You Make 35,000 Decisions A Day: How To Ensure They’re Excellent

According to some recent research, an adult makes about 35,000 “remotely” conscious decisions per day. These decisions can be as trivial as deciding between fruit loops or cheerios for breakfast but they can also be as impactful as deciding on the direction for a business merger, acquisition, spinoff or restructuring.

Being responsible for making 35,000 decisions each day can be overwhelming! How can you possibly hammer through these and be assured that you are making the best possible decisions?

A few years ago, I was sitting on the board for a non-profit that had considerable land holdings on Sylvan Lake. The land was used by the non-profit itself but also for 140 leaseholders who had cabins or RVs situated on the property around the lake. Due to a higher water level in the lake for a few years, a serious erosion problem had developed on over 1000 feet of their shoreline. Essentially the lake shore was beginning to slump into the lake and this was going to impact the 140 leaseholders and their cabins.

I volunteered to lead the effort to get environmental approvals and hire a contractor to install an erosion control system along the lakeshore. Besides having to ensure that the 140 leaseholders were on board with the decision (and every one of them had their own unique opinion), I had to ensure that we were making the best decisions from every perspective . . . environmentally, financially, lifecycle maintenance costs, safety of residents, practicality of use for the residents, etc. There were many different decisions to be made for such a seemingly simple project.

On top of this, I was also running a fairly large engineering company with about 250 employees and contractors working on many different concurrent projects. I needed a system to help me handle the volume of decisions that I was facing.

That is when I came across the concept of a decision matrix. A decision matrix is a series of questions that helps to put the decisions being made into the proper perspective and to consider all possible angles of the decision. It considers the user’s strengths and weaknesses and their blind spots. Because of this customization, every person’s decision matrix needs to be somewhat customized.

My decision matrix was created from a variety of sources. Some of the questions I “collected” from other business leaders, some through reading books and others I came up with through my own experiences (I have listed specific sources in front of the questions below and the italic text indicates where I tend to have weaknesses and blind spots).

  1. If I was replaced today, what would my replacement do?
  2. What would a great leader do?
  3. What story do I want to tell?
  4. Is the strategy behind this decision defined correctly?
  5. Is this consistent with our vision and is it in line with our values?
  6. How will this decision be executed?
  7. Are all the relationship effects understood with this decision?
  8. What influencing needs to be done to ensure the decision has buy-in and acceptance?
  9. Suzy Welch: What are the consequences of the decision in the time frame of;
    1. 10 minutes
    2. 10 months
    3. 10 years
  10. Andy Stanley: In light of my past experiences, present situation and future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?
  11. Michael Watkins: Specialist versus Generalist: Is this decision good for the business as a whole (as opposed to my specialty)?
  12. Michael Watkins: Analyst versus Integrator: Are you integrating collective knowledge from all areas of the business to determine if the decision makes sense organizationally?
  13. Michael Watkins: Tactician versus Strategist: Is this a strategic decision or focused myopically or tactically?
  14. Michael Watkins: Bricklayer versus Architect: Think in terms of interconnected systems. Does the decision impact one or more systems in your organization and what are the knock-on effects?
  15. Michael Watkins: Problem Solver versus Agenda Setter: Are you picking problems for the organization to solve or just solving problems?
  16. Michael Watkins: Warrior versus Diplomat: Are all stakeholders up to speed? Has all the influencing been done appropriately to make this decision successful?
  17. Michael Watkins: Supporting Cast Member versus Lead Role: What will be the impact of this decision on all stakeholders? Is it consistent with vision, values, strategy, current direction, etc.?

Fortunately, the vast majority of the many decisions we make each day are trivial and don’t require much thought at all. However, the fact remains that business leaders need to ensure that the decisions they are making are the best decisions possible considering all aspects of the business, the employees, the stakeholders, the economy at the present and where the economy may be headed. This is not a something to be taken lightly!

Spend some time to create your own decision matrix. Make sure to include questions in areas where you have weaknesses and blind spots. The questions in your matrix should force you to think through decisions from all angles.

Once you have completed your matrix, make sure you use it! Build the matrix into the review process for all your major decisions and you will make excellent decisions!


“Let the views of others educate and inform you, but let your decisions be a product of your own conclusions.” Jim Rohn


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38 thoughts on “You Make 35,000 Decisions A Day: How To Ensure They’re Excellent

  1. I greatly appreciate your advice and your Amazing collection of “decision awakening” questions.
    This is why I referred your post from my own about avoiding Decision Fatigue.
    Thank you for your supporto and your great job.