Updated: Dec 9, 2020
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” | Amelia Earhart
Decision-making is, and will continue to be, a critical part of your personal and professional development. Throughout your career you will be faced with many decisions, both large and small, that will have a significant and material impact on your life.
These decisions will affect your financial, health and family situation in a profound way and will either help you achieve your long-term goals or hold you back. I am referring to significant decisions, not routine or mundane ones. Significant decisions are often affected by external pressures and deadlines, while mundane decisions are made on our own time. For instance, a marriage proposal or business proposition will have a relatively short shelf life since there are others involved who have a vested interest in a timely decision.
By having a decision-making system, you can make the decision relatively quickly, without undue influence and with a more rational or objective approach. Since decisions should be made quickly and changed slowly, a simple and effective tool will get it done, enabling you to move on with action.
The best approach I have come across and continue to use personally is attributed to Benjamin Franklin. His decision-making system was to make a list of the decision pros and cons on a piece of paper, and add to it over the course of three or four days as additional ideas came to his mind. Then he would cross out pros and cons that seemed equal to each other in importance; for instance, if one pro was equivalent to three cons, he would strike out all four points. If, after another day or two, no new ideas came to him, he would review the remaining items on the list, weigh the difference between the remaining pros and cons, and then decide accordingly.
The beauty of this system is its simple and rational approach. By writing down the pros and cons for several days, you have sufficient time to consider multiple factors, and you maintain a written account of your thinking over time, not at one point in time. It also enables the rational weighing of pros and cons, without the emotional lenses we often bring to our decisions.
No system is flawless; however, the key is to have a system. For example, asking your friend or neighbor for help is not a system. It may result in an uninformed and uncommitted opinion, and it’s you who will have to live with the result. I am not suggesting that you create a decision-making matrix for every decision, only for those times when the stakes are high and you truly want to consider all the relevant facts before making a final decision.
Do not discount the role of intuition in your decision-making, or the input of trusted advisers, mentors, or members of your Mastermind (See Habit 67 for more information about a Mastermind). These factors can be invaluable in helping you become a better decision- maker, by leveraging your collective experiences of successes and failures.
Be mindful that not making a decision at that moment is in itself a decision—a decision to maintain the status quo. The status quo option often has great appeal, since it’s familiar and comfortable, and, in many cases, it is the best approach. However, make that decision knowingly and with full consideration of its implications. Otherwise, use this decision-making framework to make better decisions, achieve greater progress and gain results.
By Eamonn Percy
Founder & CEO, The Percy Group