In the last few weeks, I've had to make some big decisions in my personal and professional life. There was quite a bit of stress and now on the other side of things I've reflected quite a bit.
How does one make good decisions? How does one balance constraints with time, external parties, and incomplete information? I can't say I have any right to speak on this, but I'll be sharing my thoughts from this learning experience.
In my personal life, I've had to make choices that would have large downstream effects. At the same time, professionally I had to lead a project. The buck stopped at me. I had to decide and sign off on decisions that would affect other teams and how the system worked.
I won't go into the details of the problem because they're not all that relevant. But in both cases, I was making the final call.
Now that time has passed I'm satisfied with making the best decision with the information I had. It may turn out that the choices I made were wrong. But, I can say the process to get to the decisions was useful, replicable, and most importantly tweakable.
Frameworks and Tools
The single most important thing for making good decisions is a clear mind. Let me write that again. The single most important thing for making good decisions is a clear mind.
This is sharpening the ax before cutting the tree. It’s calibrating your scope before a hunt. Skip this step and the odds of making a good decision plummet.
Two things were the most helpful for me:
I would only think deeply about the decisions in the morning before my mental energy was spent. For you, this may be late at night when the world has gone to sleep. Regardless, it's essential to think when the mind has energy and cortisol levels are low.
Our brain is only at its sharpest a few hours a day, we get a tiny window to make the most of our mind. Jeff Bezos says he only makes three important decisions a day and makes them all in the morning.
“I do my high-IQ meetings before lunch. Anything that's going to be really mentally challenging--that's a 10 o'clock meeting. Because by 5 p.m., I'm like, 'I can't think about that today'” - Jeff Bezos
The other helpful thing for this was meditating. Usually, 5-10 minutes was all I needed. Then, no distractions like phones, social media, or work for 30 minutes to an hour. Block out time to let your mind ponder and not get injected with stimulus and external ideas. There will be time for that later but you need to let your mind be free. Give your subconscious time to connect and present you with high-quality thoughts.
Speed vs Accuracy
Before you start thinking about your decision it’s key to know what you’re optimizing for.
Oftentimes, the optimal solution is not the “optimal” decision. It's the best decision you can make in the least amount of time. The 80/20 rule applies here.
Make a quick decision and you can always fix it in the future. By taking too long you actually can get a suboptimal solution, the iron cools.
Other times you need to make a bigger decision that's tough to change once made. These require a lot more time and mental power. But, these are often very rare and most decisions actually fall into bucket one.
Reality has all the answers, we just need to ask it the right questions.
With the right question, solutions seem to magically appear. The issue is the mind has trouble reframing problems to unlock answers.
Frameworks are helpful to overcome this problem. There are so many useful frameworks but I’m only going to share three that I love. One for life, one for work, and one for general use.
For life, ask yourself the question: “If my child were to make this decision, what would I hope they’d do”. I covered this a bit in my last post but it’s a great question to separate yourself from the problem. It allows you to approach the problem from a place of care, love, and desire to be happy long term. Something we can often forget to do even though it’s what we’re after.
For work, ask yourself the question: “In 10 years, what decision would someone in my position wish I made”. The question allows you to zoom out and view the problem on a larger time horizon. You prioritize longer-term solutions and “helping” a future teammate. Sometimes the right solution must prioritize the short term to ensure there is a long term. This question helps you think like an owner.
A hard part of decisions is that there are often a ton of variables. The good part is there are only a few that matter. Finding which matter is essential. The question I love for this is: “What variables would have to change for me to change my mind”. This separates signal from noise. With fewer variables, your decision becomes a lot easier to make.
Board of Directors
Public companies have a board of directors to look after the best interests of the owners. Having your own board of directors is invaluable. One walk, call, or exchange can help you get your bearings and allow you to see reality much clearer. Ensure they’re people you respect, have good judgment, and have your best interests in mind.
Go for quality over quantity. If they don’t pass any of the three checks above, don’t allow them in. Less quality advice is better than a lot of meh advice. No advice is better than bad advice. A quick rule of thumb is to get advice from someone who’s done what you want or someone you’d change places with.
Moving On and Getting Over
When the decision gets made, put it on a shelf and let it be. Then turn your attention to the next decision and keep moving forward.
I could write so much more about this topic but these are the methods I’ve been using as of late. It all comes down to a clear mind and a clear way of looking at reality. When that’s the case, it’s easier to be decisive and up the odds of making a high-quality decision.