“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” – John C. Maxwell
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Which assignment should I do first today? Is this client someone I want to continue working with? Where do I find new leads? Should I add a new service? Is it time to raise rates? As a freelancer, it is sometimes even hard to decide which decision to tackle first!
Often freelancers are one-person businesses, leaving all decisions on one set of shoulders. Becoming more efficient at making decisions can help to make it seem less burdensome- even fun!
Although there is an “ideal” method for making decisions, using the process in a different order feels more natural to many of us. That’s OK; sound decisions can be made regardless, as long as all stages of the process are consciously considered when gathering information and vetting options before taking action.
This article will first introduce the ideal decision-making steps, then the variety in decision-making styles, and finally, we will look at how this may play out in your decision-making as an individual and within a team.
The Steps to Making a Decision
Here are the steps in the order psychologists have deemed to be the most effective.
Take in Information
1. Gather information
This step focuses on the objective, the past and now. What is. What was.
What information can we gather through observation, direct experience, customary approaches, existing knowledge, and research? What is and is not currently working? What did and did not work in the past and why? What is different now?
2. Generate Options
This step is subjective and future-looking. What if…? What could be. Thinking outside the box.
What patterns, opportunities, theories and conclusions can be derived from the information? What additional information is needed to form a theory? How can we solve the problem in a new or innovative way? What is ideal?
3. Logical Assessment
This is an objective process working with systems, efficiency, and empirical conclusions.
Can the theory fit into a logical framework? Is it rational and justifiable to meet the goal, financial viability, practical viability, and manifestation within the required time frame? What are the likely tangible ramifications?
4. Moral Assessment
This is a subjective process and varies from person to person.
What aligns with personal values? With group values? With the corporate culture and public positioning? Who is included/excluded, and what is the effect on harmony? What is the impact on people? Your family? The company? The world?
In reality, once it gets going, the decision-making process is looping and cyclical; not quite as linear as the list suggests. We are curious, clever humans, after all. It’s natural for the mind to bounce back and forth throughout all steps as cross-checks along the way while a solution takes form. This is healthy and ensures that early assumptions do not become hard-and-fast premises. It leaves room for new ideas once other insights have been processed.
Few of us are masters of all things business, so If you feel like you are over your head in taking on some subjects, ask your qualified friends and peers to help you think it through or hire a professional to help with the relevant stage.
Make a Decision
5. Select the best viable option
There may be many good possibilities, so now it’s time to really listen to yourself. Go through each one and pay attention to how you feel. Do you dread actually doing it? Do you feel settled and sure? Which meets the original goal and “feels right” when you envision it playing out in the real world? What can you live with? What truly represents you and your business and branding?
When you have made the decision, write down your original challenge, goal, and decision. Articulating these together will start making this feel like a reality and can bring to light any loose ends in the strategy.
There may be cases where you can try out two decisions and settle on the best one later. In the marketing world, this is called an A/B test. Or sometimes, the best decision is not to make a change at all.
“Deciding not to decide” is, well, procrastination. Look into why you are stuck at this point in time. Revisit the steps. Is more information needed? Do the possibilities not quite align with the goal? Or are you grappling with a fear of change? Once identified, you can address the issue and regain momentum.
Spending time in step 5 helps give you confidence in your decision, and that confidence can generate motivating excitement to take action.
Act upon the Decision
6. Put together an implementation plan, and do it
There are various styles when it comes to this step. Some people prefer to jump in and get the ball (any ball) rolling and find it exciting to handle situations as they unfold. Others prefer to have a detailed plan to follow step-by-step before taking any action. Some like to sit on a decision for a while, just in case they get new ideas or new options come along. The trick here is to check in with yourself to ensure you are not acting too hastily or becoming victim to analysis paralysis.
Things may not go exactly as planned anyway. Expecting a bit of wiggliness can help avoid frustration and keep you positive and productive. When diversions appear, refer back to your written challenge, goal and decision and use them as your guideposts.
What’s your Decision-Making Style?
Mix up steps 1 – 4 in the list. Each possible order is a different decision-making style. Each of us has a natural, default starting point at one of the four steps (it’s not necessarily going to be the ideal Step 1).
Although a professional assessment is recommended for identifying your decision-making style for real, here is a quick exercise for illustrative purposes right now.
Think of an issue that needs resolving. Assuming that you are already settled on the goal, what’s the nature of the first questions your mind tends to serve up? Which step do the questions and concerns align with? Where is your attention? What seems to really matter?
Once those questions are answered, what is the next thing you want to know? Which step does that align with?
Keep going until you feel you have the four steps in the order that feels right to you.
The Benefits of Knowing your Decision-Making Style
You may be wondering why it is essential to know your decision-making style and not just the four steps.
- The mind cannot do two things at once. And until the initial questions are satisfied, it is very hard to convince your mind that there is any point to moving along to the next step’s concerns. Try it out. The next time you have a decision to make, try starting with the step you have determined to be your step 3. It is likely to feel very cart-before-the-horse.
- Because your first step is what you think about first, it can take on a feeling of being the most important, and can lead to decisions which are out of balance.
- It’s not uncommon to go too deep too soon in the first stage, spending too much time and effort on ideas or tasks that will be modified or discarded in subsequent steps. By being aware that you will have to eventually have to move through the four stages, you are less likely to overdo it on your first step.
- After your first or second step, you may lose momentum and start to lose focus, not quite sure what to do next. By going back to your list of steps, you can determine which step(s) have not been addressed yet, and start considering those angles.
Of course, you are not always working alone in your day-to-day work. Awareness of the various decision-making styles can help you recognize and tolerate frustrating situations when other people’s minds are actively working away on different “first steps” that seem not yet relevant to you.
As noted before, the mind cannot be in two places simultaneously. At any point in time, it is either focused on information gathering, option generating, logical assessment, value-based assessment, or acting on the information. And so, for example, a person whose mind is running at top speed in “option-generating” mode may not have the capacity to consider input from someone in “logical assessment” mode (and visa versa). Each person’s ideas are swirling in their head and commanding attention. Until the mind starts running out of steam in one category, it is hard to get it to focus on another category. During a brainstorming session, when it seems like contributions are being ignored or dismissed, it may be more the result of unfortunate timing than disrespect.
All too often, a conversation can start with multiple people, each compelled to delve into a different problem-solving step first, excited to share their brilliant and helpful first thoughts, only to leave them feeling unheard, unrecognized, or sidelined by others (all the while inadvertently not hearing, not recognizing and sidelining other people’s first thoughts!).
Until the primary concern is satisfied, the underlying question remains, “what’s the point of participating in this exercise?” and it may be like moving mountains to get someone to converse about (or even tolerate) any of the other perspectives before there is “good reason” to do so. This is not conscious or manipulative; it’s a natural side effect of how the human mind works.
When a meeting starting with proactive energy devolves into a battle of priorities, it’s really a shame since, during the first step of problem-solving, a person’s top mental perspective revs up in full gear; it’s the one that they are best at, and the most creative with, so a good percentage of the results can be gems. This stage can be a fun, exhilarating flow state, totally “In the Zone.” Interrupting the flow is both a buzz-kill and counterproductive to solving the problem at hand.
With your new insights on decision-making, you may even be able to put a meeting back on track by validating each person’s perspective, encouraging non-judgmental brainstorming, and taking detailed and inclusive notes. After the flurry dies down, it can help to order the notes into the four decision-making steps (in the original ideal order presented above) for determining the next steps for taking in and evaluating the information so that you can all arrive at a decision that is better than the sum of its parts.
“Our life is the sum total of all the decisions we make every day, and those decisions are determined by our priorities.” – Myles Munroe