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How to Simplify Your Decision Making

I wrote a ~2,000 word article to help you make decisions but it was too much to consume and really take action on. So I made a decision (see what I did there?) to simplify it into one simple post to help you improve your decision making skills.


The Power of Simplification

This time of year a lot of people are making tough decisions about starting a new job or finding a new apartment and signing a lease, etc.

What’s been the toughest decision you’ve made lately?

Recently, for me it’s been buying furniture. I have spent the last two months pinning on Pinterest, visiting Design within Reach, Ikea, Ashley Furniture, talking to my design-y friends (thanks Lisa & Crystal!), sitting on chairs / couches, etc.. I looked at everything…

Yet at the same time, it is very easy for me to make other decisions. For example, I went to buy new dishes the other day. I saw a green and blue set I liked and decided to buy it right then.

What made one decision easier than the other?

Even though I’m 31, I have never bought furniture before. WTF? But I have bought dishes a number of times and I knew exactly what to look for.

Life is all about decisions. Small decisions, big decisions. And we have to make countless decisions every day. Just like positive triggers, I’ve realized it is easier to move forward if I can turn big decisions into smaller ones.

Here are some of tactics I use to simplify decisions.


Set Limits:

Limit the # of Choices. Instead of a wide, infinite playing field, in your decision get down to no more than 3 things that you are trying to accomplish.

Limit your time (aka Parkinson’s law). Love this. “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.“ So limit your time in decisions and you’ll be doing less work (or tiring your brain).

Limit opinions to 3 people maximum. I’ve consistently found you’ll get both sides on your decision and feel the best after you’ve finally decided. Three relevant people is more than enough to help you filter opinions to figure out what you want.

Reminder: Most of the time when we want an opinion we are looking for confirmation of what we will do regardless. Constantly seeking opinions can be a clear indicator we may not really want something. (click to tweet)

Napkin technique. If you are designing a website, draw it with a big marker on a napkin. You can only do so much on a napkin so you’ll prioritize what you really want.


Remove the Difficulty:

Automatic responses. My favorite default color is pastel green. Defaulting to this makes almost all choices with color SO much easier.

Flip a coin. Give your decision over to chance. This is a duh one. But once you let the coin decide you’ll internally realize which decision you actually wanted.

Let someone else decide. Many times at restaurants I tell the waiter to choose for me. It’s more fun and I don’t have to think. Yay.

Hire someone to think for you. This is why you go to a plumber or why I use Adam of MyBodyTutor who helps guide me in my workouts.


Don’t Give a Fuck:

Say yes to everything. You can’t regret when you’ve accepted all decisions will be positive. Give it a shot and see what you learn about your relationship with decision making.

Walk the plank technique. Make it so you can’t go back. Like if you don’t make the decision you have to donate to your worst charity or do something you’d really NOT want to do.


With the furniture I ended up choosing this setup:

Living Room Furniture Couch with Two Chairs

Funny enough I debated getting a recliner for a few months. It dragged ON and ON. I wasn’t sure.

That alone was the decision. I wasn’t ready for the recliner. I chose nothing. I would rather find the right chair to read, eat, sleep, watch movies in, etc…than get something I’m not excited to be buying.

The techniques I used to decide was walk the plank and Parkinson’s law.

I decided I had to make the purchase by a certain period of time and then bought Macy’s gift cards so I was forced to use them at that location. The last thing that was extremely helpful was being able to visualize what the end goal looked like. While at Macy’s I noticed a layout that I liked and was able to sit in. That made getting a similar layout so much easier than never having a clue.


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84 responses to “How to Simplify Your Decision Making”

May 31, 2016 at 7:48 pm

Thanks Noah, appreciate your time. For lunch I decided to have a carrot a banana and some nuts.

Devon Sawyer
April 8, 2016 at 10:54 am

I ate an entire chicken.

Drew Hernandez
March 15, 2016 at 2:37 pm

I had 5 for $4.00 at Burger King for lunch. Tell a friend.

Umesh Singh
February 24, 2016 at 12:56 am

Enjoyed reading every single word of this post. I got some lesson today “How to take decision when you are confuse?” And we can learn something from every time.

Manju Hariharan
January 6, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Loved reading this article. After reading, immediately I wrote down the 3 things I want to do today!

November 17, 2015 at 3:00 pm

I take my lunch to work every day and eat the same thing, day-in and day-out. Makes “deciding” really simple.

L.L. Barkat
November 17, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Penne with vodka sauce. Salad with fresh red peppers.

I think the autumn day put me in a red mood.

(The topic of decision-making is an interesting one. Some people seem to struggle so much with this. I think it’s compounded by fear of making the “wrong” decision. While the truth is there are many “right” decisions one could make, and very few decisions are things you can’t tweak in new directions down the line.)

October 8, 2015 at 3:03 am

Salad with bok choy, papaya and almonds, some crackers and an okinawan sweet potato dipped in coconut oil and salt. For dessert I cut up the rest of the papaya and mixed it with some coconut butter.
I live on Oahu so… it’s pretty nice. I got no complaints. I like your writing style, thank you for sharing! ?

Shannon Byrne
September 10, 2015 at 9:46 pm

So my New Year’s resolution was supposed to be to work on my anxiety around decision making, which I may have improved on slightly out of shear necessity, but still have a ton of work to do. For that reason, I thank you for this post!

Also, it’s just nice to know that I’m not alone. I know everyone struggles to make decisions every day, but some people seem so content with their decisions even if the consequences slap them in the faceThey just make the most of it and reflect positively on lessons learned. I both hate that person and want to be them. 🙂 . I have crippling anxiety over decisions around the stupidest shit. It’s silly. Anyway, thanks! Also, good job with the furniture. Looks great! 😀

September 5, 2015 at 7:51 am

I decided on my lunch yesterday, I made a beef burger salad.

On a similar note: last week my flatmate took 3 hours to decide what chicken dish she wants to make. She actually had to make a quick sandwich in the process because she got too hungry.

August 20, 2015 at 11:00 am

Thank you for taking the time to write this Noah! I totally agree 🙂

I am visiting Virgina so I had some southern BBQ for lunch.

I appreciate all that you do for your readers!!

Monica Ayala
August 18, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Noah, one of the best emails I’ve received from you-to date! All these little hacks for decision making really broke it down into workable successions. Keep the good work up brother!
Btw, when you’re in Miami 2 places you GOTTA get tacos, Coyo Taco in Wynwood and Jacalito Taqueria Mexicana in East Coral Gables. Let me know when you visit, so many more spots….

Sarah Montgomery
August 18, 2015 at 3:20 pm

“(Also makes me wonder why more restaurants don’t show what the dishes look like on the menu. ya know?)”

In Japan they do 🙂 …

Don Christian
July 28, 2015 at 4:34 pm

I currently live in Southern Spain, to focus on writing my book. The heat makes my decision making incredibly easy. I brought too much clothes geared for a Danish summer, but it is never below 25 degrees here (You gotta stop using fahrenheit. It doesn’t even American ring to it).
Anyway, I have ONE pair of thin shorts for non-public/home where I walk around shirtless.
I have another pair of nicer, but warmer shorts for going out and four T-shirts, and change whenever the one I am wearing is sweat through.
Washing and drying takes no time, when the sun is scorching everyday.

Oh, and I had chicken paella for lunch.

Daniel Wallock
June 9, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Hi Noah,

I’m a fan of your blog. I’ve recently been reading books on minimalism. I really like this blog post. The website on a napkin idea is really cool.

Thanks, Daniel

June 9, 2015 at 3:22 pm

I love reading your quirky emails. This particular one was exactly what needed to mule over. As I’m thick on a few decision myself.

June 2, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Wow, you got some shitty lookin‘ furniture there. Glad I didn’t buy this! Kinda reminds me of college – best 9 years of my life. Oh, wait… I think that was high school. Anyhow – I should talk: when I got married years ago, I had three motorcycles in my dining room. (Did I mention I also had a $40k clock?)
It all started one cold winter day when I brought one of my bikes inside to do some warranty work on it and I realized I never once smiled at my dining room tables. So whooost… I moved them up to the attic, and pulled all my bikes in. Smiled every time I walked by them.
My wife never said anything about them – good lass that she is – until year three, when I mumbled I might put them back in the garage. Note to self: never mumble private thoughts that are just loud enough for someone to hear when you’re around your wife. Seriously, if you really want your wife to listen… talk to another woman. Just kidding about my wife – my wife is a wonderful person and that’s not just my opinion. It’s her’s. Jeff Dobkin [at] Enjoyed your article, Noah.

June 2, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Awesome article! For lunch I eat whatever I happen to be making for my daughter’s lunch. She tells me what she’d like and I make it happen. I guess that means I’m letting someone else make the decision for me. It’s one less decision for me and so much easier to make double of something than to make two separate meals.

Thanks, Noah.

May 26, 2015 at 6:12 pm

Of all the bloggers and influencers i follow (which is a LOT), i genuinely look forward to yours Noah. Your sense of realism and genuine regard for providing true talk is refeshing.

No BS, no tactics, just good old Noah.

Looking forward to the next segment of this.

April 23, 2015 at 1:59 am

Great post, really useful

April 11, 2015 at 5:36 am

Superb post Noah. I really appreciated the Napkin Technique you mentioned as a great visual to prioritize what is important and containing our limits. By the way, for lunch I had a big helping of simplicity thanks to you.

March 31, 2015 at 2:50 pm

I had lunch at Thai restaurant with friends today. I had never been there before and opted to have a thai iced tea and basil noodles with tofu. It was good! Thanks for the post, and I love your living room setup.

February 24, 2015 at 4:19 pm

This was a great reminder to get UNstuck … Flipping a coin is one if my favorite things to do, especially when decided what to eat.

February 10, 2015 at 11:04 pm

I had leftover chicken while chilling at a band concert, Thanks for asking!

January 28, 2015 at 11:59 pm

I hate a taco salad. Thank you for shooting straight and keeping it real. Very refreshing and just the kick in the pants many need to hear.

January 27, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Tacos @ tacos@pacos

January 21, 2015 at 5:27 am

Lunch?!?! Are you nuts! I’ve only just decided what to have for brekkie!! (was a bacon bap with brown sauce btw)

I’ve figure if I’m struggling with a decision, it usually because I don’t like my options or I don’t care enough about the outcome.

Eric Deeter
January 20, 2015 at 4:34 pm

I went to Jack in the Box and had their new specialty burger. It looked like it should have been more spicy than it was.

Excellent breakdown on making decisions. I wrote in my book that new entrepreneurs should practice decision making skills around where to go and what to have for lunch. I like that you ended up this article at what’s for lunch.

Bill Dwyer
January 20, 2015 at 4:16 pm

very useful post, love its brevity. I had peanut butter and marmalade on hazelnut bread with 1/2 spple

January 6, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Toughest decision I made lately? Gave my notice for a job I genuinely enjoyed (great people, good pay, easy commute, fun tasks, positive work environment) because I was curious as to what else is out there. I’m wrapping things up with my company and am about to buy a plane ticket and jet off to the Italian Alps, where I’ll work as a farmhand for a castle.

I made the choice because I looked in the mirror and asked myself, “What do you want to wake up and do tomorrow?” instead of making a pro/con list. Otherwise, I’d always find the good in my job and never find the great in the world.

Ankit Prakash
December 27, 2014 at 11:29 am

Hey Noah,

Although the post is little old, but it is evergreen and guiding quire effectively. Simplification is quite required for good and quick decision making. Yes, cutting the noise should be our first goal to achieve this.
Completely agree with 3 member opinion and hiring someone to think about us.

Matt Plociak
December 16, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Noah, I find it fascinating how many of my clients have difficulty in make seemingly simple decisions that to me seems obvious. I have a small business consulting firm with a partner. And, one of our major frustrations is to get some of our clients to MAKE A DECISION! Any decision. I’m struggling a bit to understand this… What’s the worse that can happen? You make a wrong decision and you have to change it or reverse it, so what? Maybe it costs you money, but that is one great advatnage of being a business owner you CAN change a decision!
BTW, I have salmon for lunch…it was one of three choices I had at a holiday lunch for a friend’s company…easy decision, I didn’t want steak or chicken…

December 3, 2014 at 4:51 am

I decided to have a coke and potato soup for lunch but ended up getting an apple pie and a coke because the the restaurant didn’t have any soup left.

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