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How to Know When To Deliberate and When to Decide

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Whether you’re a business owner, a member of senior management, a team lead, or even a professional with decision-making power in your role, you’ve probably come up against the issue of analysis paralysis.

Being in a position to make a decision that can affect the outcome of your business is, in a word, stressful. It means taking responsibility, being accountable, and accepting the consequences of your choices, good or bad. When money—the profits of your business, or perhaps even your own paycheck—are on the line, some of us deliberate longer than we should.

On the other hand, sometimes deliberation is crucially important when making a decision. You don’t want to lean too far in the other direction, and start shooting from the hip when it comes to decisions that could shift the course of the business.

The trick, then, is to know when to deliberate, and when to decide.

First, let’s spotlight a few variables that sometimes get in the way of quick decision-making. Then we can go over how to know when you should deliberate, and when you should make a call one way or the other and then move on.

How to make decision-making easier

Reduce decision fatigue by reducing decisions

Making decisions throughout the day wears on your ability to make decisions. “Decision fatigue” can add up throughout your day as you make successive choices, big and little, from what you’ll wear to work to what you’ll order for lunch to whether you should hire a new PR firm to handle promoting your latest project.

Reduce the effect that decision fatigue has on you by reducing the number of decisions in your personal and professional life. That might mean making certain nightly commitments to going to the gym (rather than saying you’ll go “at some point this week), or meal planning on Sunday so you don’t have to worry about lunch each day.

It can also mean offloading certain tasks and decisions that don’t belong on your desk anymore to other people, letting go of your control over everything so you can focus on the bigger and more important decisions that your company needs you to.

Give yourself deadlines

You ever notice that the longer you have to complete a project, the longer it takes you to complete it? The same goes for decision-making: If you can keep putting off a decision “until you have more information” or “until everyone has weighed in” or “until I have to,” you will.

When something requiring a decision on your part comes across your desk, give yourself a deadline by which you’ll need to make a call one way or the other. You might find that self-imposed urgency is a catalyst for getting something done.

Limit your parameters and factors

How many variables are you using to make a decision? How many choices are there? Imagine if you were voting for president and when you stepped in the voter booth, a list of 50 candidates was there to greet you? It’d be a lot tougher to decide than the typical 2-4 we typically select from as a nation.

Cut down as many of your options, as well as what factors into a decision, as you can before making your final choice.

Hopefully you’re sensing a theme here: Placing restrictions on yourself (whether it’s what you’re choosing between, how much time you have to choose, and even if you choose at all) can help you come to a decision more quickly.

How to know when a decision merits deliberation

You’ve moved low-level decisions out of the way, and developed some guidelines that will help you make decisions when you need to. Now, how do you know when a decision merits more time and consideration?

Culled from the Harvard Business Review, and confirmed by decision-makers everywhere, here are three tips for knowing when to deliberate and when to decide:

Consider: Is this decision important?

As mentioned up top, not every decision that is critical to the business, or even to your individual success, is worth spending time on. Other people at your company (or with third-party partners) should handle some decisions, and there are some decisions which don’t deserve much headspace at all.

Yes Or No

Really ask yourself, before you start deliberating on something, whether the answer to this question is going to affect a significant outcome for your business. If it will, then you have two possible courses of additional action: reflection (sleeping on it, going for a walk, or otherwise focusing on something else for an extended period of time) or data collection and analysis. Anything else is procrastination.

Consider: How often do you need to make this decision?

Are you spending time every month answering the same questions over and over? Those questions may be about hiring, or pricing, or inventory management. The answers to these questions should probably be less intuition-based and more analytical. You can use a model to capture inputs, measure outputs, and find (more or less) the best outcome—then repeat as needed.

If this decision is based on a rare event, such as whether to buy a competitor, or to take out a small business loan to help you with financing issues, that’s another story. It will take strategic thinking, which can’t you can’t necessarily replicate in a formula. You’ll want to spend more time on these questions.

Consider: Can you buy yourself more time?

If you’ve deliberated for some time on a question and still can’t come up with a decision you feel comfortable with, explore whether you can move ahead in a half-measure that buys you more time.

Here’s a simple example: Considering moving over to a new project management system, but not sure you want to fork over the cash for your subscription before seeing how well it works? That’s what free trials are for. Use the system for a week or month and then decide.  If you do this, make sure you use the time you “bought” (even if the trial is free) wisely—don’t just use it to put off thinking about the question.

This tip may seem as though it runs counter to the concept of giving yourself a deadline, but there’s a difference between having all the information you need and not making a decision, and taking advantage of opportunities to make a better decision.

career choice

The bottom line on when to deliberate and when to decide

You can’t cut all the inefficiency out of your day. There will always be some tasks that you’ll take longer to complete than you should—whether due to context switching between various important tasks or the simple fact that life sometimes gets in the way of work.

But one area where you can start saving time and making more confident choices is how you make decisions. Spend more time on what’s rare, constructive, or needs more data; spend less on the things that are predictable and small. You’ll only get better at timely decision-making from there.

This guest post was authored by Meredith Wood

Meredith Wood is the Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans that matches business owners with the best funding providers for their business. Specializing in financial advice for small business owners, Meredith is a current and past contributor to Yahoo!, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, SCORE, AllBusiness and more




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