Small Business Week: How to Make the Tough Decisions

  1. How to Make Difficult Business Decisions Effectively and Easily
  2. Avoid “decision fatigue” by making hard choices early
  3. Organize your thought process
  4. Don’t ignore your emotions surrounding the decision
  5. Imagine that you’re helping someone else make the decision
  6. Consider the complete opposite course of action
  7. “Sell yourself” each option
  8. Don’t take in too much information
  9. Don’t get wrapped up in avoiding the “wrong” decision
  10. 5 ways to make tough decisions faster (and not regret them later)
  11. 1. Fall back on your values
  12. 2. Talk it through
  13. 3. Ask for perspective
  14. 5. Listen to your hopes
  15. 6 Ways to Make Hard Decisions Easier as a Leader
  16. 1. Reduce decision fatigue.
  17. 2. Take yourself the equation.
  18. 3. Create a firm deadline.
  19. 4. Limit the factors you use to make your decision.
  20. 5. Quantify your options.
  21. 6. Focus on long-term thinking.
  22. Want to really celebrate Small Business Week? Give entrepreneurs less talk, more action
  23. Tax all sales in a location equally
  24. Sharpen the FTC’s teeth
  25. Ensure fair shipping prices
  26. Solve the health care crisis
  27. Outlaw subsidies for attracting big corporations
  28. Shop small, shop local
  29. Stop automatically voting for 'pro-business politicians.'
  30. 5 Pieces of Timeless Advice for Making Difficult Decisions
  31. 1. Think in Years, Not Days
  32. Commit to long-term thought
  33. Take a breath
  34. 2. Understand the Effects of Decision Fatigue
  35. Start strong
  36. 3. Cut down on the number of decisions you have to make each day (e.g., wear the same clothes every day)
  37. Make life easier for yourself
  38. Do more with less
  39. 4. Consider the Opposite
  40. Bring in the Barbarian
  41. 5. Stay away from the ‘What if’ game

How to Make Difficult Business Decisions Effectively and Easily

Small Business Week: How to Make the Tough Decisions

This morning, I decided to walk to the coffee shop down the street. When I got there, I decided to have a cup of coffee and a bagel. Those decisions shaped my morning, as did all the other small decisions I’ve made up until this moment.

Our daily lives are the cumulative effect of hundreds of small decisions.

These decisions encompass everything from what you chose to wear today, to where you’re eating for lunch. Generally speaking, decisions this come fairly easily, and we rarely agonize over the small choices we make throughout our daily lives.

However, some decisions carry enough weight that the prospect of simply making a choice can feel a huge undertaking. The decision to quit your job and start your own business, choosing to hire additional team members, taking on a new, difficult project—the decisions entrepreneurs face are often very difficult to make, and involve careful consideration.

It’s understandable; for an entrepreneur, making business decisions can be a stressful, emotional process. There are financial considerations to take into account, as well as your desire to do what is best for your business and yourself as an entrepreneur.

The difficulty here is avoiding analysis paralysis—where we get so wrapped up in the importance of the decision and our desire to make the right call that we fail to act, and become immobilized.

These strategies will enable you to set up your own personal system for making hard decisions when they do arise, and allow you to make difficult business decisions easier, faster, and with less associated stress.

Avoid “decision fatigue” by making hard choices early

When faced with too many different decisions, we often opt for the easy default option, that will not disrupt the status quo or existing conditions.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that course of action is best; it simply means we’re suffering from what is known as “decision fatigue.”

This phenomenon was exemplified by a study of parole hearings and approvals; the time of day (and thus the amount of parole requests a judge had already sat through) was shown to greatly impact the lihood that a judge would approve a parole request. Unsurprisingly, more approvals were granted in the morning or after a break—before decision fatigue had a chance to set in.

On a practical level, this means that the more decisions we make throughout the day, the more difficult it becomes as the day wears on to make difficult, well-thought out decisions, as opposed to simply sticking with what is easy and convenient (or worse, deciding on a rash course of action).

To combat this, plan to devote time to the decision-making process early in the morning, while you still feel mentally fresh.

Organize your thought process

If you’re anything me, you may find comfort in the process of listing out the pros and cons of a decision.

Starting with a list-making process can be a good way to get the various upsides and downsides of any decision your head and onto paper. This process of creating “emotional distance” can be a good place to start, as it enables you to see the situation clearly. From there, it’s easier to get a clear sense of exactly what you’re facing.

However, the issue with a pros and cons list is that it can make certain aspects of your decision seem to have equal weight, when in reality some points will matter more than others.

For example, if you’re weighing whether or not to hire an employee, the con of “will take a lot of time and effort to review and interview candidates” does not necessarily have the same weight as the pro of “will add considerably to the amount of time I have to focus on my core responsibilities.”

To counteract this, consider a more nuanced approach to the basic pros and cons list. Beyond simply listing out positives and negatives, using a ranking system for your pros and cons list can help add weight to items that may otherwise appear to be evenly matched.

Don’t ignore your emotions surrounding the decision

What emotions do you associate with each decision outcome?

This is a more subtle way of using your intuition or “gut reaction” to make a decision—and the emotional aspect of decision making shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, research suggests that our ability to make decisions is fundamentally tied to our emotions, and in order to make decisions, we are reliant on our ability to process information on an emotional level.

So, we should not attempt to divorce them from the process. The trick here is to use your emotions as a tool, rather than making the decision entirely how you feel on an emotional level in the heat of the moment. Instead of using your emotions in the moment to guide you, consider the emotions you expect to experience in the future.

Take a moment to think about the potential outcomes of each option, and think about how they will make you feel in the future (say, one year down the road). This tactic, sometimes called the “fast forward method,” enables you to get a sense of how the decision will impact your life in the grand scheme, rather than tomorrow or the next day.

Vividly imagine each scenario, and consider how the options make you feel. Does the prospect of living with one outcome make you feel considerably happier, more at ease, or more confidant than the other? Using your emotions to map out the benefit of each outcome in the long term can be a useful tool.

Imagine that you’re helping someone else make the decision

What would you tell a friend, a sibling, or a partner, if they were faced with the same decision you are currently facing?

This concept, termed “self distance” in a study of decision-making in long-term relationships, was found to result in more mature “wise reasoning,” and overall better decision-making. It involves coming at your current situation from the perspective of a third party, and framing your advice and suggested choice as though to a friend or other close outside party.

Take a moment to imagine that you are the advice-giver, and that someone close to you has come to you seeking counsel. What information would you want to have? What factors would influence the advice you offered? Which decision, ultimately, seems the wisest course of action from an outside perspective?

From the position of an outsider looking in, you may be able to shed some light on which course of action appears “best” from the outside. You might realize that from an outsider’s perspective, one path is clearly superior—but maybe you’re hung up on how hard it will be to achieve that outcome, or some other similar factor.

Consider the complete opposite course of action

If you are faced with a difficult decision between two potential options, consider adding additional options to the mix that are the polar opposite of the decision you are weighing.

This strategy, amusingly referred to as The Constanza Principle, relies on the fact that our own instincts might not always lead to the best decision.

By bringing in an additional option that represents the opposite course of action than what you would normally be inclined to take, and evaluating it as a legitimate option, you may encounter flaws in your thought process or new aspects that you hadn’t considered.

For example, say you’re choosing between two cities in which to set up a new store location. Instead of just focusing on deciding between the two, consider throwing in a third option that you’d never consider.

Evaluating the pros and cons of all locations as though each was a viable option might bring things to light that you wouldn’t have thought of.

What do you hate about the third location? Are you sure the other two won’t also have that negative quality?

This strategy doesn’t mean that you should simply ignore your gut; it simply means that you should question your assumptions. By adding an option that you might not ever have initially considered, you might bring to light new aspects of the decision that you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of.

“Sell yourself” each option

Have you ever had the experience of trying to justify a decision you made to a friend or family member, and finding that you can’t really “sell it” as well out loud as you could in your own head?

On the flipside, I have also encountered experiences where I’ve suddenly passionately advocated for a choice that I might not have realized how much I cared about until I was forced to defend it.

Talk through your options with yourself and the people in your life. How do you find yourself describing each option? Which one feels and sounds the better option, once you’ve said it out loud? Do you find that you really have a hard time justifying a course of action, or that one option gets you infinitely more excited than the other?

Forcing yourself to clearly articulate your options and “sell yourself” and others on the idea can clarify which direction you are leaning. You might find that you feel much more strongly inclined toward one choice than the other, and this can help make your decision easier.

Don’t take in too much information

Having a clear understanding of the facts surrounding a decision is important, but it’s very possible to take in entirely too much information.

In the context of making difficult business decisions, too much information can hurt your decision making process. Research has shown that having more information doesn’t necessarily lead to making better decisions, but rather can result in our shifting focus unnecessarily to specific aspects of the decision, at the loss of the big picture.

Does this mean you shouldn’t do your research? No—that would be short sighted. Tough business-related decisions hiring new employees, choosing a new location, or relocating to a different state require plenty of research and planning. However, it does mean that information overload isn’t your friend, and can hinder your ability to see the impact of the decision holistically.

So, step away from the computer. Compile all the necessary information, but resist the urge to get so granular that you miss the big picture. In the instance of making hard business decisions, it is completely possible to have too much information.

Don’t get wrapped up in avoiding the “wrong” decision

A major factor when it comes to analysis paralysis is our concern that once we make a call, we’re stuck with it. And, to an extent, we often are. There are plenty of decisions that, if we change our minds after the fact, would result in money and time lost, and potentially some damaged relationships.

That being said, in order to make decisions more effectively and efficiently, it’s necessary to eliminate this “all or nothing” thinking, which is generally motivated by our fear of making the wrong decision.

Think about the decision you are facing: What is the worst-case scenario? How can you combat this outcome, if it does occur? What will you have learned, and what will you be able to do going forward?

Chances are, no outcome is so terrible that you will not be able to pick up the pieces and move forward, with more knowledge and experience to guide you in the future.

The key is to avoid letting your fear of making the wrong decision paralyze you, but rather to acknowledge that even a “wrong” decision will have served as a teacher, and will position you to make more informed decisions in the future.

How do you go about making difficult business decisions? Do you use any of these strategies, or do you have a different tactic that you’d to share?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment and let me know how you make tough decisions!


5 ways to make tough decisions faster (and not regret them later)

Small Business Week: How to Make the Tough Decisions

Decisions–or, more accurately, indecision–can cause a drag on your time for days, weeks, months, or even years. But choosing well doesn’t always have to mean choosing slowly.

As an experienced time-management coach, I’ve developed a handful of strategies for cutting down the time it takes to make tough decisions.

First you need to lay the groundwork, then you can pick and choose your tactic, depending on the type of tough call you’re trying to make, and how much time you’ve got to make it. Here’s how it works.

To start, you need to set yourself up for decision-making success. This involves three fundamental elements:

  1. Book time to think. I know, the whole problem is that you don’t have time! But the time pressure you’re feeling should be a signal that you need to rethink your day-to-day task planning altogether. It’s counterintuitive, but making decisions faster requires consciously giving yourself time to make them. Decision making is a task, and it deserves more attention than what you can devote to it when you wake up late at night worrying about that urgent issue you still haven’t resolved. For smaller decisions, you may only need to set aside 30 minutes or an hour; for larger ones, you might schedule a few hours over the course of two to three weeks. But whatever you do, add these time blocks to your calendar and to-do lists on a regular basis.
  2. Define the decision. Before delving into deciding, get clear on the nature of the choice you’re making. For example, a job change affects not only your work responsibilities but also your commute, your salary, your coworkers, and so on. Defining the key factors that both go into and will be affected by your decision helps you quickly discern whether (and why) you’re excited about a particular option. Maybe that new job sounds great, but you just can’t stomach a two-hour commute every day.
  3. Think through your options. Instead of limiting yourself to a “yes” or “no” choice, brainstorm all the possible options before making a decision–you may find compromises and alternatives that weren’t easy to see initially. In fact, consider, too, whether you actually need to make a decision. In some cases it’s fine to simply let a choice pass by without committing either way.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of these decision-making basics in place, you can pick one or two tactics for deciding more quickly. Here are five great options, each suited to different situations and personality types.

1. Fall back on your values

Having clear values that you try to live by can make tough decisions easier. For example, maybe you know there’s a certain amount of time you want to spend with your family, or a baseline level of debt you’re willing to carry.

When it comes time to a decision about work travel, or taking a new job with a long commute, or making a big purchase, you’ll immediately recognize whether choosing a certain course of action would violate one of those values or guide rules.

2. Talk it through

Some people are verbal processors; they organize their thoughts by talking them out. If that’s you, then having a discussion could be your fastest route to a decision. You don’t need to speak with someone who’s knowledgeable on the topic.

You just need a good listener who’ll give you time and space to hear out your monologue and occasionally reflect back to you what you’ve shared. You’re ly come to a decision by the end of the conversation, even if the other person says very little.

3. Ask for perspective

Sometimes you need more than just a sounding board; you actually need advice. Asking someone else for their opinion typically works best when you’re considering doing something that you’ve never done before, and when you know someone who’s experienced in that domain.

 When you’re leaning in a given direction already, seeking out wise counsel can help you reach a smart decision faster. Just be careful not to blindly accept advice. A choice that may make sense for someone else might not be right for you.

If you find yourself uncomfortable with what they’ve proposed, you don’t have to go through with it–but you may find the conversation nudged you toward a decision anyhow.

In some cases, you can test out a decision before actually making it. Consider visiting a new city to see how it feels to you, before taking that job that would require you to relocate.

Or see if you can chat with any of your potential new coworkers ahead of time.

In those moments when you’re exposing yourself to a new experience, your body tends to signal to you whether an unfamiliar situation “feels right” or just “feels off.”

5. Listen to your hopes

When you’re really struggling with a decision, it’s often because your mind thinks one thing is practical while your heart wants something else. Pay attention to what you hope will happen.

For example, when you ask a mentor for advice, what are you hoping she’ll tell you to do or not do? Or if you had to make a decision a coin toss, which side would you hope it lands on? We’re not purely rational creatures.

It’s right (and good!) to listen to your hopes because they often give you deeper insight into the decisions you actually want to make.

Life is full of tough choices, but they don’t need to be massive drains on your time. Lay a strong foundation to make decisions generally, then pick and choose from these five tactics to make them faster. You’ll spend less time agonizing over your decisions without making slapdash choices you’ll later regret.

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6 Ways to Make Hard Decisions Easier as a Leader

Small Business Week: How to Make the Tough Decisions
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Leadership is mentally and emotionally demanding. Not only will you need to temper your emotions to keep your team inspired, you'll also be the point person for almost every hard decision your business makes.

Related: The 7 Styles of Decision Making

You're the one who has to make the call, and the one who has to deal with the consequences. It's no wonder that depression affects entrepreneurs more than the average population.

Sooner or later, you'll be forced to make a tough call; it might mean firing an employee you're personally close with, or making a risky strategic change for the business or ending a long-term partnership.

Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to make these decisions easier, both in terms of finding a better option and resisting the stress and burdens that come along with it.

Try using these tactics the next time you're forced to make a hard decision.

1. Reduce decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue is a documented phenomenon that sets in when you make too many successive decisions. Even small decisions, picking what to wear or ordering a meal, can accumulate the stress of decision-making and make approaching bigger decisions more stressful.

You can reduce decision fatigue by spending less time on small-scale decisions. Build habits that are repeatable, and let other people ( your assistants or coworkers) decide things that don't have much impact on you or your business.

2. Take yourself the equation.

According to the New York Times, one of the best ways to make decisions is to remove yourself from the picture altogether. Imagine that this isn't your company: Instead, pretend that it belongs to a friend, and you're advising him or her on what to do.

Describe the situation, out loud, as if the people and organizations involved were total strangers. If your friend came to you with this story, what would you advise? Oftentimes, it's easier to see the answer when we're removed from the situation, because the stakes are lower — but the answer is just as good.

Related: Can You 'Feel' It? How to Use Emotional Decision-Making in Marketing

3. Create a firm deadline.

A big problem many entrepreneurs have with decision-making is being decisive in a timely manner; in other words, they procrastinate. This calls to mind Parkinson's Law: Essentially, the amount of time it takes to do a task swells to fill the amount of time allotted for it.

If you give yourself a month to make a decision, you're going to take a month. If you give yourself a day, you're going to take a day. Obviously, you don't want to rush decisions with major consequences, but you'll also want to set a strict timetable so you don't procrastinate too long, wasting time and mental resources in the process.

4. Limit the factors you use to make your decision.

The paradox of choice is a perplexing case of human psychology. The more options you have to consider, the harder it is to make a choice- — and the less satisfied you are with that choice once you make it.

You can compensate for this by limiting the number of options you have to choose from, and the number of variables you consider when choosing between them. For example, you could narrow your choice down to two vendors, and decide to make your decision cost only, or only on the quality of the working relationship.

5. Quantify your options.

As a business owner, quantifiable decisions are easy to make. For example, if your marketing strategy makes more money than it costs, it's worth keeping. So, if you want to make your net hard decision a little easier, try reducing everything to quantifiable variables.

This may take some extra effort up-front, but the best answer will be obvious when you're done. For example, if you're stuck between hiring two candidates, start rating them on different factors, experience, value and culture fit. Ultimately, the candidate who racks up the most points is your winner.

6. Focus on long-term thinking.

It's tempting to think about the short-term repercussions of your decisions as a worst-case scenario, but try thinking about the long term instead.

If the current decision you're making is the wrong one, how will this affect your life in three years? What about five years? Most bad decisions can be recovered from in the span of a year or two — even the big ones — so don't beat yourself up over the worst-case possibilities. This is also a way to distance yourself from the equation.

Procrastinating isn't a good idea. Delegating is possible in some situations, but generally not advisable. If you want to be a successful leader, you need to learn how to handle tough decisions rather than avoid them.

Related: How to Use 'Decision Trees' to Improve Your Decision Making

In short, learning to make effective decisions may take some practice, but decisiveness is any other skill: the more time you invest in it, the better you'll become.


Want to really celebrate Small Business Week? Give entrepreneurs less talk, more action

Small Business Week: How to Make the Tough Decisions

Growing a business is an exciting prospect — as long as you're ready for it.

It’s National Small Business Week, so you’ll hear a bunch of platitudes about small business: “Small business is the backbone of the economy, creates new jobs, is the American dream, yada, yada…” All true, but how does that help you?  I’ve been involved with the small-business community for 25 years, and it’s time for straight talk and real help for small business and startups. It’s time for a “Small Business Manifesto.”  

First, let’s level the playing field for small businesses:  

Tax all sales in a location equally

Whether you buy something in a brick-and-mortar location or over the Internet, the tax should be exactly the same. Two decades of preferential sales tax for online sales has decimated small local businesses.      

Sharpen the FTC’s teeth

The Federal Trade Commission has become a virtual rubber stamp for mega-mergers. The huge corporations formed by these mega-mergers make it far more difficult for small and mid-size companies to compete and result in fewer choices, worse service, and higher prices for small businesses.  It’s time for a new approach to anti-trust and a 21st century “trust buster” movement.    

Don’t think net neutrality affects your small business? Well, look at your internet costs and quality of service. The Internet is now as critical for a business as is electricity; it should be regulated the same way – as a public utility.

President Donald Trump’s appointees to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) reversed net neutrality, giving a few huge telecommunications companies the ability to create “fast lanes,” charging more or slowing down speeds for startups and small businesses that might compete with their own offerings or other large corporations who pay them more. 


Ensure fair shipping prices

In my business, we stopped selling our products to consumers directly because of exploding shipping costs. Sky-high shipping rates make it almost impossible to compete against huge online retailers. Sure, large companies should be able to negotiate some volume and other discounts, but the difference in shipping rates has gotten hand.        

Solve the health care crisis

I don’t care how – revamping the Affordable Care Act, Medicare for all, single payer, health insurance regulation, whatever – small businesses need equal health care access for all. In my 30s, as a self-employed individual, I went without health insurance because I couldn’t afford it.

 Before the ACA, many business owners over the age of 40 typically couldn’t get any insurance at all. (There was always some kind of preexisting condition.) My company’s health insurance rates used to increase 20-30% every year.

 Every American should be covered, no exclusions for preexisting conditions, and prices shouldn’t rise ridiculously for older workers.   

While individuals might refuse to answer any “unknown” callers on our personal phones, small businesses don’t have the same option. My office has to answer every call. My sister in sales has to answer every call. There are bills in both houses of Congress to reduce robocalls and the FCC could take stronger action. Let’s get this done.  

Outlaw subsidies for attracting big corporations

Multibillion-dollar companies pit cities and states against each other in bidding wars to get financial incentives when they move.

 Everyone knows it’s a hoax: The company actually knows where they want to move, and cities and states never really recoup their investment. Put an end to these shenanigans.

 Imagine if the state of Virginia had given $750 million in incentives to small businesses in the state instead of to Amazon – how many jobs and opportunities that would have created.

More: More small businesses cashing in on cashless payments

More: Amazon says small business owners earn $90,000 a year from selling in its stores

More: Don't hate, appreciate: Socially responsible small businesses win millennials

Those proposals of mine require government action, but there are things all of us can do to support small businesses:  

Shop small, shop local

Every time a package arrives at your front door from a huge internet retailer, you hurt a local business. Patronize the businesses in your own town. 

Stop automatically voting for 'pro-business politicians.'

“Pro-business” usually means pro-big business. Most “anti-regulation” politicians really just mean “let the big guys get away with anything.” Vote for politicians who will take on the big corporate special interests and have your small business back.  

Policies have consequences. Your choices have consequences. So let’s stop saying how much we love small businesses and really do something to help them.   

Rhonda Abrams is the author of “Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies,” the best-selling business plan guide of all time, just released in its seventh edition. Connect with Rhonda on ,  Instagram and @RhondaAbrams. Register for Rhonda’s free business tips newsletter at 

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5 Pieces of Timeless Advice for Making Difficult Decisions

Small Business Week: How to Make the Tough Decisions

Your decisions make you.

Whether you’re selling them as an entrepreneur, marketer, writer, or any other kind of knowledge worker, or facing a serious crossroads in your personal life, the choices you make today define your future.

So it’s no wonder that when it comes to our growth and success, few skills are more important than the ability to make good decisions.

As Nobel-prize winning economist Milton Friedman wrote: “The best measure of quality thinking is your ability to accurately predict the consequences of your ideas and subsequent actions.”

Trivial decisions what shirt to wear or what brand of toothpaste to buy may be easy enough to make—though some of us spend hours on research to make those decisions.

It's the gray area problems that are the hardest to resolve—ones where despite all the research you’ve done and experts you’ve spoken to, the answer is still unclear.

Problems where it’s up to you, your experiences, and that pesky gut feeling to decide what is the best course of action.

Questions : Should I take this job? Should I move to [place]? Should I marry [person]? Should I tell so-and-so about such-and-such secret? Pivotal questions that are difficult and risky to answer.

So how do you put yourself in the best position when faced with hard decisions?

Here are 5 pieces of timeless advice for how to approach and handle life-altering choices:

1. Think in Years, Not Days

We may respect those able to fling themselves into a hard problem and make a quick choice with seemingly little thought, but making a meaningful decision needs to be done with care for the long-term effects.

In his book Get Smart!: How to Think and Act the Most Successful and Highest-Paid People in Every Field, author Brian Tracy presents ten different ways of thinking that enable better decision making.

The most important? Think about the long-term consequences of your decision.

Tracy turned to Dr. Edward Banfield, professor emeritus of government at Harvard University, who spent 50 years studying upward economic mobility. What Dr.

Banfield discovered was that ‘time perspective’ was the determining factor of whether or not a family moved from a lower socioeconomic class to a higher one—that is, whether they improved their socioeconomic situation or not.

The most successful people, Banfield found, “are intensely future-oriented. They think about the future most of the time,” rather than thinking only of the next few hours or even minutes:

Unfortunately, most of us are conditioned to respond as quickly as possible.

From the moment our alarm rings, we’re in reaction mode—acting the stimulus around us rather than casting our eyes to the future.

Evolutionarily speaking, it was important for us to be able to react to something new in our environment (you didn’t want to sit back and think about whether or not that lion really wants to eat you), but in the modern workplace we need to be able to calm those thoughts.

Commit to long-term thought

Sorry to sound your mother or father here, but: Before jumping to a conclusion, consider the consequences of your decisions.

What’s going to happen? And then what might happen? And then?

Simply starting to think in longer periods will help settle your brain and shift from reaction to strategy mode.

Take a breath

There’s a reason your mother told you to take a few deep breaths before you get angry.

Make sure when it comes to a decision that you give yourself the space to think between stimulus and response and break your mind the destructiveness of “reaction mode.

Perhaps legendary Daoist philosopher Laozi put this best when he asked:

Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?

2. Understand the Effects of Decision Fatigue

A recent study from Columbia University decision researcher Sheena Lyengar found that on average, Americans make 70 conscious decisions a day. That’s 70 distinct moments of wading through options and committing to a certain choice.

So it’s no wonder that at a certain point we reach what’s called decision fatigue—where the mental energy required to weigh the tradeoffs of our decision become too much for us to handle. Especially when it comes to the kinds of decisions we’re talking about here, which require a massive amount of cognitive grit to weigh the pros and cons.

However, even though decisions fatigue is inevitable, there are ways to make sure you’re not letting it affect your difficult choice.

Start strong

When Jonathan Levav of Stanford and Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University studied Israeli judges' decisions to grant parole to prisoners, a strange pattern emerged.

The judges were dramatically more ly to free prisoners earlier in the day (before the judges had made any big decisions) or right after lunch (when they were rested and replenished) compared to the afternoon (when they've already made multiple big decisions).

Decision fatigue hits us when we’ve depleted our ego. We begin to lose the ability to weigh the outcomes of our choices and make dubious decisions. It’s why after debating for a few minutes, you agree to your friend’s bad restaurant choice just to get the decision-making process over.

It’s important to be self-aware of what state of mind you’re in before tackling a hard choice. Those 16-hour days going back and forth on a tough decision might be doing more harm than good.

3. Cut down on the number of decisions you have to make each day (e.g., wear the same clothes every day)

The more responsibility we take on in our lives, the more decisions we’re forced to make. And, as we’ve seen, letting the small choices pile up sets us up for failure.

So perhaps the easiest way to make sure we can face a hard decision with our full attention is to simply make fewer decisions. Think of people Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama, who limited their wardrobe choices to a few staple pieces. Mark Zuckerberg said his first public Q&A on :

I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community. I'm in this really lucky position where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than a billion people. And I feel I'm not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.

Or consider Tim Ferriss, who’s gone as far as outsourcing his email to Canada and performing the same workout routine for several years to cut down on the number of decisions he makes to save mental energy for the bigger decisions during his day.

Make life easier for yourself

Now, you don’t have to outsource your work to another country or throw out 90% of your wardrobe.

Instead, automate some of the simpler and easier decisions in your day:

  • Select from only a handful of lunch options that you rotate each week

  • Use a service Amazon’s Subscribe and Save to ship common items paper towels directly to your house

  • Consider asking wait staff for dinner recommendations so you don’t have to stare at an overwhelming menu

  • Sign up for a free Zapier account to automate the tedious parts of your job. Connect the apps you use and automatically move information between them

The key is to cut down on the amount of mental energy you expend on trivial decisions so you can save up for the more important choices in your day.

Do more with less

You might think you need as much information as possible before you’re able to make a choice, but too much research can hurt as much as it helps.

Gathering too much data and asking for too many opinions can lead to mental overload, analysis paralysis, and ultimately making the wrong choice. Instead, learning to recognize when the data doesn’t help, or becomes too much, will ultimately keep you on the right path.

4. Consider the Opposite

In a meta-analysis of 50 years’ worth of judgement and decision making research published by Harvard Business School, one piece of advice for making a difficult decision that came up time and time again was to get an outsider's opinion.

The researchers found that talking to those detached from the decision has three main benefits:

  1. Reducing your overconfidence about what you know

  2. Reducing the time it takes to make the decision

  3. Increasing your chance of entrepreneurial success

We all have our personal biases when faced with a decision.

We want to believe one way is right even if the information doesn’t stack up. Instead of staying impartial, we look for information or opinions in line with our own.

The power of the outsider comes from escaping the cognitive biases we all fall victim to when working closely on a project—for example, the Confirmation Bias, described as the tendency to favor or spin new information so that it re-affirms what we already believe.

Bring in the Barbarian

While you might talk to a friend, colleague, or mentor to help bring in a new perspective, the outsider doesn’t have to be someone completely disconnected from the decision. In fact, it can be just as powerful to have someone within your team or even yourself adopt an outsider’s perspective.

This approach is sometimes described as making sure there is a “barbarian” at every meeting—someone who will speak awkward truths clearly and urgently.

5. Stay away from the ‘What if’ game

Once you’re close to what you feel is the right decision, it’s easy to get sucked into continuing down the same paths over and over again.

Psychologists call this phenomenon Counterfactual Thinking and it describes how we dwell on the outcomes of actions we didn’t actually take.

What if I’d answered that interview question differently?

What if I’d said what I really meant?

One of the hardest things about making a decision is that we are notoriously bad at gazing into our own crystal ball. At a certain point you need to trust you’ve put in the thought and work to make the right decision and just commit.

As University of San Francisco professor Jim Taylor explains: “The bottom line of decision making involves determining which potential decision will offer the best possible outcome what we know now.”

If you need an even bigger boost of self-confidence, remember that decisions are also an opportunity for us to say something about who we are and what our values are.

As philosopher Ruth Chang explains in her excellent TED talk on how to make hard choices:

Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition, that the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out, and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are.

It’s impossible to know whether the choice you’re making is 100% right. Instead of feeling powerless, remember that your gut can be just as powerful a reason to make a choice as all the research, data, and opinions you’ve already gathered.

The kinds of decisions that build great products and even greater careers rarely come down to tossing a coin or choosing information that’s immediately available.

As Farnham Street’s Shane Parrish puts it: “Good decisions don't ensure success but bad ones almost always ensure failure.”

When you’re faced with a potentially life-changing decision, make sure you’re doing everything possible to put yourself in a position to make the best choice. Do the research, be self-aware, and, most of all, trust yourself. You’ve got this!

Title photo by Caleb Jones via Unsplash. Calendar photo by Eric Rothmerel. Clothing photo by m0851.


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