Decisiveness and Decision Debt

Consider your brain to be like a Git repository, constantly changing and updating and checking in new information. Everybody who has maintained a Git repo for any length of time is all too familiar with the amount of technical debt that is accrued through open branches. The more branches you have open and the longer you have branches open, the greater the likelihood that merge conflicts, hidden bugs, and other evils lurk in your future code.

Decisions work in very much the same way. Each decision is an open branch in your brain’s repository. The more you have open, the more places you are spending modest amounts of attention. The longer you have decisions unresolved, the more data gets trapped in that branch in need of sorting, reviewing, resolving, and handling. In short, the more and the longer you have open decisions, the more decision debt you accrue.

The problem with decision debt is the same as the problem with technical debt–what it robs you of are minor issues. When your project is rife with technical debt, there’s no such thing as a small change, because all changes have the potential to create a catastrophic effect. When you are plagued by decision debt, there are no small decisions; all decisions add to the pile, and suddenly where to go for dinner is just as stressful as which car to buy or how to proceed with a problem at work.

The cure is absurdly simple though: close branches. Make decisions. Find the decisions that are trivial to change later if you get more information and simply make the call. Just like with writing code, most times it’s easier to simply commit and see what the results are than to theorize for any longer. Pick the decisions with a low cost to change, and simply make those decisions and feel your anxiety melt away.

Here’s the hard part, once you’ve made your decision, be done with that decision. Don’t lament choices not made, don’t worry about whether or not you made the right decision–believe me, if you made the wrong decision, that will become apparent, and then you can simply change your decision if it’s needed.

Spoiler: a side effect of this is you are going to find that you have to revert precious few decisions. Most decisions you have to make aren’t worthy of the weight you are giving them. More on that in my next post.

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