From the time you draft your initial business plan to the time you sell your company and retire, your success in business is going to depend on your ability to make strong decisions. Those decisions may be high-level, such as choosing which target market to focus on, or response-based, such as judging the severity of an emergency and allocating resources to handle it.
But no matter how different these decisions may seem on the surface, they all incorporate and/or employ similar decision-making processes. And if you want to make more intelligent, logical, and effective decisions, you’ll need to learn how to master that practice.
How to Make Better Decisions
So what strategies can you use to make 'better' decisions?
1. Give yourself time (within reason). You can almost always make a better decision if you have more time to consider your options. The extra time will give you an opportunity to learn new information, but also decompress from being 'in the moment.' That said, it’s important not to take this to the extreme; procrastinating your decision is only going to make things worse, so give yourself a few extra hours, or a few extra days, but give yourself a deadline to finalize your call.
2. Use scientific reasoning. Scientific reasoning—the process of forming a hypothesis and testing it —is the best tool we have to make new discoveries and verify our assumptions. If you aren’t already using it when you make decisions, now’s the time to start incorporating it. This approach will help you challenge long-held assumptions that might be steering you in the wrong direction, and give you a framework with which you can judge the validity or value of your previous efforts.
3. Quantify your variables. If you can, try to quantify your variables. It will make things easier to judge. For example, if you’re stuck between hiring two candidates, try to evaluate them on a numerical scale; one might have a 7/10 attitude, while the other has a 9/10 attitude. One might have an 8/10 on experience, while the other has a 5/10. Add those scores together, and you have a 15 and a 14; what was once a tough decision now has an obvious answer.
4. Ignore the past. It’s easy to get lost in the sunk cost fallacy —the tendency for people to stay with a given strategy, investment, or approach if they’ve already invested significant time and money in it. If you’ve already suffered losses, but you believe there’s a possibility for a turnaround, you’re inclined to stick with the original program. This is a form of emotional, irrational decision-making, so you should avoid it at all costs; ignore the past and focus on the present and the future.
5. Think in a new environment. If you’re working on a tough decision or problem, try thinking in a new environment. This is helpful in two ways. First, the new environment is likely to “reset” your frame of reference, giving you a new starting point and a fresh way to think about your issue. Second, you’ll expose yourself to new factors, such as different color, new lighting, or more creative inspiration, which can help your brainstorming process and make you see things in a different light.
6. Pretend you’re giving advice to a friend. If you find it hard to think objectively about a problem you’re facing, you can distance yourself by pretending you’re giving advice to a friend . Imagine one of your friends is going through this exact situation; what would you tell them? What would you advise them to choose? It may seem like you’d come to the same conclusion either way, but you might be surprised to learn how much easier it is to help someone else with a decision than it is to make one of your own.
7. Talk to other people (but trust yourself). Finally, spend some time talking to other people about your decision—especially if they’re experts in a field with more experience than you. You’ll get some additional perspective, which can highlight variables you hadn’t considered, and you might even get a formal recommendation for how to proceed. These outside opinions aren’t meant to make your decision for you, but can and should give you more information to make a good choice.
Practice Makes Perfect
Like any skill, you can improve your ability to make decisions simply by practicing effectively . Apply these strategies to most decisions in your life, even if they’re personal decisions or if they seem inconsequential, such as picking out a set of clothes to wear. In time, these processes will become habits, and you’ll be able to apply them without thinking to make more informed, objective decisions throughout your personal and professional life.