of a muchness” (as they say in the UK)? If so, that’s a great candidate for just choosing one and going for it. You really can’t go wrong.
  • What’s the worst thing that can happen if you get it wrong?
  • What’s the best thing that can happen if you get it right?
  • What happens if you keep sitting on the decision? And is it just as bad as (or worse than) getting it wrong?
  • Is no decision also a decision? (Hint: the answer is yes!)

The Importance of Making a Decision

The main thing is to decide quickly so you can get going. The sooner you can do that, the easier it will be to stay out of procrastination cycle and get into the productivity cycle.

Once you commit to a path, the rest flows much more easily.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

– W. H. Murray

Any decision is better than no decision. And no decision is also a decision. So go ahead and give yourself permission to decide and move on. Your productivity and performance depend on it.

And when you fall off the wagon like I did recently, the key is to recognize what’s happened and get back to deciding… and moving on!

So, what are you procrastinating about and where can you decide and move on?

Leave a comment and let me know.

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