Career Advice: It's Wise to Put Off Big Decisions

Ramon Greenwood

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One of the deeply rooted myths about how managers achieve success is that they are single-minded and quick in their decision-making. The literature of management has created a macho image about making tough decisions fast.

This is not a true picture of successful managers. They know it is wise to put off the big decisions as long as possible.

The experienced manager knows there is a price, some degree of irrevocability attached to any decision. Therefore, he will develop as many options as possible for the truly important questions to be resolved and hold off making critical decisions as long as possible. That enables him to move with a shifting environment of facts, pressures and opportunity. It also prepares the way for responding to the critics and second-guessers by saying, “Yes, we considered all of the options as long as we could. "

Most of us heard at Mother's knee, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. " The most successful decision makers frequently break that rule.

When he was vice president of the United States, Aaron Burr flew in the face of the Puritan admonition when he advised: “Never do today what can put off ‘til tomorrow. Delay may give clearer light as to what is best to be done. "

Some 100 years later, President Calvin Coolidge declared: “Four-fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear if we would only sit down and keep still. "


Mangers will find that with time all problems do not require answers. The simple passage of time will solve many problems. They may simply pass away or answer themselves. Furthermore, good answers are not always immediately available.

We can all learn from the parable about two men sentenced to die by the king. Upon learning of their fate, one man became terrified, but the other remained calm. The calm one said, “Your Majesty, if you will let us live, I will teach your horse to fly. "

The King considered the proposition for a moment and replied, “You have one year to teach my horse to fly. If you succeed, your lives will be spared; but if not, you will be executed. "

After the two condemned men left the presence of the king, the terrified one demanded of his companion, “Why did you do that? You cannot teach a horse to fly. You have only prolonged the inevitable. Now we have a whole year to dread our deaths. "

"Well, " replied the calm one, “four things can happen in one year. The horse could die. The King could change his mind. He could die. Or the horse just might learn to fly. "

The wise careerist will recognize that he must use common sense when applying positive procrastination. It is like salt. A little brings the cooking to its best; too much spoils it all. Procrastination must never be used as an excuse for action.

Common sense says that procrastination in decision making can be a very valuable management tool, provided it is conscious and controlled.


Greenwood is a former Senior Vice President of American Express. For information about his E-Book on “boss relationshhips" and to subscriber to his f*ee semi-monthly newsletter contact him at


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