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How to Harness the Power of Macro Decision-Making

Making as many large-scale decisions as possible alleviates the pressure of dwelling too long on their micro counterparts, saving oceans of time and effort.

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Every day we are faced with a barrage of decisions, from the macro (including hiring, firing and product development) to micro (personal attire, coffee section… even which road to take). As the rate of change and pace of work life increase, business leaders who don’t get smart about categorizing choices run the risk of succumbing to their sheer volume. Decision fatigue is all too real, but for many, it’s entirely avoidable. Here’s how:

Tackle as many macro decisions as possible

Macro decisions are big-picture items: the direction of the company, key staff and new product launches or offerings, to name a few examples. These extend beyond professional realms into the personal, such as partner selection, buying a home and having a child. Of course, they also wind up being the ones we spend the most time thinking about, including weighing pros and cons and enlisting the help of friends and colleagues. What we may not realize, however, is that macro pivots have the power to point us in a direction that makes a lot of micro decisions for us, if we let them. The aim is to answer big questions such as “What is this business going to be?”, “What are we going to do?” and “What are our goals?”

Related: The No. 1 Question Every Business Leader Should Be Asking

The psychological attrition of unmade micro decisions 

“Getting stuck” or stymied is an important signal of an ongoing (and unmet) challenge, one that, in my experience, has everything to do with the interplay between macro and micro decision-making. The latter category encompasses smaller-ticket items: a modest business expense, a role shift for an assistant or what fonts to use on a website. This category, too, has personal components (whether to exercise in the morning or night, when to take vacation days and what to eat for lunch). 

Often, these micro decisions can have a compounding effect: We might think that we are being paralyzed by the enormity of macro moves, but usually it’s an aggregate of micros that stop us in our tracks. Unaddressed, these chip away at conscious efforts, and are made manifest as an undercurrent of stress and pressure that can build to a breaking point. This is one reason why we may find ourselves in decision fatigue: a condition symptomized by staring at the sandwich counter completely stumped, never being able to choose what to watch on TV or daily pushing a small item to the next day’s to-do list. 

Related: Micromanaging Is Sucking the Life Out of You. Here's How to Stop.

The outcome of effective macro decision-making

Macro moves point the ship, which should have a cascading effect on their micro cousins. In other words, if you’ve decisively answered big-picture queries, you’ve also dealt with the majority of small-picture actions.

Let’s connect those big items.

“What is this business going to be?”

If you have answered this macro-level question, then you have essential identity addressed. A new partnership proposal? Armed with the above-sentence answer, the right option will suddenly be clear. New branding ideas? They either do or don’t reflect the now-certain knowledge of what your business is, so the decision is likewise essentially made. Macro decisions function like a North Star: whatever doesn’t line up shouldn’t merit much consideration.

“What are we going to do?”

Setting out to implement a brand identity or company vision usually takes the form of a roadmap, KPIs and quarterly goals, etc. All of these are macro decisions that immediately qualify or disqualify smaller tasks and activities. Little opportunities along the way either categorically do or do not fit into this broader work — they are in or out, with little consideration required. 

“What are our goals?”

Knowing your professional and personal goals usually means charting one-year, five-year, ten- and twenty-year plans. This puts metaphorical bumpers on the lane, outside of which are all the micro moves you won’t need to consider. Branding, staffing, budget allocation, new initiatives, office location: all of it either does or doesn’t help you achieve these broad stated goals, so what weight to give them is already decided.

Can it really be this easy?

These examples may seem like oversimplifications, but they are truly illustrative. If, say, part of “what my business is going to be” for you is forming a world-class copywriting agency, then you wouldn’t entertain the thought of hiring entry-level copywriters, or offering graphic design services or anything else non-copywriting-related. If such extraneous options present themselves to me (and they often do), I don’t have to struggle with consideration: such smaller decisions have already been made by the macro ones of my business identity. To use another example, say part of a personal goal is to be fit and healthy, then it’s a piece of cake (as it were) to open a restaurant menu and immediately rule out the majority of options. It also makes it easier to organize a schedule — knowing that the question is not “If I will go to the gym”, but when. This radically cuts down on mental gymnastics.

Related: 5 Decisions Every Entrepreneur Must Face

An exercise in categorization

Most of us do annual and quarterly planning. Here’s my suggestion: get out a digital or physical piece of paper and make a vertical line. Label the left column “Macro” and the right “Micro”. List all left-side decisions, professional and personal (A new car? Vacation? Staffing? Budgets? Business objectives?), then make those decisions in batches, as they will inevitably impact each other. (They may also change due to circumstances outside your control, but will be a start.) For each macro decision, list micro decisions that relate to it, and you’ll find that many if not all have been made for you as a result of that first step. This shrinks the “gray space” of unforeseen daily choices, because, if there’s anything we know about productivity, it’s that the more predictable patterns become, the faster people are able to engage in tasks.

Differentiating between large- and small-scale considerations is also a vital exercise to honing your instincts. The more you’ve settled on cardinal directions for life and business, the more intuitively you will steer your ship, every day.

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