Making tough decisions

Everyone occasionally feels like the day speeds by without much being accomplished. But if you look back on your day and think about all of the decisions you made—from your commute route to the way you handled a problem—you may find that you’re easily making 50 or 60 decisions in a single day.

The consequences of most of these decisions are relatively minor. Big, important decisions are a bit different. Making a tough decision, whether it’s about your career or your personal life, can elevate your stress levels and weigh heavily on your mind. You might lose some sleep, and you might think about how that decision may affect you in a week, a month, or a year down the line.

Here are some rules to consider when you have a tough decision to make.

Rule 1: Create a framework

To help you make the tough calls and feel confident that the decision was the “right” one, set up a framework on which to base your decisions.

You can outline your framework as a narrative or a spreadsheet, or any number of formats. It should include an outline of the complete problem, the pros and cons of the decision, weights for risks, and alternative solutions.

You might find that laying out the problem and developing a consistent way for making a decision helps you identify gaps and confidently make a decision. This framework also gives you the opportunity to jot down notes and refer back to them during the process. This act of simply recording your thoughts can lift some of the weight of the decision off of you, helping you come to the best conclusion.

Rule 2: Give yourself a deadline

Part of good decision-making, no matter how large or how small, is being able to make decisions in a timely fashion. It might seem easier to draw out difficult decisions, but the weight of stress you might feel in trying to make the right choice can keep you from being productive in other parts of your work and life.

Giving yourself a deadline forces you to face the issues, weigh your options, and move forward with the decision. Of course, because you give yourself a deadline does not mean you should rush into making a difficult decision. The purpose of the deadline is to keep yourself from putting it off.

Rule 3: Ask an advisor

If you have the opportunity, find a sounding board to listen to your predicament and help you weigh your options. This could be a trusted friend, colleague, or teacher, or even a significant other.

However, if the decision isn’t appropriate for a sounding board, create your own advisor. After you map out your decision-making process, develop questions that help you get to the root of your problem. Play devil’s advocate with yourself, asking the difficult questions that might add clarity to the situation.

By developing a framework, giving yourself a deadline, and talking to your advisor, you can feel more confident in your decisions, whether they are as small as what to have for dinner or as major as whether to accept that job offer.

Want more advice? Check out some of the other posts on our Careers blog!