How To Make Better Decisions (Hint: Get Sleep)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Get sleep. Have a healthy skepticism of experts. Be aware of your emotions. Oh, and -- Get sleep.Noreena Hertz, professor at the Centre for the Study of Decision-Making at University College London and author of the new book Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions in a Confusing World (HarperBusiness, 2013), shares tips on how to take steps towards better decision-making.

Some Decision-Making Tips from Noreena Hertz

  • Focus! Every time we get an email alert it takes us 22 minutes to get back to the same level of focus. Set aside email time, and protect time for offline work. (Hertz "batches" her emails and responds to them in chunks.)
  • Don’t Blindly Trust Experts For medical decisions, for instance, know that doctors can sometimes be wrong. Take advantage of someone in your community, who you trust, to help you "piece together the right questions."
  • Get Sleep Here's a decision-making Catch-22: If you’re making a decisions related to your newborn baby, you may be impaired because of sleep deprivation. When you’re fatigued, it’s the same as if you’re making decisions drunk.
  • Get Friends Who Sleep Bounce your thinking off someone else -- ideally one who is well-rested!
  • It's Not Always Either/Or When you confront something that feels like an either/or decision, think hard about whether there is not a third option.
  • The Priority Circle Draw a circle, and write in that circle all the things that really matter to you (family, health, job satisfaction). Then match where you are with what’s in there. If there’s no correspondence, it may be time for a change. But you may be surprised at seeing how your current state matches up with your priority list.
  • Deadlines Work Set a deadline for yourself. "The period of indecision can be really angst-ridden," says Hertz
  • Check Your Emotions Constantly note your emotional state. Just recognizing that your mood may be affecting your decision will help regulate your decision making.


Noreena Hertz

Comments [25]

Denise from Bloomfield, NJ

As an asset manager, I found the lecture helpful in suggesting that dissent be encouraged, and that an expert can be closer to the ground than the intelligentsia.

Dec. 18 2013 04:56 AM
david from New Jersey

Anything that makes you think about how you think can have only positive effects own your decision making ability.

Dec. 17 2013 10:25 PM

The segment on making decisions intrigued me, so I stayed tuned in as I left the house to run errands. Alas, it fell
quickly into the category of "puff piece", a relatively rare occurance on this show. This person had virtually nothing of any weight to bring to the topic, and when the first caller phoned in with her pathetic "problem" of whether or not to move to a bigger apartment (oh my God), I nearly barfed. And she went on and on, and was clearly willing to blether on some more. I turned off the radio. Wow. Incredible. It was like a late-night info-mercial. Truly a low point for Mr. Lehrer.

Dec. 17 2013 09:48 PM

@Jack from brooklyn

"Is 61 too old to go back to grad school for creative writing? I'd be broke again for a couple of years and wouldnt get out til 63."

RU (all of the NJ state universities) had a policy of permitting seniors to audit classes - presuming they had the prof's permission, weren't disruptive, etc. Perhaps NY state schools permit something similar. What's more important the experience or the degree? Go for it!

Dec. 17 2013 01:29 PM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretenious Hudson Heights

The best place for advice is


Dec. 17 2013 11:52 AM

mr nyc,

Sounds like a misdiagnosis.

How did they find it? Which medical center found it?

Dec. 17 2013 11:51 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The best tip is to listen to your parents, or better yet grandparents if you still have any. Those who have real life experiences. Otherwise you'll have to learn from your own mistakes in most cases.

Dec. 17 2013 11:47 AM
Judd S from Brooklyn, NY

I am wondering if the guest has done research on the role of brain differences in decision making ability. Those with executive functioning deficits (as in ADHD and some types of brain damage) have excruciating difficulty making decisions - much of the brain science indicates that the ability to make decisions has little to do with information and more to do with the regulation of dopamine. People with ADHD often make a choice between impulsive decision-making, or "mental constipation" and not being able to decide anything. I should know - even choosing a restaurant to eat at nightly is often very challenging.

Dec. 17 2013 11:19 AM
Jack from brooklyn

Is 61 too old to go back to grad school for creative writing? I'd be broke again for a couple of years and wouldnt get out til 63. I'm healthy and happy, but I've wanted to do this for a while.

Dec. 17 2013 11:18 AM
J Webs from NJ

Re: having another kid - It's a lifestyle thing. If you get that, and you embrace that your life will be all about your kids, then go for it. As opposed to having one kid and having that fantasy that your life has not changed that much…you can still go out…you can still hang with your friends. That is out the window with two. If you can embrace that go for it.

Dec. 17 2013 11:17 AM

I really look forward to reading her book.

I am a psychologist and executive coach- so decision making is a process to which I pay a lot of attention in my work. I am glad to hear her reference the roles of emotions and sleep deprivation- and providing concrete strategies.

Could she let us know where the study she mentioned was published regarding the 22 minute period between an email alert and returning to a task?

I work a lot with clients on how much being tethered to email and the internet can interfere with functioning. And finally had to write about the role this connection to technology plays- a short blog if anyone is interested-

I look forward to reading the research she mentioned and applaud the research she has conducted and how she has been able to help people practically apply it. Again, that reference would be great.

J. Ryan Fuller, Ph.D.
Private Practice

Dec. 17 2013 11:16 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Could the couple w/the 2-month-old baby install soundproofing if they move to the bigger apt.?

Dec. 17 2013 11:15 AM
art525 from Park Slope

Schtick. Boy we have no shortage of snake oil salesmen and no shortage of people willing to suspend their skepticism, relinquish our responsiblities for ourselves and our own judgements and buy into this hoakum.

Dec. 17 2013 11:15 AM

Oh, goodness!! Monica the caller -


First world, white, upper middle class problem!


Dec. 17 2013 11:13 AM

I would be very interested in what Noreena thinks about what I hear all the time: Go with your instincts or Go with your gut. As a relatively indecisive person, juggling my issues with the rest of my family's, I've never been a huge fan of my own instincts.

Dec. 17 2013 11:13 AM
Sara from New Jersey

My husband wants to take an overseas trip to attend a friend's son's wedding to be held 1 week after my school year starts. He thinks I am unreasonable to miss the wedding and a chance to visit 2 of our children at the same time and I am concerned about missing a week of school. How do I decide? I am 59 and feel I have to work twice as hard as younger students but my husband is VERY disappointed I want to put school first.

Dec. 17 2013 11:11 AM
pauline from nj

question for the Guest, I am a busy Entrepreneaur/mom/wife. I find that I am always so distracted when it comes to my business decisions, since its a home office with my little ones around, the business grows at a snails pace. How can I focus better on decisions that I have to make on a daily basis for both my family and my business. I find I simply can't refocus quickly after I've been distracted by the kids.

Dec. 17 2013 11:11 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Oh lawd, is there nothing that good connections and relentless self promotion can't accomplish? She makes economics, the dismal science, SEXY! Doesn't hurt that she's the wife of the BBC's director... The circle of truth! ROFL...

Dec. 17 2013 11:11 AM
Felice from Brooklyn

Renovate our brownstone or move? We like the space but the neighborhood doesn't offer us much in the way of leisure activities but it's really quiet

Dec. 17 2013 11:10 AM
Katie from Brooklyn

Please help us find a framework for deciding whether to have a second kid! We're older parents, so we need to decide ASAP. Love our kid, love our life, and worry about upsetting the apple cart. (Though we want our daughter to have a sibling.)

Dec. 17 2013 11:07 AM
genejoke from Brooklyn

She's helps Bono make decisions?! Sign me up right now!!!

Dec. 17 2013 11:06 AM
mr nyc

I had a bone fragment in my knee for 13 years that multiple doctors failed to notice. I kept telling them that I thought I had something but, looking at multiple x-rays, none of them could find it - until one finally did. Kinda soured me on medical experts.

Dec. 17 2013 11:05 AM
jitty from brooklyn

How would you go about guiding a high schooler in deciding what they should choose as a major in college? It is a daunting decision for those who are often too young to make this choice. Cost of higher education is now making it impossible for students to use college as an exploratory time to make this same decision.

Dec. 17 2013 11:04 AM
John A

Actually this: on mornings when I wake up with a good idea - keep NPR Off until said idea is committed to paper. Just agreeing with the guest. Any media stream can have the effect of loading and erasing ones short-term memory.

Dec. 17 2013 11:04 AM
Sue from Manhattan

Question for Noreena;
In decisions about love do you listen to your heart or brain?

Dec. 17 2013 11:02 AM

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