Follow these seven rules to make tough choices from today…

(How to make better decisions in life and career)

Do you often feel stuck? Overwhelmed? Not upto the responsibility you are given? Is it common for you to postpone decisions? Do you often feel like an impostor when faced with a tough decision.

The good news is you are not alone. A recent study indicated that managers think “making difficult decisions” as the most challenging part in professional life.

So, why we are afraid to make decisions? Specially the difficult ones?

The reason is our instincts are conditioned to avoid “risk” and with every decision (and subsequent action) you are taking a risk…risk that may significantly change the course of your career.

The bad news is this is something you can not avoid. Everyday we are expected to make a series of decisions — decisions that have little consequence like what to order in a restaurant to decisions that may have life chnaging consequence. If you want to change a situation, you have to make a decision. Being able to make (good) decisions is probably the most important skill you need to master to excel in life and career.

Here is my seven-point method to make decisions:

1. Categorize and automate: Everyday you are faced with a number of decisions. Decisions that are trivial like what to wear when you are going out. And then there are decisions that may impact your career or life in a significant way. For example a key hire in the company, which product to launch or which company to join. The trick is to automate the decisions that are trivial and spend time on the decisions that will have a long term impact. We have seen the story of Steve Jobs wearing the same clothes everyday….not wanting to spend time on this decision. Your brain is like a muscle and if you use it too often in decision making, fatigue sets in. There is only so many decisions you can make in a single day. Use your brain for important decisions. How do you decide which are the importnat decisions? Ask yourself “Will this decision going to impact my life/company six months from now”? If so, these are the decisions you should spend your time on and get as much data as possible before you make a decision. Find out where your decision falls (important/urgent) in the above quadrants and allocate your time accordingly. This takes us to the point of collecting information.

2. Collect information: When you need to take difficult decision, a decision which is important, collect as much information as possible. Consult with people you value, read all the materials available on the topic, collect as much data points as possible. It helps to be systematic. In the book “Thinking, Fast and slow” Daniel Kahneman talks about how

“Hindsight bias” causes us to distort reality by realigning our memories of events to jibe with new information. In case of important decisions, try to remain as objective as possible when you go on collecting information.

This leads us to the following point…

3. Don’t overthink- But then, at one point, you have to stop collecting data and make a decision. I have seen many situations where people “overthink” and continue to collect data. This is mostly driven by a fear to make decisions and the “hope” to reach a perfect status where data will clearly direct to a decision.

The reality is no amount of data is enough to clearly predict the right decision. There will always be an amount of uncertainty when it comes to complex decision.

And that is why people at senior management get paid a lot of money to make the decision, well, at least that is the excuse they give! Anyway, you do need to rely on your gut at some points and that leads us to embracing uncertainty..

4. Embrace uncertainty — Being comfortable with the fact that there is always an “unknown” element which may impact your decision and being able to live with it is an importnat ingredient for decision making. There is never a perfect status for decision making…embrace the uncertainty that comes with every critical decision and learn to empower others.

5. Empower others — Most often managers make a mistake of trying to over-control the decision making process. Many founders also suffer from the same problem. As businesses grow, one of the best ways to sustain momentum is to hire capable people around you and give them the authority to make decisions. Being able to delegate properly will only free up your time to focus on more importnat areas and will help you to “keep your cool”.

6. Keep cool — There are many movies and real life stories of how leaders kept their cool under pressure. When things are falling appart, leaders remain the point everyone refers to and that is time you graduate to a proper leader. When you are under pressure to make a decision that can impact your life or company in a significant way, it is important to be able to maintain your nerve and withstand the pressure.

When you have delgated a responsibility to someone and the person fails miserably, it is your responsibility to help her pick up the pieces, restore the confidence and help the company and the person to move to the next challenge.

7. Practice — so how do you bring this all together. Practice. People do not inherit decision making capability. They get better at it by practicing and summoning courage in difficult situations. Practice making decisions at every opportunity.

Do not shy away. Each decision making opportunity is a way to influence the course of something — this is a great privelege.

Cherish it and enjoy the process. Learn from the mistakes and continue practicing.