Everyone has to make big decisions from time to time in the workplace. As an owner or manager, that can include shifts in business strategy, personnel decisions, or shakeups in the budget. As an employee, it could be a decision about whether to ask for a raise, take on a new project, or even leave for a different job.

These decisions can make or break a career, so you want to be sure you choose the right option. There are a number of factors that go into making the right decision, but one consistently gets underrated: timing. When you make a decision can have a huge bearing on how it turns out. Here are some of the "wrong" times to make decisions; times when you are not at your fullest capabilities.

When You're Distracted

This one is intuitively obvious, but people often underestimate just how little distraction it takes to ruin our decision-making. Stanford professor Baba Shiv conducted an experiment several years ago that vividly showed the effects of distraction.

In the experiment, students were divided into two groups, one of which memorized a two-digit number while the other memorized a seven-digit number. Both groups were then asked to choose between eating a fruit salad or a chocolate cake. Students who had to memorize a seven-digit number were twice as likely to eat the cake as students who only memorized two digits.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway: even just a tiny bit of distraction can incapacitate our rational brain and cause us to make emotional decisions that are worse for us in the long term. Don't make a big decision unless you can devote all of your attention to it and rationally break down the pros and cons.

Some CEO's practice meditation to clear their minds of all distractions before making a big decision.

"I have seen meditation transform and evolve entrepreneur's' abilities to perform their tasks on a daily basis," says Michael Jacobs, a personal coach living in California. "By clearing their minds, founders tend to become more creative, make clearer decisions that positively affect their companies, and take more concise and consistent action despite the perceived mess of their realities. These transformations have resulted in better products, higher paying clients, increased communication skills, and an overall multiplication of the productivity in their business."

At The Last Minute

This is another one that seems obvious, but again the reasoning is more complex than it appears. Making last minute decisions is clearly inadvisable because you're more likely to be emotional, stressed, and not perfectly rational. The bigger reason not to wait until the last minute is that it heightens the odds that you'll screw up the aftermath.

Decisions don't happen in a vacuum. It's not just about making the decision, it's about executing that decision properly. If, for instance, you choose to hire a new employee just in time to start a major project, you have no recourse if that employee turns out to be a bad fit.

Late In The Day

This is a combination of the first two issues. Late in the day, you're more likely to be up against a deadline, having to make a decision at the last minute. You're also more likely to be tired, hungry, and distracted by thoughts of home.

Social psychologist Roy Baumeister commented on this problem in an interview with New York Times Magazine. "Even the wisest people won't make good choices when they're not rested and their glucose is low," said Baumeister. Most people have their peak attentiveness an hour or two after arriving at work. 4 in the afternoon, when you've been working all day and haven't eaten in several hours, is usually not going to be when you're at your sharpest.

When It Seems Too Obvious

People have a tendency to surround themselves with others who view the world in a similar way. This can make day-to-day life more harmonious, but it also makes it easy to fall into the trap of groupthink. If you ask for feedback on a big decision and find out that all your friends and coworkers agree with you, that doesn't mean it's necessarily the right course of action.

It's important to deliberately seek out opposing views from your own. Few decisions are so black and white that there will be no one with a different opinion from you. Find someone who will argue with your decision, and really listen to them. You don't have to agree or be persuaded, but make sure you understand all the opposing arguments before making a big decision.

When You're Not The Right Person To Make The Call

Sometimes, you have to recognize when to step back and let someone else make the big decision. Maybe it involves a technical subject that you don't fully have expertise in. Maybe it's a decision about whether to hire someone who's a friend, and you couldn't approach the situation without bias. Whatever the case, there will always be times when you have to swallow your pride and accept that someone else is more qualified to make this decision.

Published on: Feb 12, 2015
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