I’ve had a couple of days recently where at the end of the day I felt quite wrung out. And it wasn’t because I’d been grappling with a hard passage, or leading a difficult meeting, or trying to understand finances. (Spreadsheets – ugh).
No, it was simply because I had spent a day being presented with a series of issues on which I was being asked to make decisions.
I had spent a day being presented with a series of issues on which I was being asked to make decisions
Now, it’s now common knowledge that decision-making is one of the hardest tasks the brain has to do. It’s up there with constantly switching between areas of focus (which is why trying to multitask is so exhausting, and also why it can’t be achieved) and exercising self-control. Clue: exercising self-control is much harder if you’ve given in even once – not eating any chocolate digestives is much easier than eating just one and putting the lid back on the tin.
So a day spent making decisions is going to be a tiring day. It feels like you’re doing something productive, but actually, but the end, you haven’t done anything other than choose. No choice has been taken forwards – and you have zero energy for doing it anyway.
What to do? Because leaders do have to make decisions and choices, and those decisions are usually the hard ones because if they were easy, someone else would have made them.
And, to be honest, most of us find it hard not to stick our oar in. The buildings committee might have decided that the right colour was green, but they’re coming to you to validate their choice – and by deciding you actually you obliterate all the work that they’ve done to that point because their discussions and decisions are made irrelevant by the fact that you choose to make the decision yours.
Thereby depleting your decision-making energy as well.
So you waste their time, and yours.
Instead, the goal has to be to reduce the number of decisions you have to make. And there are two main ways.
Decide less by Automating
You probably already do that with which bible passage you’re going to read today, who you’re going to pray for, and maybe which small group you’re visiting. I have a packing list, a template for recording stuff from books, a regular time to catch up with notes from meetings.
We all know the story of Barack Obama and the suits – he never had to decide what to wear because he always wore the same. That’s an extreme example, but:
- Why make decision about which book to read next? Have a pile, and work through it. Occasionally sort through it if you wish, but normally, just say, ‘next!’
- Why make a decision about how to prepare a sermon? You normally go through the same sequence, so just identify it and name it.
You can think other examples – the lifestyle gurus all it ‘automation’, meaning that the decision was made once when you constructed the template, and it’s then easy to action it each time.
If you work in a team, you can establish principles: these choices shouldn’t need to come to me.
What bit of your life could you make decision-lite by automating? One of Michael Hyatt’s good habits is trying to construct an Ideal Week. In your Ideal Week, when do things like exercise, or Quiet Times, or time with the kids, take place? Can it all fit into one week? Well, try to put some of those things into a weekly routine a bit, so that you don’t have to decide each time. I find that especially important in ministry, where there is relative freedom in the way we design our days – structure helps.
Decide less by Delegating
I know, I know. Grandmother, have an egg.
But I also know (from my tiring days) that I’ve obviously got a lot to learn here.
You see, it’s very easy to delegate stuff that I’m not interested in. But when you look closely, ’You decide – I don’t mind either way’ is not actually delegation, is it?
It’s much harder to delegate stuff where I am interested, even though I’m not the right or necessary person to make the call. We were talking about redecorating the staff corridor, and people wanted my view. Fair enough, I’m on the staff. I don’t like the idea of hot pink walls (although for the record, no-one’s suggested that). And I know the colours I prefer – but why should my views be the one that matters? We need the people whom we all agree have beautiful and relaxing homes to guide the decisions for us.
Sometimes, when you’re the leader, you do have to make the call. Sometimes, when you’re the leader, people want your views to carry more weight, so that the decision feels formally ‘approved.’ Sometimes, when you’re the leader, people need to feel that you’re invested in the project.
‘You decide – you’re much better placed than I am to make the call. You decide – you know more than me. You decide – I know that I think but I’m just as likely to be wrong. You decide – it’s your decision, not mine.’
Those are all genuine acts of delegation – where our refusal to be the one to make the decision actively empowers someone else. ‘I trust you, and will abide by your decision.’
And those acts thereby genuinely reduce the number of decisions we need to make, and free us to be that bit more focused.
I don’t have a bible verse or passage for this, but I do think it’s a fair implication of ‘body’ language.