How to make good decisions quickly

In both our personal and professional lives, the decisions we make are directly tied to our success in achieving the goals we set for ourselves. In a perfect world, we’d have the luxury of taking as long as needed to carefully evaluate each of our options, along with their possible outcomes, before committing to one. Sadly, time is often limited and we’re required to make quick decisions with an incomplete picture of the eventual result. As such, it’s imperative we establish a framework from which we evaluate our options to reduce uncertainty and increase the likelihood that we obtain the desired outcome.

Step 1: Have a clear, strategic objective

The first step in making good decisions quickly is to have a clear understanding of what your overall objective is and the strategy you plan to use in achieving it. Knowing your ultimate goal gives you the necessary point of reference from which to evaluate each option and can give you further direction during execution. I’ve found it’s often helpful to reflect on the three W’s in establishing a clear objective: Who will this decision affect? When must this goal be achieved? and What part will require the most attention to see it through? In answering these three questions, you will have a much clearer picture of your end goal and can thus move on to evaluating the possible options.

Step 2: Evaluate the options against the desired outcome

This step involves evaluating each of your different possible courses of action and how they will help you in reaching your goal. There are a number of different ways in which this can be done, however the method I’ve had the most success in using is to simply explain the different options out loud to someone you trust. The act of vocalizing your options forces you to slowly think through each of their possible consequences and how they fit in with your strategic objective from Step 1, in real-time as you explain it to your confidante. It also has the added benefit of forcing you to hear your own reasoning behind each route; sometimes in explaining your logic behind a choice, you discover mistakes that you had not previously seen.

Step 3: Choose your course of action and execute

Imperfect action will always beat perfect inaction. When time is limited and you’ve identified your course of action, it’s important that you fully commit and direct all of your energy towards accomplishing it. Second guessing yourself will not help you in achieving your goals, nor will only partially committing. It’s important to remember that, even with all the time in the world to evaluate each option, there’s no such thing as the perfect solution. You can never be certain on how your choice will play out in reality, simply due to uncontrollable outside factors. The goal in applying this framework to your decision-making process is to increase your chances in achieving your objectives, while reducing the self-doubt imposed from time restrictions.