Decisions are the worst.
What time are you available for a phone call tomorrow? Can you sign off on this project proposal? How much pizza should we order for tomorrow’s staff meeting?
Ugh. 2 p.m.; yes; 10 pies. Done.
You might feel incredibly productive after making these decisions, simply because you checked three items off your to-do list. But efficiency isn’t the same thing as productivity, especially if you’ve just made all the wrong choices.
That’s according to Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and author of the new book, “Smarter Faster Better,” about the science of productivity.
In the book, Duhigg writes about the concept of “cognitive closure,” which psychologists describe as “the desire for a confident judgment on an issue, any confident judgment, as compared to confusion and ambiguity.” (You can test your need for cognitive closure here.)
The need for cognitive closure can be helpful, and Duhigg says that some level is necessary for success — no one ever got anywhere from debating a single decision forever.
On the other hand, a high need for cognitive closure can mean that you need to get stuff done even if you’re not necessarily getting that stuff done right. It’s the difference between feeling productive and actually being productive.
In an interview with Business Insider, Duhigg explained how a need for cognitive closure might play out in a meeting. You turn to the person next to you, a presumed expert on the topic, and say, “What should we do?” They give you an answer, and that’s the end of that.
Again: efficient, but not necessarily productive.
So how do we prevent the need for cognitive closure from sabotaging our decisions?
Duhigg said it’s about building systems that force us to “make sure that we’re giving a choice the time it deserves.”
During his research, he studied the most successful teams at Google, which are characterized by “psychological safety.”
One hallmark of psychological safety, Duhigg said, is that “everyone has the opportunity to weigh in on big choices.”
“That’s not necessarily because everyone has a great idea,” he said. Instead, it helps groups come to better decisions because it’s “forcing people to justify the choices that they’re making.”
When you have to explain your decision to other people, you might spot some holes in your reasoning that you would have missed if you’d simply forged ahead.
Once teams form a habit of talking through big decisions, they’ll minimize the impact of individuals’ need for cognitive closure. Ultimately, that means they’ll save time and energy because they won’t have to revisit poor decisions and fix them in a frenzy.
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