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The Art of Decision-Making

My friend Emmanuel grew up in Nigeria. Through a series of extraordinary circumstances, he came to America to attend a university.

In his first visit to a U.S. supermarket, he went in to buy tea. The scope and scale of the store was overwhelming; when he saw the aisle of teas and the ridiculous span of choices, he turned and ran out of the store. It was too much for him.

We are so inundated with choices that we barely think of it. But I’m convinced it takes a toll. Prior to my mom dying at age ninety-four, I would take her to the supermarket each week and it would take her—on a good day—over an hour to only buy four or five items. Her neurons were slowing down and the number of choices paralyzed her; synaptic breakdowns were making decision-making challenging. And although discovering an Aldi’s nearby helped—many times only one choice of peanut butter—it was still a slow process.

Every day we make tens of thousands of decisions—a Cornell University study revealed that Americans make over 200 decisions a day on food alone. I wonder if the phenomenal success of the fast-food franchise Raising Cane’s—which has tripled in size since 2016—is due to the fact that they only serve 4 food items? Total. That and the trace amounts of cocaine slipped into the recipe.

I’m kidding. But still…

The point is: the amount of decision-making due to the crazy number of choices can result in brain fatigue. There’s a reason why Steve Jobs wore the same black turtleneck and jeans every day. Leaders don’t want to waste neurotransmitters mileage on trivial choices, especially when energy is needed for decisions that are vital to you and your organization.

A “to do” list is good—it’s always best to get it out of your head—but a grid for prioritization of choices or tasks is better. The “Urgent/Important” graphic (or the “Eisenhower Matrix”) is helpful. It’s super-simple:

Part of learning to lead is learning how to make choices that require good decision-making.

You can’t waste energy and brainpower on trivial matters…and mornings are typically the best time to make big decisions before your neurons are fatigued from the hundreds of smaller choices made during the day. Try placing no more than 5 or 6 tasks from your extensive “to do” list in each quadrant. Finish one before adding another.

Of course not all your decisions will be perfect…and sometimes circumstances and contexts can force your hand.

But remember: if you could do all this perfectly, you wouldn’t need Jesus. He put it even more bluntly, “Apart from me, you can do nothing”, perhaps meaning that a simple ask or prayer may be the first best decision if we want to be fruitful, or productive, in the most important choices in our leadership life.

Dave Workman | The Elemental Group


Don't miss the latest Elemental Leaders podcast episode wherever you get your podcasts! Host Paul Baldwin interviews author and professor J.R. Woodward on his latest book “The Scandal of Leadership: Unmasking the Powers of Domination in the Church”based on his research on the problem of domineering leadership in the church…along with a prescription. Woodward contextualizes the “powers and principalities” that exacerbate dysfunctional leadership and outlines how to guard personal leadership. He co-founded Missio Alliance and serves as the National Director for the V3 Church Planting Movement. Woodward is an adjunct professor at several seminaries and universities, including Central Seminary, Missio Seminary, and America Evangelical University, as well as co-founding the Praxis Gathering.

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