A simple method for stopping decision-making procrastination

Some decisions come easily. It’s a gut feeling and you just know what to do. But other decisions can get us stuck forever. It took me almost two years (2006-2008) to finally decide to work for myself.

I was recently asked how I did commit to that decision and I remembered the process a good friend took me through. It is essentially a “risk management” type process which you can use to forget about long lists or worries and woes about how it will all turn out…

My decision to work for myself did not come without the usual worries : What if it doesn’t work? Will I make enough money? Is it the right time? In the summer of 2008, I was expecting my 3rd child, had bills to pay and my wife was a full-time mother. I didn’t want to get it wrong. And as we all know, fear is a wonderful way to do nothing. In fact, I had already been ruminating for nearly two years.

One day I spoke about it with my friend Kevin and he asked me a few questions that finally sealed the deal. When you are faced with worry about if you really can decide to “do that”, these might help you …

If it works ….

Kevin asked me to estimate on a scale of 1-to-1o the likelihood that it would work out. At the time, I was a learning and development manager with a great bunch of contacts of like-minded learning people and I was planning to start-up as a freelance trainer. I figured someone was bound to give me some work. I had loads of energy, felt very creative and was good at networking. And I had no doubt about my ability to deliver. I estimated a “7”.

Then he asked: “If it does work, how would you measure the impact scale of 1-to-10?” adding that I could think about happiness, money, pride … whatever I wanted. I answered immediately with a conservative 10 🙂 It was exactly what I wanted for so many reasons, I would manage myself and my time, make great money and be much happier.

What if it doesn’t work?

Kevin immediately followed up with that one. “Now estimate from 1-to-10 the negative impact if it doesn’t work out”, he said. On that day, I had 20,000 euros in a savings account, which would give me quite some buffer for not having work immediately. I figured that if I didn’t have ANY work in 6 months, I could double-down for a few more months before I’d be forced to look for another job. As a 30-year old with a pretty nice CV at that time, I thought having a “failed” 9-month attempt at entrepreneurialism wouldn’t be the end of the world. I could always spin-it nicely and surely I’d get another good job one day? Even flipping burgers would pay the bills if we cut back. I estimated the potential impact of failure at a “2”. It would only be money after-all.

And then he asked me: “And what is the likelihood of that all going wrong?” At this point, you might be asking yourself if this method is worth anything at all. Surely these estimations are not worth anymore that that? But as I said in a previous post, we all have tendencies to make up stories that are not worth much. So if you’re already lost in those stories, why not bring a little method to the madness?

So I thought about it: I have a good network, I’m creative etc etc …. I reckon its a “2” again.

When you have measured probability and impact of the reward/risk, its time to do the maths

Anyone who has even been a project or risk manager already knows what we are doing here. Its a typical method. If you want to do it better, you can ask some experts and experienced people to throw in their thoughts on probability and impact. Or you can be a dreamer like me. Either way, you can use this tool to make a decision.

The final step is to multiply the results for reward / risk.

In my case, the result for “reward” was 7 (likelihood it works) x 10 (impact if it does) = 70

The result for “risk” was 2 (likelihood it doesn’t work) x 2 (impact if it doesn’t work) = 4

… and that was that: 70 vs 4. I couldn’t help but say “OK …. I gotta do it”

Now: You can question this method all you want. But this is a tool for when you are stuck with questioning things. So if you are stuck with an important decision, try this and let me know how it goes.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Good luck!

Stay safe,

D

Schizophrenic decision making

When it comes to making well-rounded business decisions, a little bit of schizophrenia goes a long way. If you work on your own or need to make decisions on your own, schizophrenic considerations might make things a little easier ..and possibly more effective.

 

This morning, I have been faced with a lot of planning decisions. There I was, lost in my agenda, trying to decide how to use the limited time available in the year ahead. As I went through my planning, I was automatically making choices based on one unique variable: “Revenue”. Fortunately for me, my wife caught me at it and asked: “What are you doing? Are you only playing ‘Chief Financial Officer’ today?”

Working by myself. I am in fact responsible for all roles, decisions and types of work: HR, finance, business development, sales, innovation… If I get stuck in one of them, it is always to the detriment of another.

If I were working in a company, there would be a management board to make decisions; if I was on a project team, we might decide together. Everyone would come with their own “2 cents”, defending their own territory and striving to achieve their own goals. If the team is good, the company or project does well.

Why not use the same principles for your own work? Or if you work alone, like me, for your own company?

Here’s how…

 

When faced with a decision to make, first list all the different points-of-view (or thinking hats) from which you might see things.

Today, I have decided to approach planning from the following points of view:

  • “Financial” – Which choices will maximise my revenue for 2013?
  • “HR” – What will develop my strengths and talents as a worker?
  • “Business Development” – What will help me find and develop new clients, products and services?
  • “Employee Satisfaction” – What will make me uber-happy in my job?
  • “Customer Service” – What will give my existing customers the best experience?
  • “Family” – What will get me home more, picking up the kids from school?

 

For each of those points-of-view, do your usual contemplative behaviour or try some of these techniques:

  • List your positive and negative reactions to the options
  • List potential outcomes of the options you are contemplating
  • Take a walk
  • Use some kind of numbering scale to rate options
  • Phone a friend, ask Twitter or consult a group LinkedIn
  • Research on the Internet
  • Try one of these “30 Ideas on How to Make A Difficult Decision” from @TinyBuddha

 

How you actually choose will not be changed doing all of the above. But your decision will be more informed and more rounded. More schizophrenic. And the potential outcome may be quite different to just doing “more of the same”. Try it. See what happens.

 

Want some more ideas?

 

 

Thanks for reading
Feel free to leave a comment!

 

 

8 strategies for how to make group decisions

There are lots of different ways to make decisions. This post outlines several.

 

Should we cancel the project? What should the team implement to solve absenteeism issues? Which DVD should we hire? What time should we run the meeting? How will we decide which new processes to implement? Where should we hold the team event? How will we deal with MarComms in 2012? What are the strategic priorities?

For all these questions, we need to identify solutions. With a good problem solving method, some brainstorming or spontaneous creativity we can come up with ideas. But how to decide?

Decision making is an integral part of leadership (even if the leader does not decide) and as such, how decisions will be made is something to consider in detail. When leaders set up the modus-operandi for teamwork, projects, meetings … defining how decisions will be made should be included.

 

Here are a few ways you might make decisions in a group

 

One person decides

  • This is usually the leader or manager or another person with responsibility. I have discovered in my family that it can be fun to delegate decision making to different family members at different moments. You get some interesting results..

 

Democratic (majority) decision

  • Everyone votes and the majority wins. Anything over 50% = majority. A variation on this is the advance-majority decision which states that prior to voting, the % majority required to pass the decision must be defined. What is interesting here is to think about who decides this % and how (the group or one person?).

 

Unanimous decisions

  • Everyone has to agree on a given solution/proposition. When the unanimous decision does not come quickly, groups face the dilemma of having to dedicate more time than they hoped to make the decision or to have to change the decision making process. The 2nd option can lead to conflict and dissatisfaction, especially if only a small number of people in the group were “against” the majority.

 

Compromise

  • In this option, you question the decision itself and changing it until everyone is happy with the new outcome. Imagine a choice between options A and B. In the compromise situation, we would either look for a merge of A and B or collaborate to create a new option (C). Read about the Thomas Kilman Indicator for more ideas on the difference between the will to compromise or collaborate.

 

Consensus

  • Involves accepting a decision provided no-one objects. This usually involves one person (the leader) saying: “If no-one disagrees, we will….” Best hope those who disagree dare to speak up!

 

Postponing

  • Putting off the decision until later might be the best decision right now. It could be done because you don’t have the time, people or expertise to deal with the decision at this moment. Does it have to be decided now?

 

Not deciding

  • Maybe you will just ignore the decision and see what happens

 

The final option

  • …works just fine for me when the stakes are low and the choice seems quite random: Flip a coin!

 

 

Advice for setting up decision making processes?

Avoid indecision or “plop decisions” (nothing is decided, but because we move to the next item, people think it was decided) by doing the following:

  • Create clarity in the decision making process before anything is on the table to be decided
  • Clarify the options well when making choices
  • Let everyone speak – this can help to create motivation (even if one person only decides)
  • Don’t take too long to decide – it is the author’s opinion that it is better to put the decision on-hold and come back to it (like doing crosswords!) than get caught up in decision making for too long – the latter drains energy and does not improve effectiveness
  • Be creative!

 

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