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3 Steps to Making Better Decisions

By Gwen Bortner as seen in APeeling Decisions

3 Steps to making better decisions for an appealing life

When you’re faced with an important decision related to your business, what’s your typical response? Do you evaluate your options, pick the best one, and move forward with confidence, knowing you’ve made the right choice? Or do you tend to get bogged down in the particulars, overthink it to death, and leave it to the last minute, unsure about your choice?

If you’re reading this article, chances are your decision-making behavior resembles that second description, at least a little bit. As the CEO of a company, you probably have to make multiple decisions a day; sometimes, those decisions are quick and easy, with an obviously right or wrong choice. When that isn’t the case - when the right choice isn’t obvious or easy - that’s when we tend to get stuck in “analysis paralysis” and let one choice take up far too much of our time and energy. With a little bit of clarity and some strategies to add to your toolkit, you’ll be able to streamline your decision-making process and get back to work.

The first step is to figure out WHY you’re struggling with this decision.

Chances are your struggle is caused by one or more of the following scenarios:

Outside Pressure

In this situation, you’re struggling to make a decision based on what other people think you should be doing, or your perception of what others will think. If there’s outside pressure pushing you in a certain direction, but your inner voice is telling you that’s not the right solution, it causes conflict.

Want vs. Should

You may be struggling because there’s something you know you should do, but you really don’t want to do it. Or vice versa - there’s something you want to do, but it feels like something you shouldn’t be spending your time on.

Feelings vs. Facts

In this scenario, chances are you know what you need to do, but you’re afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings by making this choice. A similar situation is one where you don’t want to have to inconvenience anyone else to make this decision possible, so you’re afraid to ask them for help.

Equal Footing

Sometimes a decision is really hard because it’s either a decision between two good choices or between two bad choices. If you can only choose one thing out of two great options, it can be hard to pick one because you’ve got a fear of missing out on the other option. Conversely, if you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, neither option feels very appealing.

Usually, the things that hold you back from making a quick decision are somewhat intertwined. Chances are, you’re actually dealing with more than one of these scenarios at once. The biggest obstacle is identifying what holds you back; once you can do that, it becomes a lot easier to find a solution and move forward.

The next time you’re stuck in the middle of a choice that’s too difficult for you, try identifying what’s holding you back and acknowledging the problem first. Then, make a list of your options so that you can evaluate them and pick the one that’s best for you. But how do you do that, exactly?

The second step is to evaluate your options. Here are some of my favorite strategies for decision-making.

The Stair-Step Method

If you’ve got multiple things that you’re trying to choose from, and you can only do one, use the stair-step method. Let’s say you have 5 different options. Pick the first two and compare them; choose just one. Then you’re going to pit the winner of that choice against item #3 on your list. Then compare the winner of that choice to the next item, and so on. This makes it easier to choose between multiple options, because Instead of getting compared as a group, they get compared one by one. The important part of this process is that whatever option you choose, you don’t go back later through the pairings. Get to the last 1-on-1 decision and then that final winner is the option you take.

Beyond the Pros and Cons

When you have to make a “yes or no” decision, but a pro/con list doesn’t quite seem to cut it, try this. Make a quadrant on paper and put pro/want, con/want, pro/need and con/need into the four sections. You proceed from here like a regular pro/con list, but you put them under the pros that are associated with what you WANT, the pros that are associated with what you NEED, etc. There are subtle differences in these areas that can bring real clarity to a situation and help you make the best choice when there isn’t a clear winner between yes and no.

Short vs. Long Term

When you have two options that are in conflict with one another, but they are similar enough, use this strategy. For example, you might be deciding how to spend the two hours each day that you have child care lined up, or how to invest the profits from last quarter. Make a list of short-term wins vs. long-term wins for each of the two items. See if the short-term wins really outweigh the long-term wins, and which one has the best overall balance of wins. Think about the compounding effect: One decision may be easier or more appealing now, but will you be glad you did that in 3 months, 6 months, a year? The phrase I use is: Will Tomorrow Me thank Today Me for this decision?

If you struggle with actually picking the right choice, adding these strategies to your toolkit should help you make more efficient decisions in the future.

The last step is to move forward with confidence.

Sometimes it isn’t even the decision itself that takes up too much of your time and mental energy - it’s all the second-guessing you do after you’ve made the decision. The root cause of this is that we tend to feel like decisions are permanent - we get one shot, and if we screw it up, that’s the end of that.

In reality, that’s rarely the case. In almost every situation, you will have an opportunity to choose differently at some point in the future. There will likely be a cost - of time, money, or opportunity - but there will be a time when you can reverse a decision or take a different path. If you start a new partnership, you can dissolve it later. If you hire someone and they don’t work out, you can let them go and advertise the job opening in the future. If you invest in something and it doesn’t work out, you can recuperate your losses and try again with a different investment. Very few things are actually set in stone, even though it may feel that way when we’re in the middle of making important choices.

The best thing you can do is choose and then move forward like you have all the confidence in the world about the decision you’ve made. Give it every possible chance of succeeding, and collect data along the way so that you can evaluate the decision with real facts, not assumptions. Don’t look back, because the growth your business needs isn’t behind you, it’s ahead of you. Chances are you didn’t start your company based on second-guesses or self-doubt, so don’t let those things cloud your decision-making process.

The next time you’re faced with a big decision, give this process a try; I think you’ll find that it gets easier every time you do it. Confident, efficient choices are well within your reach from here on out.


Leveraging her breadth of operational expertise, Gwen Bortner works with coaches and consultants who want to build capacity to create sustainable, scalable and/or sellable businesses. Gwen describes herself as an operational strategist. Combining the best aspects of 1:1 consulting, group coaching, and small group masterminds, the Operations Engine focuses on improved business operations utilizing her GEARS framework. Download your own free GEARS assessment at Everyday Effectiveness

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