You’ve got far too much on, but you’ve got to decide about your new logo, your next ebook topic, where to take your client for dinner, who to distribute your product… and that’s just this morning. And by lunchtime, you’ve decided on… none of them.

When we’re overrun, it’s hard to make quick, powerful decisions. But setting clear directions is a skill that nearly all successful business leaders have learnt. Because they identify quickly what they and their team need to do at any one time, everyone can get on with it.

For next time you’re stuck, here’s you go-to list of 21 reminders, tricks and tools to help you make that decision quickly and effectively. That means you can use your energy on getting things done, not worrying about them.

  1. Work out the end result. Decide what you want the eventual outcome to be, and measure all options against that. If you have several important results to reach, then list them and rate each of your options against the list.
  2. It’s all about the next action. Every journey is completed one step at a time, with or without a map. If you’re bogged down, decide on the next thing to do, and simply concentrate on getting that completed.
  3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Ask yourself: is the impact of this decision big enough for me to spend valuable time and energy on? If not, do it quickly or put it aside.
  4. Release the pressure to be right. Everything changes with time, including your perspective, and most things can be altered or refined later.
  5. Simply making a decision changes the landscape. You don’t know what opportunities will open up on the other side of a fork in the road. See it as the thrill of a journey, not trepidation about a destination.
  6. Feel the fear, but ask what it’s telling you. Our brains are programmed to be more sensitive to possible threats than possible rewards. If fear is holding you back, find a mentor, coach, colleague or friend to help you calmly work through whether your nervousness is justified.
  7. A for/against list still rocks. Sometimes the old ideas are still the best: writing down a list of pros and cons remains a great tool for working out what’s at stake.
  8. Draw up likely wins and losses over time. Create a four-square grid, and label the boxes: ‘Short-term gains, short-term losses, long-term gains, long-term losses’, before filling them in. You may well discover that immediate pain is blocking a long-term gain, or a short-term gain is skewing your big-picture priorities.
  9. Prioritise decisions that release bottlenecks. These are decisions that enable, or hold back, lots of other actions. Try to avoid creating them at all costs, and if you spot one, focus on making that decision as quickly as possible. Even if that decision is ‘wrong’, not making it may well be an even more damaging option.
  10. No-one cares like you do. Even though a decision might seem massive to you, to other people, including your customers, team or family, it may well have much less long-term impact on them than you think.
  11. Know what question you need to answer. Once you’re clear about this, you’ll find it way easier to find the information you need.
  12. If you need expert advice, go to an expert. When you need knowledge you don’t have in order to make a decision, get it as quickly as possible from the best place you can find or afford. Many experts, including lawyers and other professionals, offer free initial consultations.
  13. Look around you. Consider whether there’s some easy research you can do to answer your question. Calling 10 of your clients to ask them about how they use your product, sending a short survey to your mailing list or spending a morning observing shoppers can be powerful and effective.
  14. Avoid Google. You might want to go to specialist websites to answer specific questions, but do anything to avoid the lure of the online mass of contradictory but compelling opinion and advice.
  15. Look for a third way. Two options are usually easy to find. But if neither of the two options are what you want, look for an entirely different way of doing it.
  16. Commit to making decisions when you’re fresh. Making decisions is hard work for the brain. For complicated or long-standing issues, schedule time into your diary when you’ll have plenty of energy, and commit to reaching a conclusion.
  17. Understand the impact of not making a decision. If doing nothing will have little impact, maybe it’s not worth your time. If the implications are large, use that knowledge to motivate you into action.
  18. Take a deep breath. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or emotional, just few minutes of taking deep, slow breaths can calm down your brain chemistry and re-engage the part of the brain that manages rational thinking.
  19. Without risk, you can’t achieve anything at all. Understand how much risk you’re comfortable with, and push it very slightly.
  20. Our brains need a small amount of stress to function at their best. It’s normal to find decision-making tiring, but that’s because it engages our brain very powerfully. Consider a small amount of stress a stimulant to help you make the right decision.
  21. Delegate as many decisions as you can. Empowering other people to make appropriate decisions is a great motivator. It also reduces everyone’s dependency on you, saves you time and allows you to focus just on the things that really make a difference.

And here’s a bonus…

Celebrate that you have choices. A famous study of residents in an old people’s home found that being able to make even small choices about their lives had a significant impact on their life expectancy. Enjoy it!

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