It’s interesting that one of the most complex things we ever do – at least within the world of productivity and success – can be done in a tenth of a second without any conscious thought.
I’m talking about decision-making.
We’ve all known someone, perhaps it is you, who is a decision-making genius – either occasionally or full-time. These people almost instinctively know what to do in their work and their life, and their decisions frequently turn out to be good ones.
But even if you’re not a gifted decision-maker, you can learn to make highly effective decisions. You simply have to be a little more right-brained about it.
One approach is to establish a solid decision-making procedure, and apply it to each of the situations you face. You might want to try this one:
Perceive the Situation
It’s hard to make a good decision when you don’t know what’s going on. In fact, the more accurately you perceive the situation that’s triggering the need for a decision, the easier it often becomes to find the best way forward.
To start, it’s helpful to collect as much information as you can about the situation:
- What are the most important factors involved?
- What are the opportunities and challenges?
- What the risks and difficulties?
- Who are the people involved?
- What’s the problem to be solved or the goal to be achieved?
Much of what your perceptions unearth may be surprising, so it’s important to stay alert for anything new and different about each situation you encounter.
Analyze the Situation
Based on the information you have collected, you can begin to build a detailed understanding of the situation:
- How is this similar to any situation you’ve encountered previously?
- What forces are at work?
- What are the important unknowns, if any?
- How does each of the people involved fit in with the current situation and its possible future?
- What are the constraints on possible changes to the situation?
Many situations are dynamic, and change rapidly over the days, weeks, and months you are examining them. It’s important to stay current so the decision you make isn’t outmoded or rendered moot by the time you make it.
Develop a Plan
As soon as you are up to speed, it’s time to make a decision regarding how to respond to the current situation in ways that will produce the outcome you’re after.
This may sometimes be as simple as choosing between two or more alternatives, such as what color to paint a room or which car to buy. In simple situations, it’s fairly easy to determine whether you prefer green or blue, whether you want the sedan or the convertible.
But more often, a decision involves trying to generate a particular outcome – such as increase sales by 10% or enter a new market with a viable product – by taking a series of steps that lead from where you currently find yourself to where you’d like to be.
These types of decisions normally involve far more than one simple choice, and may require not only conceptualizing a desired outcome, but formulating an optimized pathway to produce it.
What’s more, there may be insufficient information to fully determine the best possible way forward. You may have to take a good guess, or try to develop a course of action that’s most likely to produce a good result in a wide range of eventualities.
Implement the Plan
In the simplest situations, implementation is the act of painting the room or selecting a car. But most of the time, implementing the decided-upon plan takes a while and requires enough self-discipline to stay focused on starting and completing each step at the proper time.
What’s more, every step you take may change the situation enough to make it prudent for you to re-visit your perceptions and re-analyze what’s going on.
An analogy would be steering a car around a curve: first you see the curve and consider how sharp it appears, then you turn the steering wheel and observe how accurately the car is following the bend in the road. As you navigate the curve, you continually make any necessary adjustments to keep the car safely in the proper lane.
In the same way, implementing your plan is all about re-calibrating your next steps based on the impact of the steps you’ve previously taken.
Developing and maintaining a high level of productivity and success is often dependent on your ability to make effective decisions in complex, fast-changing situations. That’s why developing your decision-making instincts and supplementing them with an effective decision-making procedure is a great way to get better results in your work and your life.
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