• Autumn Paone

4 Ways To Start Making Smarter Decisions In The Workplace

We’ve all been there: deadlines looming, uncertainty creeping in, higher-ups expecting an answer so, so soon. All you want is to lie down and have someone else---anyone else---make the decision for you.

The ability to make quick yet smart and accurate decisions is an integral part to being on a team. Of course, we all want to succeed, maximize productivity, and ultimately yield positive results for the company. The question is how?

#1: Beware of Overconfidence

If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking “what do you mean OVERconfidence?!” My problems typically lie in the realm of indecisiveness and insecurities in my decision-making ability. Don’t worry, we’ll get there. The fact of the matter is that we are all different; each of us has unique DNA and unique characteristics that contribute to our individuality. Therefore, overconfidence could be affecting you and your team’s ability to make accurate choices.

One study found that overconfident professionals make significantly more mistakes on a simple graph related problem.¹ The study also found there was no significant difference between gender and overconfidence.² While some level of confidence is crucial, crossing the line into arrogance is detrimental. Mistakes will be made and productivity and morale will suffer. To combat this, I suggest cooperation and team building:

  • A 2019 study shows a strong correlation between teamwork and mistakes made in medical emergencies. Groups that worked together well as a team were associated with less errors.³

  • Other research emphasizes communication through “team talk”. The decision-making process was significantly more efficient in teams that communicated strongly.

  • This communication should yield clear goals and responsibilities. That is to say, who is doing what, and how will everyone’s task contribute to the ultimate intent?

Some have it right, but a lot of us are either under- or overconfident. Overconfidence can be met with strong team building and communication between colleagues. The sense of separation between tasks will diminish. Also, employees will see the inner workings of how everything comes together. But, how do you combat indecisiveness and insecurities?

#2: Embodied Choice- Sometimes You Need to Just Do It.

“Embodied choice” refers to integrating the action itself into the decision making process.The research studies decision making of animals in their natural habitats. However, Nike’s straightforward advice may be exactly what you need to hear right now.

This seems counterintuitive to a normal adult’s decision-making methods. Long gone are the years of teenage impulsivity and “just doing it”. We must systematically weigh the options and come to a logical conclusion. But, what if you’ve done this and still don’t have the ideal solution? The pros and cons seem to balance out, or maybe you just don’t know how to proceed.

Embodied choice could be the push you require. It is the physical act of making the choice that validates the choice.You’ve done your research, and you know the facts. Maybe this decision is the only thing you’ve thought about for days, weeks, or even months. You’re at a standstill and feel that at this point, you might as well flip a coin.

I am here to say go with your gut. Make the decision through your action and commit to it. Chances are, if you’ve weighed out the options that extensively and still can’t make the decision, either one will be sound---as long as you stand by it.

Embodied choice could be the push you require. It is the physical act of making the choice that validates the choice.⁶
Illustration by Nadia Mokadem

#3 Know When To Rest

Making too many important decisions will emotionally and mentally exhaust you. It also negatively affects general cognition.In order to sharpen decision making skills, you can’t be burnt out.Here are a few ways to know when you need a break:

  • If stress follows you home every night and is there when you wake up

  • If you’ve grown apart from loved ones or had them ask you about a change in personality or drive

  • If you feel exhaustion the point where you suffer emotionally---either too many emotions or none at all

These are just a few signs, but you know yourself. There’s a difference between working hard and overworking; draw that line for your work life and stick to it.

If you’ve deciphered that your decision-making ability is impaired by overworking, here are some ideas for how to remedy this:

  • Check your diet!! Eating healthy is so important to combating exhaustion and keeping cognitive functions sharp.

  • Get enough sleep at night. If you’re struggling to get a full 8 hours, figure out why. If stress is inhibiting your sleep, try meditation or breathing exercises before bed. If food/caffeine is a possibility, evaluate and repair your routines to avoid snacking before sleeping.¹⁰

  • Cut down on the coffee---even in the morning. Caffeine is a great tool to improve our personal productivity and help us in a pinch. However, our coffee culture uses it as a crutch. Its overconsumption puts stress on our adrenal glands---an organ highly affected by caffeine toxicity.¹¹ Your adrenals are directly linked to stress levels, as they regulate the amount of stress hormone cortisol.

#4: Check the Environment- Positivity is Key!

Discouragement won’t help morale, and it certainly won’t help the decision get made. In order to keep morale high and employees wanting to come to work, the atmosphere must be advantageous. The choices made, big or small, will be quick and accurate if the team environment is ideal. Employees and employers should feel the positivity in the room, and it should be a team effort to promote this. Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling:

  • Encourage collaborative working. Team-oriented groups make more consistent choices with less mistakes.¹²

  • Affirm that your employees’ work matters. Sure, paramount decisions are made at the highest level of a corporation. However, plenty of important and necessary decisions matter in all subdivisions.

  • Be flexible. Don’t assert dominance simply by being stubborn and obstinate. Be firm and confident in how you run the team, but give where you can. For example, if morale seems low and everyone is exhausted, give breaks, send people home early, or order a pizza if you can’t afford to send people home.¹³

  • Reward the employees who are receptive to collaborating, working hard, and positive reform! It may sound childish, but positive reinforcement has proved time and again to be significantly more effective than forms of punishment.¹⁴

In conclusion, relax, trust your gut, and implement some new reforms in the office. The group will be grateful, even if they don’t realize it at first. Productivity will boost through the smart, efficient decisions made by you and your team. Good luck!


  1. Cardoso, R., Leite, R., & De Aquino, A. (2016, August 10). A Graph is Worth a Thousand Words: How Overconfidence and Graphical Disclosure of Numerical Information Influence Financial Analysts Accuracy on Decision Making. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4980045/

  2. Ibid.

  3. Herzberg, S., Hansen, M., Schoonover, A., Skarica, B., McNulty, J., Harrod, T., . . . Guise, J. (2019, October 31). Association between measured teamwork and medical errors: An observational study of prehospital care in the USA. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6830602/

  4. Gundrosen, S., Thomassen, G., Wisborg, T., & Aadahl, P. (2018, November 3). Team talk and team decision processes: A qualitative discourse analytical approach to 10 real-life medical emergency team encounters. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6231597/

  5. Lepora, N., & Pezzulo, G. (2015, April 7). Embodied choice: How action influences perceptual decision making. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4388485/

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ceschi, A., Demerouti, E., Sartori, R., & Weller, J. (2017, May 5). Decision-Making Processes in the Workplace: How Exhaustion, Lack of Resources and Job Demands Impair Them and Affect Performance. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5418353/

  8. Ibid.

  9. Kennedy, D. (2016, January 27). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy--A Review. Retrieved August 27, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772032/

  10. Dashti, H., Scheer, F., Jacques, P., Lamon-Fava, S., & Ordovás, J. (2015, November 13). Short sleep duration and dietary intake: Epidemiologic evidence, mechanisms, and health implications. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4642416/

  11. Ryu, K., & Roh, J. (2019, April 26). The Effects of High Peripubertal Caffeine Exposure on the Adrenal Gland in Immature Male and Female Rats. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566528/

  12. Herzberg, S., Hansen, M., Schoonover, A., Skarica, B., McNulty, J., Harrod, T., . . . Guise, J. (2019, October 31). Association between measured teamwork and medical errors: An observational study of prehospital care in the USA. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6830602/

  13. Lu, Y., Hu, X., Huang, X., Zhuang, X., Guo, P., Feng, L., . . . Hao, Y. (2017, May 12). The relationship between job satisfaction, work stress, work-family conflict, and turnover intention among physicians in Guangdong, China: A cross-sectional study. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5566636/

  14. Wang, H., Kleffner, K., Carolan, P., & Liotti, M. (2018, November 26). Spatiotemporal dynamics of reward and punishment effects induced by associative learning. Retrieved September 10, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6261035/