How to Make Difficult Decisions

On a typical Saturday morning, I sat down with a pen and paper to make a rather untypical decision – a difficult one. What was originally intended to be a clear one-page write-up, ended up being a messy mind map of potential next steps – with the decision somewhere lost in it. Skimming over my thought process on those pages made me realize that I (and my brain) needed a better way (strategy or framework) to make difficult decisions.

It is easy to lose long term perspective when facing a difficult decision as an entrepreneur (i.e your startup) or personally (relationships, ethics etc.). In this stage of decision dilemma, our emotional state heavily influences how we think about the future (i-e Tetris Effect) – which leads to mistakes, procrastination, and indecisiveness.

Difficult Life Decisions

I have experienced the above in both my personal and professional life – and will most likely be revisited by them in the near future. Some of them include;

  • Startup – Pivot the startup or persist a little more?
  • Professional – Consciously set a culture or let the team itself have an in-born culture?
  • Professional – Persist in motivating and leading team members or letting them go?
  • Personal – Nurture or end a current relationship?
  • Personal – Accept a good full-time job or continue building my venture after graduation?

difficult decisions

Having had to make the above decisions, I have come to the realization that there is no “correct” decision but there is a “best decision at that time”.

Questions for Making Difficult Decisions

I’ve employed these questions to help guide my difficult decision making process.

  • Is it a “Bottleneck” Decision? Many times in life and business non-bottleneck decisions change over time. For example, a low performing employee is not the bottleneck decision when the company as a whole is struggling. This rule also prevents people from finding faults to blame.
  • Am I searching for easy or correct Decisions? Realize that you will only have the “best” decision for the current situation – not the easiest or correct. Afterwards, everything will be okay.
  • Am I deciding with my heart or head or both? Heart and head both play a very critical role in making tough decisions. The heart (gut) can keep you going in your business or personal life even when your head (facts) tell you otherwise. Both approaches are okay, just be aware of which ones are you listening too.
  • How am I going to feel about this in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years? This 10/10/10 rule helps equalize the emotional playing field. What may feel intense in the short-term many be barely noticeable in 10 months or 10 years when compared with the bigger picture.
  • Have I done my homework to be decisive about it going forward?
  • What did I learn from last difficult decision and what can I improve this time?

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