Decision-making is a critical skill for most business owners and one that many people have yet to master. If you’re one of them, it might be a relief to know you aren’t alone. Around 20 percent of U.S. adults are chronic procrastinators, both in business and in their personal lives.
According to Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago and author of "Still Procrastinating: The No Regret Guide to Getting It Done," indecision is a close cousin of procrastination.
You might be able to get away with personal indecisiveness because usually only you and your nearest and dearest are impacted. As a business owner, however, indecision affects your workers, customers, suppliers, and, not least, your bottom line. Here's why you have difficulty making choices, and how you can overcome the problem.
The Fear Factor
Fear is the main reason why people struggle to make decisions. Typically, the fear stems from traumatic events or feelings experienced as a result of making the wrong choice – or choices – at some point in their lives. Repercussions from a bad decision can have a long-lasting effect.
When the decision could impact other people, financial security, or health, many prefer to delay the decision indefinitely to avoid the potential consequences.
They might be afraid of failure or even of the consequences of success. They might worry about what other people will think. Of course, if they delay long enough, the outcome will take care of itself, but then, they can pretend it wasn’t their fault if it's unpalatable.
Consequences of indecision include missing out on opportunities for personal and professional growth, and financial or experiential benefits.
Overcoming the Problem
Imagine being a fighter pilot and having to make fast, rational decisions in high-stakes situations, often within a fraction of a second. There’s no time for procrastination in that context!
That’s why military decision-makers are trained using the OODA Loop, a four-step process that involves gathering all relevant information, recognizing potential biases, deciding, acting, and then repeating the process with any new information. This might not be practical in everyday life, but there are a number of steps businesspeople can take to overcome the problem of indecision.
Become a Better Decision-Maker
Anyone can implement enhanced decision-making tactics by taking a calm, logical approach to the problem.
1. Start with an Analysis
Begin by analyzing the situation with the purpose of building the most accurate and comprehensive picture possible. First, determine the choices you have and the objectives you need to satisfy. Analyze what information you need to make the decision and discard irrelevant data.
For example, a doctor who needs to decide between two potential treatments for a patient doesn’t necessarily need to know what the patient had for breakfast that day unless it’s directly related to his problem. If not, it’s just noise.
Pare down the information to the specifics that apply only to the decision in front of you. This will make deciding less complex.
2. Examine Biases
We’re all familiar with the old “gut feel” method of making decisions. Believe me, your gut can make bad decisions as easily as good ones, so don’t rely on it!
Make a conscious decision to go with the science, by identifying what your “gut” is saying and analyzing why you’re leaning towards one decision or the other. These are called biases, and it’s worth understanding why you want to choose one option even when your common sense is shouting at you to choose the other.
Identify your bias and set it aside to create a distance between your personal feelings and the issue at hand. Doing this will enable you to make an objective decision based on facts alone.
3. Compare Your Options
The old maxim of listing the pros and cons still holds water, but to do it properly, you need to evaluate the benefits and disadvantages of each of your choices. It’s also valuable to give each objective a weighting because simply adding up the pros and cons to see which list is longer is not a scientific decision-making method.
Acknowledge the importance of each issue and allocate points for scoring, or use a tried-and-tested system like this Weighted Scoring Decision Matrix.
4. Question Your Assumptions
Far too many decisions are made on the basis of unproven assumptions. Avoid this trap by considering the consequences of your decision for each primary objective over several timelines.
Research anything you don’t know. For example, if one of your decision objectives is to increase sales in a particular region, get hold of some official projections about population growth or decline over one-year, two-year, and five-year periods.
You may find the area you have your eye on has an aging population that’s expected to grow, which could mean fewer people in the 18 to 34 demographic. If that’s your target audience, you can see why knowing this ahead of time would be helpful in making your decision.
Don’t just take someone’s word for it, either. Get hard facts and figures to support every assumption you have and avoid taking a leap in the dark.
5. Walk a Mile in Another’s Shoes
A good way to distance yourself and remain neutral and objective when you’re making a business decision is to pretend you’re advising someone else on the issue.
If someone close to you came to you for help making the decision, what would your advice to them be? One study showed approaching an issue from a third party’s perspective resulted in more mature reasoning and overall better decision-making.
Taking the Plunge
Since indecision is almost always connected with procrastination, once you’ve made a decision, it’s best not to spend time second-guessing yourself. As soon as you decide, take action to make it happen, or you risk having circumstances change and negate your window of opportunity.
And if it doesn’t work out, be like the fighter pilot and pivot your course of action according to an evaluation of your new situation.
Want the secret process for eliminating procrastination in your business that will cost you nothing? Drop me an email with “Send my copy of Eat That Frog" in the subject line for your complimentary copy of Business Guru, Brian Tracy’s best-selling eBook “Eat That Frog.”
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