Power Players

Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Barack Obama all use this decision-making strategy

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
Alex Wong | Getty Images

Jeff Bezos has a lot of important decisions to make between his jobs running Amazon and aerospace company Blue Origin to the many other companies and assets in which he invests his massive $133 billion fortune.

But in order for Bezos to be most effective when making big decisions, he says he tries to limit himself to just a few decisions per day. That way, he can ensure that each decision he makes is of the highest quality, because he's not stretching himself too thin.

"As a senior executive, you get paid to make a small number of high quality decisions," Bezos said in an interview in front of an audience at the Economic Club of Washington in September 2018.

"If I make, like, three good decisions a day, that's enough," Bezos said. "And they should be as high quality as I can make them."

In fact, Bezos notes that Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor known as "the Oracle of Omaha," is also a proponent of paring down the number of decisions he needs to make in order to focus on making high-quality decisions.

"Warren Buffett says he's good if he makes three good decisions a year," Bezos said. "So, you know, I really believe that."

Jeff Bezos sends a birthday message to his fourth-grade teacher
Jeff Bezos sends a birthday message to his fourth-grade teacher

Bezos even tries to block off time each day when he'll make his most important decisions, and he doesn't like saving a big decision for the end of the day, when he's more likely to be mentally exhausted.

"I do my high-IQ meetings before lunch. Like, anything that's going to be really mentally challenging, that's a 10 o'clock meeting," Bezos said at the Economic Club. "And by 5 p.m., I'm like, 'I can't think about that today. Let's try this again tomorrow at 10 a.m.'"

Making a decision at the end of the day, versus waiting for tomorrow, might not be the time saved "if the quality of those decisions might be lower because you're tired or grouchy," Bezos said.

Of course, Bezos and Buffett aren't the only leaders to try to avoid decision fatigue that can reduce the effectiveness of their decisions as the day wears on. Both Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and former President Barack Obama are among the notable people who have said that they often wear basically the same outfit every day to help cut down on the number of decisions they have to make.

In 2012, while he was still in the White House, Obama told Vanity Fair that he generally wore only gray and blue suits in order to "pare down decisions."

"You need to focus your decision-making energy," Obama said. "You need to routinize yourself. You can't be going through the day distracted by trivia."

That being said, Bezos is still a big proponent of making good decisions quickly. In fact, in a 2017 letter to shareholders the Amazon founder wrote that to maintain an energetic and innovative environment at your business, "you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions."

That can be more difficult for large companies, like Amazon, than it is for younger start-ups. But Bezos says his senior leadership team at Amazon is "determined to keep our decision-making velocity high. Speed matters in business – plus a high-velocity decision making environment is more fun too."

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This high school dropout brought in $18 million last year selling on Amazon
This high school dropout brought in $18 million last year selling on Amazon