How to Simplify Your Decision Making

August 19, 2013 - Get free updates of new posts here

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

  1. Jim Reply

    Interesting post.
    I guess simplification is all relative. Furnishing that room for me would have included driving to the nearest moderately priced store that delivers, and picking out the pieces in about 10 minutes, without consulting anyone. I guess I just naturally default to the Don’t Give a F*** method for most things. I was surprised that you put that much thought into it.

  2. Gonzalo Paternoster Reply

    I favorite is limit it to 3 choices.

    This always works with my kids. I have 3 young kids and I use this on them all the time.

    I give them 3 choices of what they can eat after school so it makes it easy for the. When we go to a toy store we end up leaving because they can not decide.

    Thanks for the great tips Noah!

  3. Mark Reply

    For myself I’ve found that, the less important the decision, the harder it is for me to make. things I don’t care about, I don’t really have an opinion on, or that don’t impact my life in a meaningful way don’t get much decision-making done on them. But when something is a big step, I can always tell what the right choice is and I just do it. I don’t know why this is the case for me. I don’t think it has always been that way.

    I think one thing that helped me was traveling to country’s where people are living in poverty and barely have anything. When you are in that environment, suddenly the important stuff becomes obvious and you don’t have to debate too much about what to do.

  4. Mo Bjornestad Reply

    Noah – I really like your writing style – and your video presence – I actually believed that I would hear from you – I offered you a role for helping you to BE GREAT because you did something important – well, something really really important, like stopping violence against women, keeping schools safe, bringing Collaboration Humanity to bear no social problems – Lunch – we stock a premium bread and chunky peanut butter, with honey available, and sometimes a banana. Why don’t you decide to drop by – our best toaster is jacked but the second one is still working –


  5. Carter Reply

    Yesterday for lunch (first day on the new job, woo!), I went with the new coworkers to Stickler’s, a sandwich place. Someone suggested we could make a quick run there and I said “yes” without bothering to ask any questions.

    My favorite quote about decision making is from (someone I can’t recall at the moment, someone help me out here!) and basically says the when you find an item on a restaurant menu that looks good to you, close the menu and don’t worry about plate envy or “making the right decision” because you’ll find out soon enough and then you learned a lesson.

  6. Electra Reply

    “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~Leonardo da Vinci
    As someone who gets overwhelmed with “analysis paralysis” sometimes, limiting time & choices would help BIG TIME!

    Today, I’m having a big ol’ kale salad.

    Give that peace lily some water 🙂 Pothos is a super easy indoor plant too. You can water it about once a week.

    Thanks & have a great week!

  7. Jake Filloramo Reply

    Lately I’ve been trying to eat clean so I’ll prepare my lunches a day or two in advance. This helps so I don’t have to make a rash decision at lunch time and choose something less healthy that I may be craving.

    Today I’m having talapia on top of a kale, carrots, broccolini, spinach stirfry.

  8. harmony Reply

    I went to Panera Bread ans had one of their Spinach Souffles for brunch after a work out. I’ll juice some veggies later on.

  9. Anthony Close Reply

    I am going to eat. Thats all I know at the moment. A great book on decision making is called “the decisive moment”. It all about using a balance of emotion and logic to make choices.

  10. Luke Freeman Reply

    Nice! We’ve just furnished and painted the house, I’m much more pragmatic about it but it’s another layer of complex when there’s two of you!

    Lunch: leftover salad, chicken and rice

  11. Faris Sheikh Reply

    I ate a nice turkey panini today. In fact, I limited my choices to three

    1) The grill
    2) The healthy bar
    3) The sandwhich station

    Then I limited my time, cause my friend was waiting on lunch for me.

    After that, made an impulsive decision to go to a default panini, on the 3rd option (sandwhich station)

  12. Aleksander Tsatskin Reply

    Awesome Noah,

    Lots of these tips I knew already, but needed to be reminded. Especially the Parkinsona law.

    I had spaghetti with chicken

  13. Greg Watson Reply

    Timely post Noah!

    I’m just looking at purchasing snow tires for the coming season ( I know, I know, it is only the end of August, but I am kind of addicted to Quadrant II activities, when possible. Life goes so much more smoothly when I do 😉

    So I read the reviews on line, checked the Subaru forum on the recommendations for the Pacific NW, got an idea of prices from the local garage….. It was getting out of hand, but now that I know that I’m likely looking at approx. $1500 to get what I want, I find it easier to make the decision.

    So for me it has something to do with the cash that will be expended once the choice is made.

    What I would like to get better at is factoring the “cost” of the time it takes to make the decision, so your idea of setting a time limit will come in handy.

    Oh and lunch, Quinoa with cultured veggies, kale and toasted sunflower seed pesto, a couple of soft boiled eggs, washed down with ginger Kombucha, all made with love, right here on the farm and eaten sitting in the sunshine by the pond. Yum!

  14. Jennifer thomas Reply

    Thinking mebbe a different pillow for that blue chair…? ;-P

    Like it all, but thinking you need an integrator in this room of solids…

    More when you get you to SF to do your creativeLIVE course!

    Content Producer, Jenn

  15. Max Turner Reply

    I love your post and am looking forward tot he next four weeks. Though I don’t see why it takes so long for one subject.

    Hopefully I will see in the next few weeks.


  16. Andy Reply

    Today I ate a pizza called the Austin. It’s bbq sauce, chicken, bacon, green chile, parmesan, and an egg cooked on top. It was AMAZING! From in Provo, UT. The awesome girl I went with ordered the green curry slab. Also amazing!

    Thanks for the great posts, Noah. I’ve been catching up via e-mail for the last month I’ve been away and it’s been helpful at a time when I needed it.

    Peace, brother.

  17. Jenny Reply

    For lunch I had a crabcake on a pretzel roll. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

    And I wanted to add to your idea. I LOVE the “give to the worst charity” idea. I used to set monthly nutrition goals for myself (no sugar for a month, etc.) and I would post it on Facebook along with a promise that if I didn’t do it, I would donate $500 to a political candidate I couldn’t stand. VERY powerful motivation — and a lot of people to keep an eye on you because they wouldn’t want you giving money to that person either.

  18. Christine Reply

    It could be a good idea to use the Parkinson Law so it gets done and that you don’t procrastinate, waste time and ended up not doing anything.

    With furniture, I read homes that heal recently and it’s something that I want to work towards. As a woman, health is something that I take on board quite seriously cause I feel responsible to educate myself with cooking, nutrition and exercise also perhaps the danger with EMR and furniture around the house as I’m learning not only for myself but for future husband and children too.

    Looking forward to your next article.

  19. Edlin Reply

    ha i like the click to tweet. but i liked this snippet better “Constantly seeking opinions can be a clear indicator we may not really want something.”

    i say that to people all the time, but it’s still difficult to handle myself.

    one guess what i had for lunch today 🙂

  20. Anthony Alfidi Reply

    Hey Noah, these are some really practical tips. Your methods for making decisions are way more streamlined than what I used in the US Army. Do a Google search of “military decision making process” (MDMP) to see what I mean. MDMP is for complex projects that require buy-in from multiple sources but your techniques are for one person to execute alone.

  21. Bill Reply

    Don’t forget: most decisions aren’t life or death and can be reversed at only a modest ‘cost’– typically measured in time or money.


    Noah: Lunch = Green tortilla, advocado & cheese wrap. Then I saw your choice of furniture and almost lost the tortilla. Good thing you have a day job because you suck at furniture selection and in another day that plant will be officially dead. Dave

  23. Ken Reply

    I “let someone else decide” on a shitty turkey sandwich. My wife beat me to our designated lunch spot by a minute and had already chosen her sandwich. Since I knew it was way cheaper for us to get a large and split it instead of two smalls I went with her choice. What a disappointment. I let the cheap bastard win and I lost.

    Also – rather than make a list of the 12 things I could do, I ask what is the ONE thing I should do that will have the most impact and start that immediately. When finished, repeat.

  24. Lukasz Kowalski Reply

    I recommend “Best Decision – Way to Simplify Decision Making Process” app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. It divides decision making process into 5 simple steps and uses a mathematical algorithm that rates all possible options and points the best one. Direct Direct link

  25. brad hiines Reply

    Nice post. You had me at Parkinson’s law. I picked up from that in Tim Ferris’ book a few weeks ago and I already see it everywhere.

    I gave a VA 10 days arbitrarily to finish a job… finished on day ten. Magazine recently gave me two weeks to write an article, guest what day I finished? And so forth.

    Also, it’s my understanding Facebook has an internal saying that “done is better than perfect”. Love that, and swear by it.


  26. Sebastian Linack Reply

    If i go to a bar which I like and I know they have a good barkeeper I always ask them to make me a surprise cocktail.. Its as the ordering at the restaurant by letting the waiter decide more fun, you get a surprise and in this case I have never been disappointed, but only inspired and really surprised by new flavours and tastes I would not have tried if I had chosen on the ones I already know and play safe.. For food, f.ex. when I have lunch with collegues and you dont want everybody to wait while you are still thinking about the decision I just tip on the menu without looking and see what the waiter thinks I am ordering.. If in the end I dont like it its my own fault and it pushes me to make the decistion faster next time..
    Another method I use is the “What is the worst case that can happen question” and most of the time the decisions we have to make are not really life threatening, but will just continue a process which sometimes (especially for things oneself or collegues also dont have much experience with) just have to be made and tested.. and then on the next step you can still correct or improve the decision.. so it is also following the idea to limit the time but also to make yourself more comfortable with making the decision by knowing that in worst case you might get a bad feedback, a lunch that you wont order again next time or a bad comment from a collegue (but in exchange the security to know next time whats right) but never really lose anything. You can only gain by making decisions.. and thats experience over time. Jia you (Add gas in Chinese, which means smth like go go go)

  27. Laura Nistor Reply

    Great post. I’ve been trying to simplify things since last year and it starts to get along. I think Limit the # of Choices – is the best, I always have to many choices and it kills me. But I love lists and I’ll try to downsize them until I have 3.

  28. Gracie O. Reply

    Tomato sandwich w/ mayo, salt, & pepper. Easy – don’t have to think about it – all I have to do is bring bread and a tomato to the office & I’m fed for the day.

    And why is no one else talking about lunch?!?!

  29. Frank Reply

    I instantly thought about a decision I no longer make: what to have for breakfast. Every weekday I have the same thing, three eggs, lean breakfast sausage, spinach, and red pepper. I was inspired by Tim Ferris to eat a better breakfast and to have the same thing each morning. I allow myself to have oatmeal once a week if I really want to change it up and when I go out to breakfast on Saturday mornings I eat whatever I want. Limiting the small decisions each day is really liberating.

  30. Creative Junkie Reply

    My lunch: Shrimp fried rice with extra egg.
    Love the post, but I will say that saying YES to everything can become a freaking nightmare, being spread too thin… but I love the challenge and love how my clients view my responsiveness, and positive energy. It all comes down to not being in Fear of Failing once you’ve committed, walking the plank, as it were.. Fear Kills More Dreams than Failure Ever Will!
    Great post, thanks again Noah!
    > v <

  31. Brenon Reply

    ? Walk the Plank! ?

    I set a Walk the Plank ($300 dollars worth >.< ) for adding a new client this month. Instant motivation!

    Today I ate some SONIC bc I needed to finish up an audiobook – The Power of Habits – by Charles Duhigg

  32. Brian Reply

    I decided to go to jimmy johns and i chose to eat a full on roast beef sub called the hunters club lettuce tomato mayo it was fabulous. Thanks for asking its nice to tell someone about a fantastic lunch experience.

  33. Paul Morgan Reply

    Greetings Taco Padre…day 8 in Vancouver, and today I decided what to eat for lunch and dessert (it is my vacation) via pictures. Had honey pork at HON Wun-Tun because they include photos of about 50 of their 200+ choices. Made it easy. Then had a killer cinnamon-sugar gooey bun at a small local bake shop. To your point, if bakeries can show the food, why not restaurants?- makes choosing SOOO much easier and fun, AND you end up buying more…every time ! Keep up the great emails…Cheers from Coal Harbour…Paul

  34. Jeff Ackerman Reply

    An absolute great post. I hate buying stuff and often end up not buying because I look at too many different options and get tired. I guess the real bottom line is I really don’t want to buy it anyway. I love the website design on a napkin example.

  35. Ray Reply

    Great article! Simplifying has improved my business and my /life/– I especially love the coin toss trick.
    For lunch, I had a salad with sweet potatoes, and an open-face sandwich with lox, sour cream, and caviar.

  36. morgan Reply

    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.

  37. Matt Plociak Reply

    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…

  38. Ankit Prakash Reply

    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.

  39. Casey Reply

    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.

  40. Eric Deeter Reply

    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.

  41. Debs Reply

    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.

  42. KC Reply

    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.

  43. Alicia Reply

    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.

  44. Pat Reply

    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.

  45. Ty Reply

    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.

  46. Ryan Reply

    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.

  47. jeffrey Reply

    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.

  48. Jenny Reply

    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.

  49. Daniel Wallock Reply

    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

  50. Don Christian Reply

    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.

  51. Monica Ayala Reply

    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….

  52. Clay Reply

    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!!

  53. Polgb Reply

    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.

  54. Shannon Byrne Reply

    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! 😀

  55. Laura Reply

    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! ?

  56. L.L. Barkat Reply

    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.)