The decisions we spend the most time on are rarely the most important ones.
Not all decisions need the same process.
Sometimes, trying to impose the same process on all decisions leads to difficulty identifying which ones are most important, bogging us down and stressing us out.
I remember once struggling at the intelligence agency shortly after I received a promotion. I was being asked to make too many decisions. I had no way to sort through them to figure out which ones mattered, and which ones were inconsequential.
The situation built slowly over a period of weeks. My employees were scared to make decisions because their previous boss had hung them out to dry when things went wrong.
My boss, a political high flyer, also liked to delegate down the riskiest decisions. As a result, I had more decisions to make than capacity to make them.
I was working longer and longer to keep up with the volume of decisions. Worse, I followed the same process for all of them. I was focusing on the most urgent decisions as the cost of the most important decisions.
It was clear to me that I wasn’t the right person to make all of the decisions. I needed a quick and flexible framework to categorize decisions into the ones I should be making and the ones I should be delegating.
I figured most of the urgent decisions could be made by the team because they were easily reversible and not very consequential. In fact, they were only becoming urgent because the team wasn’t making the decisions in the first place.
And because I was rushing through these decisions in an effort to put more time into the important decisions, I was making worse choices than the team would have.
As I was walking home one night, I came up with an idea that I used from the next day on, with pretty good success. I call it the Decision Matrix.
It’s a decision making version of the Eisenhower Matrix, which helps you distinguish between what’s important and what’s urgent. It’s so simple you can draw it on a napkin, and once you get it, you get it.
The decision matrix is a powerful tool to help you prioritize which decisions deserve your attention as a leader, and which should be delegated.
Here’s how you can start using it today.