1. Carefully Consider the Circumstances
One of the most important, but often overlooked, steps to good decision-making is taking time to evaluate your circumstances and mindset before making a decision. During emotionally stressful times, your ability to think clearly and process information objectively is diminished, and there is a tendency to want to rush the process instead of taking adequate time to come to a sound decision. So, before you begin a lengthy decision-making process, make sure you’re in the right frame of mind to make sound judgements. If you aren’t, it is often better to wait until emotions have calmed down before making any decision.
2. Define the Question
Sometimes the most important part of making a good decision is making sure you’re asking the right question. Few things are worse than going through a lengthy decision-making process only to discover you haven’t solved the real problem. Try framing the question in a way that more accurately suits your goals.
For example, when trying to decide whether or not to start a business you’ve always wanted to start, instead of asking the obvious “should I or shouldn’t I?” instead ask, “What is the best way for me to achieve my dream of owning a business?” Since it’s already clear you want to start a business, going through a lengthy process to come to an already predetermined conclusion is a waste of time. Using the decision-making process to define the proper strategy, however, is both useful and more clear-cut.
3. Define Your Objective
Before you make any decision, take a look at your desired outcome and define an objective. Knowing your ultimate goal will make the decision-making process flow more smoothly and eliminate time spent on ideas that don’t suit your ultimate objective. This is also a good time to consider alternative outcomes or objectives that would still be satisfactory.
Brainstorming is a great way to come up with new ideas and look at your options from several different angles. There are many techniques for brainstorming, such as mind mapping, that allow for a free flow of ideas. Brainstorming is usually done in a short amount of time and involves getting a collection of ideas together that you can then sort through to find the most viable options. This is a great time to get others involved in the process by setting up a group brainstorming session and asking others to submit their ideas. Having a collective set of ideas to work with gives you access to ideas you may not have considered before.
5. Organize Ideas
Once you have a strong list of ideas, take some time to organize and prioritize them before deciding on one. This is the time to pare down your list and sort out the ideas that are viable options and discard ideas that don’t support your ultimate goal. You can also sort ideas into categories such as most cost effective, most timely, best long-term solutions and so forth. This step gives you a more concrete way of sorting through several ideas and prioritizing them so you can more easily identify the ones that most closely suit your objective.
6. Seek Opinions and Feedback
Once you have pared down your list to a few workable ideas, it’s time to consult others and ask for opinions and feedback. This gives you the chance to hear other perspectives and viewpoints, and can often bring to light things you may not have initially considered. Talk to people who have made similar decisions and ask what worked best for them. For example, when trying to decide on the best way to start your business, talk to other small business owners, present your list of ideas, and ask for their input. Learning from the successes and mistakes of others can save you a lot of time and energy and help you reach your desired outcome with minimal complications. You can use this opportunity to further pare down your list of ideas by crossing off the ones that others have tried, unsuccessfully.
7. Evaluate Your Options
Now that you have a short list of great ideas, sit down and evaluate each one carefully. Consider the risks involved with each option, as well as how well each idea will work with your current set of circumstances. Having a great idea without the money to back it, for example, is a waste of time. Which ideas are you most likely to pull off, and which are wishful thinking? Are there risks involved that you aren’t willing to take? Be brutally honest here and cross off any options that aren’t completely workable.
8. Make a Choice
At last, it’s time to make an actual decision. This step can often be the hardest one, because this is where the rubber meets the road. After so much planning, discussing and brainstorming, this is where you pinpoint one option and go with it. If you’ve done your work up to this point, this step can be a no-brainer. If you’re still left with a few completely valid and workable ideas, however, you may have to choose the one you like the best and run with it, but you can feel confident in knowing you are choosing from the best possible options available.
9. Take Action
You’ve got your idea and you’re sure it’s the right one. Now is the time to put that idea into action. Let other people involved know about your decision and the reasons why it was the best option. Start putting the wheels in motion to make your idea come to life.
10. Evaluate Your Decision
Once you’ve made a decision and implemented it, take some time to evaluate the process and outcome of your decision. What worked, and what didn’t? What would you do differently next time? While this step can sometimes seem like an afterthought, it is crucial to helping you make better decisions in the future. Learn from the mistakes you make and take note of successes and apply those lessons to future decisions.
While this may seem like a lengthy process, making repeated poor decisions can be much more time-consuming than simply taking the time to make a good decision from the start. Once you have mastered the art of good decision making, most of these steps will become second nature and can be applied to any decisions you make in the future.