Making Better Decisions

Your world is full of decisions, ranging from opportunities and optional decisions to problems and required decisions. The better you make your decisions, individually and en masse, the better the outcomes you will achieve.

To help you improve the parts of your work and your life that you can control, here are a few simple techniques for making better decisions:

Look for Alternatives

The first step in making better decisions is to look for a wide variety of possible choices. Many people succumb to a black-or-white outlook in which they feel their only choice is either to do something or not, take chocolate or vanilla, go left or go right. One big problem with this approach is that neither option may be entirely satisfactory.

In certain situations, of course, you actually do encounter a clear-cut black-or-white choice, such as the Monty Hall Problem: choosing between Door #1 or Door #2. But far more often, you can find or develop alternatives to the situation that can lead to a better overall outcome.

The alternative choices you develop may be viable in and of themselves. They may also lend themselves to blending with other possible choices in ways that help you eliminate some of the downsides and combine more of the upsides in the choice you ultimately make.

Borrow from Precedents

Another way to improve your decisions is to see how others have decided when faced with the same or similar situation.

For example, if you’re having communication problems with another person, team, or organization, you can strive to identify the source of the problem and come up with a solution on your own.

But you might get a better result if you do some research – perhaps through friends, reviewing relevant literature, or searching the internet for similar cases – and make a decision in light of how others before you have solved their problems of communication.

Play More Than One Ball

In games like golf or pool, there’s only one ball in play and you’re forced to select the best possible option available, based on the situation you face with that single ball in play and the fixed goal or set of goals you’re trying to attain.

But in the real world, the decisions you face will often allow you to consider options based on multiple possibilities of both your actions and the established or revised goals you choose to strive for.

For example, if you’re running short of cash, you can focus on the single idea of where best to borrow the money that you need. But you can put more than one ball in play by considering other possible choices, such as: selling something valuable, reducing your need for cash, or partnering with someone who has enough cash to tide you over.

If you’re running out of time to complete a project, you can work harder, faster, and longer hours to try and meet your deadline. But you can put more than one ball in play by considering other possible choices, such as: getting help from others, negotiating an extension to your deadline, or even rethinking the project and resequencing its deliverables so you can more likely meet the existing deadline.

By considering a variety of possible choices instead of just one, you increase your opportunity to make a better decision.

Gain Greater Perspective

One of the best ways to make better decisions is not to rush to judgment. Instead, you can and should study the problem, look for suitable precedents, develop and consider a variety of potential solutions, and then allow all this information to simmer in your brain for a while.

Most of the time, the best available decision will eventually float to the top of the mental pile.

You can gain perspective in another way, too: simply evaluate the results of each course of action you’re considering on the basis of the “out years.” Some might say: “down the road” or “seven generations hence.”

However you term it, the point is to consider all the ways your decision will likely play out over a relatively long span of time.

Consciously considering the long-term impact of a possible course of action tends to help you get out from under the burden of urgency, and give less weight to the otherwise heavy pressure you may feel from the immediate pros and cons of each potential choice.

Just as compound interest tends to multiply how fast your money grows over the lifetime of a financial investment, making better decisions tends to multiply the growth of your productivity, success, and earnings over the total span of your work and life.

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