March is an interesting month, and I have often thought of it as one of renewal and new beginnings.

Almost everyone made New Year’s resolutions a couple of months ago and set some goals to achieve in 2023. However, some of that resolve generally starts to fade in March. Unless good decisions are made this month, there is a high probability that we end 2023 without achieving those goals. I am sharing some decision-making tools that were shared with me and hope that you find them useful.

My Commanding Officer on the USS Scranton (SSN-756), Capt. Chuck Melcher, had rules that we were required to know before he would give us the keys to the submarine and trust us to stand as Officer of the Deck. Rule No. 1: 90% of the decisions you make don’t matter, so just make one. You are bound to be right 90% of the time, and a fair decision today is better than a perfect one tomorrow. However, before you think it is that easy, you must know Rule No. 2: 10% of the decisions you make do matter, and that is why we trained you — to know the difference. A corollary to both rules is that delaying a decision needlessly can often turn what was a 90% decision into a 10% decision. Failure to make a decision can have more significant consequences than making the wrong decision 90% of the time. So, just make a decision.

One example of why we were required to know and adhere to these rules is grounded (pun intended) in lessons learned from major collisions of ships at sea. Every time two ships collide, friends who know of my Navy background ask, “How does that happen with a whole ocean out there?” It happens due to failure to make a decision.

Envision two ships traveling toward each other 10 miles apart, with Ship A bearing true North from Ship B. You keep your eye on Ship A, and 15 minutes later, it is now 5 miles away and still bearing true North. This is a situation known as constant bearing and decreasing range (CBDR), and it is a recipe for disaster. If neither captain acts, the two ships will collide. If either ship speeds up, slows down, turns left or turns right, the geometry will change, and a collision will be avoided. So, why don’t they do that?

There are international rules of navigation that dictate which ship has the right of way, the stand-on vessel, and which ship is required to maneuver, the give-way vessel. Imagine a case where the give-way vessel doesn’t see the stand on vessel. The stand-on vessel is supposed to maintain course and speed, but it is required to maneuver if the give-way vessel doesn’t, as a last resort to avoid collision. Uncertainty and fear could cause the stand-on vessel to delay or fail to act, leading to a collision. You can see where failure to decide is the worst decision to make here, and this is often true in our daily lives.

How do you identify the 10% from the beginning? I use these methods.

Rule of 10/10/10

How will I feel about this decision in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years? Conducting a 10/10/10 analysis ensures that all perspectives are present. All three views matter, but impact in the long-term view indicates the presence of a 10% decision. If the decision has little impact in all three timeframes, it is most likely a 90% decision.

Eisenhower Matrix

A great prioritizing tool is the Eisenhower Matrix, named after Dwight D. Eisenhower, World War II five-star general and 34th president of the United States. His system separates all activities into four priority levels based on importance and urgency.

Spend your time on the Important tasks, and find ways to reduce the number of Important/Urgent tasks using better planning to ensure you don’t live in crisis mode.

The Eisenhower Matrix prioritizes activities intofour levels based on importance and urgency.
The Eisenhower Matrix prioritizes activities into four levels based on importance and urgency.

Evaluate Risk/Opportunity Spread

I ask myself four questions:

  1. What is the worst that could happen if I do take an action?
  2. What is the best that could happen if I do take an action?
  3. What is the worst that could happen if I don’t take an action?
  4. What is the best that could happen if I don’t take an action?

If none of these questions have interesting outcomes, you are likely in the 90%. If one or more of these questions has a significant upside or downside, you may be in the 10%.

Find the Critical Group

Categorize decisions that you must make into three groups, and focus your time on Group C, the riskiest and most uncertain group, since it likely contains your 10%.

A. Problems that are easy to solve.

B. Problems that are already solved or generally irrelevant.

C. Problems that are hard to solve, with important outcomes.

Finally, I always ask, “Who should make the decision?” I identify who is impacted by the decision and whether it is in my 90% or 10% categories.

  • My 90% vs. Your 90% – I Decide: Quick Decision.
  • My 10% vs. Your 90% – I Decide: Deliberate Decision.
  • My 90% vs. Your 10% – You Decide: Delegate.
  • My 10% vs. Your 10% – We Decide: Collaborate.

My best example is the “Where do you want to go for dinner?” question. I generally don’t care, so I ask my wife where she wants to go. If she says, “I don’t care. Anything sounds good to me,” I interpret that as a 90% for her. I immediately announce a restaurant. If she doesn’t like my choice, I reinterpret that this is not really a 90% for her but a 10%, so I immediately delegate the decision to her. One corollary to this is that my wife can use executive authority to make my 90% a 10% for me, and then we collaborate. Sometimes we will just state, “It’s a 90 for me,” or “This one is a 10 for me.” In either case, it has simplified decision-making and reduced miscommunication.

Hopefully these tools help you with decision-making in 2023, allowing you to make quick decisions when needed and giving you more time for your 10%, so you can achieve what is most important to you this year.