One of the very first things I found leaving university and entering adult life was how many decisions I suddenly had to take. What do I want to do? Where will I live? How will I pay for it? Shall I accept this job offer? Oddly enough, I found I was never really prepared for decision-making until I had to do it. It was an amusing coincidence that on a flight back to the UK, recently, as I was devoured by indecision regarding my career, I chanced on an article encouragingly entitled something like “How to enjoy taking decisions”.
There was some good advice but as with most advice on the matter there were some important points that were neglected. Particularly in business, you can’t move forward without taking decisions. In startups, for example, everyone is faced with the decision to persevere or to pivot. It’s a crucial part of running a startup. So how do you make that decision easier? The moral of the article I read on the plane was: enjoy it! That’s easier said than done.
Here are some basic things that I found were missing in the usual advice you get given:
1. Give yourself time
It sometimes takes some courage to tell someone to wait while you think something through, especially if they are being pushy. There are two reasons to give yourself time: first you need some rational and careful analysis of the options and that requires thinking time. Secondly, you need to consider the matter in different emotional states since that can affect the way you think. On the other hand, don’t procrastinate. I’ve occasionally found that I grab at time just to delay analysing the matter properly. When it comes to the crunch, the decision is made on impulse just as much as if I’d decided without giving myself time.
2. Gather information
Articles often recommend to collect as much information as possible, since that will help you give a more objective judgement. Yes, but also consider that you need information that is comparable. This will also help you to see what information you don’t have available and where you are taking risks. For example, suppose you’re debating whether to take a job in another town. You consider commuting costs. The time and cost of your current commute are known factors. If you were to move you’ve got to ask yourself where you’ll live. That will raise new questions: where can you afford to live? How far is that from work? How much will transport cost? Gathering comparable information will help you frame your research and understand why you took a decision.
3. List pros and cons
I always find it useful to think of objective and subjective factors in making a decision. Also, classifying each depending on how important they are to me. I tend to draw a square and divide it into four boxes. I separate on the left and right objective and subjective factors. On top and bottom I separate the same choices by high priority and low priority. Then I look at high priority objective and subjective factors. Objective and subjective differences help to balance the heart and the head: you can see if you’re being swayed by emotion or reason. High and low priorities help evaluate how important a pro or a con is: happiness is more important than wealth.
4. Listen to your gut
You sometimes get advised to listen to your gut instinct, I find I am very dependent on what my gut says. Then again, how do you account for your instinct? There is one useful way of trying to understand what your gut is telling you. In “What colour is your Parachute?” – a must read for any jobseeker – Richard N. Bolles recommends identifying what your mission in life is. Would you rather increase overall knowledge in the world or would you prefer to make poverty history? A general picture might seem irrelevant to everyday decisions but in practice if you know the kind of person you want to be, that can help you see how the particular decisions you are taking fit into the bigger picture. This also helps to pull away from the particular decision and the stress of overthinking the matter. If you tend to be a person who cares about others and your gut isn’t comfortable with taking a certain decision, it might be that your overall mission in life (i.e. who you want to be as a person) contradicts what might appear like a sensible decision in the immediate present.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do after you’ve made a decision is to smile. After that, you can only start thinking of what other decisions lie in the future: regret won’t help you.