How to Optimize Your Daily Decisions by Offering a Default

Never waste time in an endless decision loop again. Offer a default and get on with your life.

I’ve been training myself to use a new technique for decision making. Think about the last time you tried to choose a place to eat with a friend or significant other. Typically people enter an endless loop of “I don’t care, where do you want to eat.” Before you know it you’ve wasted loads of time, energy and stress on a decision no one really cares about. By offering a default, you offer an out and an easy resolution for everyone involved. Here’s how it works:

There’s a fine balance in relationships; both parties want to be heard and involved in decision making but neither party wants to waste finite emotional resources on silly decisions like where to eat dinner or what show to watch. It’s easy to think you’re respecting your partner by asking what they want to do but often it only leads to having the question flipped back as they reciprocate the sentiment.

Here’s the realization; by asking others what they want to do you are actually imposing the responsibility of having to choose on them. You are also saddling them with the stress of possible disappointment.

Why waste time worrying about what to eat when you could be eating?
Why waste time worrying about what to eat when you could be eating?

To solve this problem, I decided I would train myself to suggest something as opposed to leaving the decision entirely open. Instead of saying, “where do you want to go to dinner?” You say something like, “Do you want to go have pho for dinner?” You’ve offered a default.

Most of the time that simple change decides things. If, however, they say they want to go to a different restaurant, then you go there. You accept the decision and save a ton of time and stress that would have been spent deciding where to go.

This technique doesn’t just work well in relationships. It works wonders with groups of friends and in professional settings. Ever sat down with a group of friends and spent an hour trying to figure out where to eat? Suggest a place and get to the eating.

Professionally, I’ve completely stopped asking people when they’re free. Instead, I let them know when I’m free. For example, “I’m free from 12-2, let’s meet at 1 unless that doesn’t work for you.” You can save yourself a long email chain by simply offering a default up front.

Again, it isn’t about imposing your will on others. It’s about relieving them of the burden or responsibility. They can refuse the default and take that responsibility if they choose, and you’re prepared to accept it. But, you’re giving them an out so they don’t have to.

Internalizing this technique can go a long way as well. How many internal battles have you had about whether or not to work out, what to eat for dinner, etc… Give yourself a default.

I have a default to saying yes to invitations from close friends and family and a default to saying no to anyone else. If an invitation doesn’t inspire an enthusiastic yes or no, I just go by those defaults.

If you find yourself stuck in a place of indecision, put up a red flag. Is this a decision that comes up frequently? If so, sit down and write down your default.

By reducing the time spent making decisions that aren’t going to impact your life long-term you retain the energy needed to fully focus on what’s truly important to you. We all have limited focus and tolerance for stress think ahead and mentally automate the unimportant parts of life.



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