Episode: How to Make High Leverage Decisions

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Michael Hyatt: Do you remember the first time you received an email? Remember when your heart fluttered when you heard, “You’ve got mail”? What was it like? How did it make you feel? At first it was a novelty, almost a miracle. Suddenly we could get answers in seconds rather than days. Mail was now called snail mail. No more phone tag.

Use of the Internet grew by over 700 percent in just four years during the late 1990s, and business leaders were giddy with the possibility of instant global communication. But it wasn’t long before the dark side asserted itself: spam, email chains, reply all, pointless messages, loads of people wanting you to make decisions. The average worker now spends two and a half hours every day handling email. Most leaders work very hard to avoid hearing those three little words.

Megan Hyatt Miller: What about the first time you were invited to a meeting? Maybe you were a new manager and you got included in the senior staff meeting or you were asked to join a panel or a standing committee. It felt so good to be invited to the grown-ups’ table. “At last,” you thought. “Now I’m really part of things.” Taking notes, entering the discussion, making decisions. It was exciting, even fun. But after a while, meetings wear thin too. If anything strikes terror in the heart of a busy manager, it’s hearing the boss say: “All right. Everybody in the conference room now. Let’s go.”

Today, the average executive spends 23 hours a week in meetings. That’s up from 10 hours in the 1960s. In a survey by Harvard Business Review, 65 percent of senior managers said meetings keep them from completing their work. It happens fast. One minute you’re basking in the glow of the latest technology or a new responsibility. The next minute you’re desperately trying to get free from it. Even the best things wear thin with overuse. It’s scary how quickly a joy becomes a burden.

Michael: One reason for that, of course, is that we fail to moderate nearly everything in our lives, including business practices. If a little is good, we figure more is better. That’s one of the reasons leaders sometimes begin to dread or even abdicate one of their primary responsibilities: making decisions. When you think about it, we all make thousands of decisions every day. We decide what to wear, what to eat. We make dozens of decisions just driving to work…what route to take, what lane to be in, what podcast to listen to, whether or not we can make the light.

Megan: For leaders, that’s just the beginning. Once we arrive at the office, we face dozens, maybe hundreds of choices every single day. Once it seemed exciting to have the ability to set policies and approve purchases and hire employees, but what began as a joy can quickly become a burden. Many leaders are so overwhelmed by the sheer number of decisions they make each day that they lose interest and sometimes confidence for making important choices.

Michael: What about you? Do you suffer from decision fatigue? Well, let’s find out. Your team has been waiting for an important decision. They’ve asked you about it several times. It’s almost 5:00, and you hear, “You’ve got mail.” How do you feel now?

Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael:  And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. In this episode, we’re talking about decision-making. We’ll show you how you can make faster, better decisions by making fewer of them.

Megan: Good leaders thrive on making high-leverage decisions, but facing too many daily choices can be overwhelming. Eventually, we’re tempted to overthink every choice or abdicate choosing altogether. Today, we’ll show you four simple strategies to streamline your decision-making. When we’re done, you’ll say goodbye to mental exhaustion, and you’ll gain the confidence and clarity to make fewer, faster, better decisions.

Michael: Before we dive into today’s show, let me ask a small favor. If you’re listening to this program from our website or a link from a friend, go ahead and subscribe to Lead to Win. You can do that on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. It’s totally free. If you need a little help, go to You’ll get a new episode every week packed with actionable leadership advice. Thanks so much.

Megan: This is part 2 of a two-part episode on decision-making. Last week, in Episode 37, we talked about decision-making pitfalls. If you missed that, it’s a really powerful episode. A lot of practical advice there. Today we’re talking about decision fatigue. That’s a real threat to leaders, and it’s kind of counterintuitive, because as leaders, what we’re hired for or what our business requires of us is making decisions, yet we really feel like we need to make fewer of them because it’s exhausting to make so many. Right?

Michael: It is. There are a lot of reasons that leaders should focus only on these high-level decisions. First of all, when you make too many small choices, like we illustrated in our essay here, it saps your mental energy.

Megan: It does.

Michael: It’s a real thing. The science proves it. Decision fatigue. You don’t have the emotional or intellectual horsepower at the end of the day that you have at the beginning of the day. Also, hoarding decisions is another way of micromanaging.

Megan: Man, that’s so true.

Michael: And that drives people crazy. Nobody wants to be micromanaged. Making trivial choices, like which vendor to use for the water cooler, is a waste of a leader’s time. Some leaders insist on making all of those decisions, but it’s a total waste of their time. Eventually, they begin making poor decisions or abdicating decision-making. By the way, one of the reasons I think a lot of leaders insist on making all of these decisions… It’s a way of avoiding the bigger decisions that really matter.

Megan: Totally. When we talked about doing this episode I was really excited, because this is something I personally have struggled a lot with, and I know our listeners have too, as leaders. It’s just amazing how much of our time this builds up, and it feels like all you do is get asked to make decisions day in and day out, and by the end, you can feel paralyzed. You feel sapped of your energy. You don’t feel like you even have your bearings to make those decisions anymore because you’re so depleted. I think the answer is to make fewer decisions, but that’s a little more complicated than it seems.

Michael: By doing that, you’re going to save your intellectual power and your emotional resources for those big decisions and not deplete them on a thousand little decisions. It’s kind of like the idea of dying by a thousand cuts. That’s kind of what decision fatigue is like.

Megan: Interestingly, there’s actually something of a conspiracy to take advantage of this in us. In fact, retailers put candy at the cash register and not by the front door for a reason. All of the little choices you make when you’re shopping just suck your brainpower, so by the time you arrive to check out, you’re ready for the impulse buy. Hello, Target. Can I just say Target? Over and over again. It’s amazing.

Michael: There goes that sponsorship.

Megan: But I’m going to still go and do it. That’s the truth. Today, we’re going to show you how to eliminate the decisions you don’t need to be making so you have more brainpower for the ones you do. Dad, what’s your first strategy here?

Michael: The first strategy is to never make the same decision twice. A lot of decisions we make are recurring choices, like which vendors to use or schedules to follow or policies to implement. Once you make a decision, automate it or document it and leave it alone. For example, automating your day by using rituals. We talk about this as a form of self-automation when we talk to our coaching clients. Create written policies, workflows, and best practices so we can avoid being asked the same things over and over again.

Megan: This is something that, personally, has been a really critical secret to scaling in my leadership. I think it’s true for most of our clients who are business owners as well. One of the things that happens is when your business is small you’re able to make one-off decisions about things like vacation time or approvals or parental leave or compensation decisions. Those things are easy to make as a single decision because there aren’t so many complexities around it and so much scale.

Michael: There’s no cascading effect for other people either.

Megan: But as you scale, now you have issues of things like precedent or equity, things like that, that you have to account for, and you can’t just make those kinds of decisions one by one. That’s where having these documented policies or processes or things like that can save you so much of the brainpower you’re spending. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, if you’re at that point of scaling in your own business, this can be critical to getting out from under the burden.

Michael: It can. I was thinking of a few examples in my own life as we were thinking through this episode. For example, I made a decision a couple of years ago that I’m not going to do one-on-one consulting anymore. It’s just never worth my time. Plus, people get so much more in a group context. That’s one of the reasons we have our group coaching programs.

Another one is I only speak at three to four outside events per year. Why? Because I hate to travel. Let’s start with that. And it’s never worth my time. Even when people pay me $25,000 a speech, it’s just not worth my time when I consider what I’m trading, you know, the time away from the office, the think time I could apply to the business or the product I could be creating that we could sell again and again and again.

Megan: What that means for you is that when the requests come in, it’s not even a decision because the decision has already been made.

Michael: That’s right.

Megan: Jim, your executive assistant, can decline speaking requests, for example, because he knows you’re already at your threshold. You’ve already reached the quota.

Michael: That’s exactly right. We’ve already made that decision. Now, there may be something that would make him want to reconsider that, and that’s fine, but he’s still making far fewer decisions, and I’m making vastly fewer decisions. In the past, when I was speaking full time for a living, every one of those speaking requests would come to me, and I would have to evaluate it and decide whether to do it or not.

Another one is that I always fly first class. That may sound privileged, and it is, but my energy is one of our company’s most important assets. It’s penny wise and pound foolish for me to save a few hundred dollars and arrive at my destination tired and stressed out. That’s just a decision we’ve made. Nobody asks me about it anymore. That’s just how I travel.

Megan: Another thing that came to mind was how so many leaders decide to wear the same clothes or the same color suit every day.

Michael: I can’t quite get to that, but I’m close.

Megan: I think it was President Obama who wore the same color suit all the time. Interestingly, I’ve done this myself. I’m not wearing the same clothes every day, so…

Michael: I was going to ask you about that.

Megan: No worries. I like self-expression too much. But I have decided… About six months ago, I thought, “You know what? I really only need one type of pajama.” I mean, how creative do you need to be? You’re just going to sleep. Right? So I bought the same set of pajamas, times six, and that’s what I have.

Michael: Times six?

Megan: I don’t know.

Michael: You don’t have a washing machine?

Megan: I do. Anyway…

Michael: I think we’re getting into this too deep.

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Megan: So, the first strategy for making fewer, better decisions is to never make the same decision twice. What’s the second?

Michael: The second strategy is to let others choose for you.

Megan: I really like this one, by the way.

Michael: I like this one too. As leaders, we make a lot of decisions, but we really only should be making the high-level decisions. Most decisions can be delegated.

Megan: Okay. I’m going to interrupt you with a question. How do you know what the high-leverage decisions are? This may be intuitively obvious to some people, but maybe not to all of us. We’ve all struggled with it. So how do you know?

Michael: Well, first of all, it’s art not science, but I think we have to look at the ones that have the biggest impact in terms of what we’re being held responsible for. For me, it’s related to vision (those are high-leverage decisions), where the company is going, where the future is, what products we’re going to publish or create, even the big marketing strategies, financial strategy. All of that kind of stuff is the higher-level stuff.

Megan: I think the other test is…Can somebody else do it for you?

Michael: Totally. Again, I’ve quoted Dawson Trotman ad nauseam, but he’s the one who said, “Never do anything others can or will do when there is so much of importance to be done that others cannot or will not do.” Here’s an example. I gave you complete freedom with the design and decorating of our new office, and I didn’t see a thing until I walked into the office the day before we opened it to our team members.

I trusted you with every decision, and there were a bazillion decisions. Now, for you… Tell me if I’m wrong here, but for you, you kind of enjoyed it, maybe until the last part of it. You enjoyed it because you’re very artsy, very creative. This is in your wheelhouse. You could totally be an interior designer, but not me, and I really didn’t care. I walked in, and you way exceeded my expectations. I got probably thousands of decisions off my plate by giving that to you.

Megan: That’s right. That’s a good example.

Michael: Another example: we gave Suzie responsibility for the logistics on our coaching workshops.

Megan: Suzie is our director of operations, by the way.

Michael: Right. When I walked into… It was the second workshop, because we kind of did a beta version, and then we gave it all over to her. When I walked into that second workshop, I was blown away. I was blown away by how she implemented the branding on everything from the slides to pens on the table, notebooks, everything. It all fit together beautifully. Again, she made about a gazillion decisions that one of us could have made, but we trusted her, so we didn’t have to make all of those decisions, and we saved our emotional and intellectual bandwidth for the really big, high-leverage things.

Megan: And the truth is she’s way better at it than either of us would be.

Michael: I know.

Megan: I think it’s important to say, by the way, that we’re not talking about less important decisions that we’re delegating. It’s not like there’s kind of a range of qualitative decisions and some are on the low end and some are on the high end. If we talk about it that way, it kind of demeans the work of others. It’s really about thinking of yourself as being a steward of your own contribution to your business, and how can you best invest the time and energy you have to drive the business forward.

There are certain kinds of decisions that only you can make, that you’re the best person to make them, and that’s what you need to spend your time doing. That’s true for everyone in your organization, and if you’re able to activate people to do that in whatever their sphere of influence is, that’s how you get the best result across your whole business.

Michael: To go back to that previous example where I talked about delegating the decoration and the design of the office, those are very important decisions.

Megan: They drive our culture forward. They create a space to collaborate, all those kinds of things.

Michael: First impression on clients and everything. But it’s not the best and highest use of me.

Megan: Exactly.

Michael: Oh, by the way, there’s more on delegation in Episode 18: Productivity Investments That Pay for Themselves.

Megan: The first strategy for making high-leverage decisions is to never make the same choice twice. The second is to let others choose for you. Dad, what’s the third?

Michael: The third strategy is to use a defined process for making tough decisions. In other words, you have a process that ensures that you consider all of the variables, that you consider the past, that you consider the future, that you make the best decision. For example, we have this thing called a recommendation briefing form. I came up with this years ago. You use it all the time, so why don’t you talk about it?

Megan: This is something I have trained my team to use when they need a decision from me. This is really letting them do the heavy lifting on the things they’re advocating for. The setup is that… If you look at kind of a one-sheet piece of paper, there’s a summary of the recommendation they have. So, they’re telling me what they think I should do. I’m not even necessarily having to consider two options or more. They’re supposedly the experts on what they’re recommending. That’s what I’m assuming, and they’re going to bring the recommendation to me.

Then they’re going to provide a couple of paragraphs of background. Then they’re going to tell me what their rationale is. Why are they making the recommendation? When do they want the decision made by or when do they need the funds or the resources they’re asking for? Then I added another section, which I don’t even think I’ve told you about, but it’s particularly relevant for me. That is, what is the financial impact? I have questions like these: “What’s the anticipated cost or investment? If I say yes to your recommendation, what is the ROI for this investment? If there is no ROI, just an increased cost, please indicate how this happened?”

These are all of the questions I would ask if I were meeting with them, but I don’t have to have a meeting, because they’re going to put it all in here. Fourth, “What did we originally have in the budget, and what were the assumptions there?” Then finally, “What’s the impact on our profitability, positively or negatively?” I want actual numbers from our CFO. I don’t want to have to go ask him, because that’s what I was doing before. “Well, let me go talk to Justin about it.”

Michael: Then all the work is on you.

Megan: “How about you go talk to Justin, since this is what you’re recommending to me, and bring it back to me?” Now all I have to do is review this during a specific block I have on my calendar, and it’s easy for me to say yes or no, because that’s all I’m saying.

Michael: And you have all the information you need to make the decision.

Megan: Right.

Michael: Do you have an example of this where it worked?

Megan: Yeah. This often comes up for me with hiring. One of the decisions I hate making, and I probably couldn’t underline that enough, is when I get asked about hiring a new employee. I don’t hate it because I’m against hiring people, because I love our team, but it’s a difficult decision to make with a lot of financial implications and a lot of responsibility, and so forth.

What happened for me is when I started using this, instead of this being a long dragged-out process that could take weeks or even months, depending on what kind of position it was, to make that decision, now I have all the information I need to make a good decision quickly, whether it’s a “yes” or a “no,” and I don’t have to get down in the weeds that I’m really not expert at, you know, asking questions that the leaders who are reporting to me are really better at answering. I can just do the one thing that only I can do, which is decide whether this decision is in the best interest of the company or not. That’s my decision. This really simplified the process for me.

Michael: That’s excellent. Another place where we use a similar process is when we’re considering launching a new product or we’re considering a new live event. We have a budget template. We want to work through the financial implications so we spend it on paper, as Dave Ramsey would say, before we spend it in reality, and that keeps us out of trouble.

Megan: The process makes a decision for you in that case.

Michael: It does. Again, you’re trying to reduce something that’s very complex to a process so you don’t have to reengineer that process every single time. It’s a great time-saver, but more importantly, it improves the quality of the decisions you make. Oh yeah, there’s a great article in Michael Hyatt Magazine this week that includes some practical examples of this, and the article is by Andrea Williams.

Megan: Today we’ve learned that leaders can make better decisions by making fewer of them. To excel at making high-leverage decisions, never make the same decision twice, let others decide for you whenever you can, and use a defined process for making decisions. As we come in for a landing, I just want to remind you that you can make high-leverage decisions with confidence. When you’re focusing your best brainpower on your most important choices, you can decide with confidence, and I know you’ll choose well. Dad, any final thoughts?

Michael: Yeah. I was thinking the one thing we didn’t talk about in this episode but we’ve talked about in many other episodes is the importance of being in a good place when you’re making these decisions so that you’re rejuvenated. Particularly, you have to get good rest. We know for a fact when people are tired, they’re not getting adequate sleep, they make poor decisions. There’s a direct correlation between those two things.

Also when you’re stressed. I don’t make good decisions when I’m stressed. Nobody else does either. If you’re not getting adequate nutrition. As it turns out, a lot of our thinking is produced from biochemical reactions in our body and all that, so our food, our nutrition, our vitamins, minerals, all that affects that.

Megan: You don’t want to be hangry and try to make decisions.

Michael: You don’t want to be hangry. Just to sum up, get a good night’s sleep. If you have a big decision to make, get a good night’s sleep before you make that decision. Take time away to rejuvenate, and make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition, adequate exercise, just taking care of yourself.

Megan: As we close, I want to thank our sponsor LeaderBox. It provides automated personal development in a box. Check it out at If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, you can get the show notes and a full transcript online at

Michael: Thanks again for joining us on Lead to Win. Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts, and if you need help, go to

Megan: This program is copyrighted by Michael Hyatt & Company. All rights reserved. Our producer is Nick Jaworski.

Michael: Our writers are Joel Miller and Lawrence Wilson. Our production manager is Mike Burns.

Megan: Our production assistant is Aleshia Curry.

Michael: We invite you to join us next week when we’ll show you the very best way to motivate your team. Until then, lead to win.