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Virtual First | Effectiveness Kit

Make a big decision

Decisions, decisions. The bigger they are, the harder they can be to make. If you or your team has to make a call that will have far-reaching impacts, use this practice to help you weigh the options thoughtfully and feel confident in your choice.

60–90 mins | Personal Exercise

A hiker looking at a map in the woods

Step 1: Ask yourself if it’s really a big decision

Broadly speaking, there are two types of decisions. Type 1 is an irreversible decision that’s very difficult to change or take back. For example: rebranding your company, quitting your job, discontinuing a product line, or getting a tattoo. Type 1 decisions often set a permanent change in motion, so approach with care.

Type 2 is a reversible decision, such as when to schedule a meeting, which shoes to buy, where to stay on vacation, or what to have for dinner. The stakes are pretty low, and you’re not necessarily locked in. Most decisions fall into this category—even if it doesn’t seem like it.

This practice is for the deciders of those big Type 1 decisions. But you may still find it helpful if a small decision is tripping you up.

Step 2: Name the fear

Sometimes when a decision is tough to make, it’s because it’s very big and complicated. Other times it’s because our emotions—particularly fear—are getting in the way. If you’re struggling to be calm and rational about a choice, it can help to detail the outcomes you most want to avoid.

In other words: Put your fears on a page so they’ll stop doing laps in your mind. Answer your own “what ifs” and create a plan to fix a worst-case outcome. This puts you back in control so fear doesn’t call the shots anymore. You’ll also be able to see pretty clearly which fears are protecting you from an outcome that’s worth avoiding.

(If you’ve already plowed through your fears and they aren’t blocking you, move on to the next step.)

Name the fear worksheet

Fear, factored

Worry has less power when you have a plan.

Name the fear worksheet

Step 3: Choose how you should decide

Once you’re in a rational state of mind, you can start a rigorous decision-making process. If you’ve ever flipped a coin, you know that there’s more than one way to make a decision. Consider the type of decision you need to make, as well as the context surrounding it. Then use the chart below to help you pick the best decision-making method, including when to bring your team in to assist.
Tips for and methods of decision making with examples

Step 4: Gather the inputs

To best understand the possible consequences, gather a wide range of inputs. You might track down data, look at market trends, or examine relevant case studies. If you’re making a decision with team members, consider each person’s positions and concerns. The more knowledgeable and prepared you are, the more productive the discussion will be.

Step 5: Game out the scenarios

You’re in the right headspace—you’ve chosen a decision-making method and done your homework. Now it’s time to weigh your options. Whether you’re facing an either/or scenario or standing at a crossroads with many paths, it’s helpful to think through each possibility entirely.

Sometimes just seeing the potential outcomes laid out together can lead to a lightbulb moment. A decision tree can help you map out each outcome and consider all of the factors and implications in an organized way. You can do this exercise solo or with your team (depending on your decision-making method).

Decision tree template

The choice is clear

Download this template to help you map out the options, considerations, implications, and possible outcomes of a decision.

Decision tree template

Step 6 (extra credit): Argue the other side

For all of the critical thinkers out there: If you really want to improve your decision-making skills, the way to an advanced degree is to learn how to see things from an opposing perspective. Poke holes in your logic, reasoning, and projected outcomes to see where you might have missed something.

Step 7: Keep it moving

You’ve done the due diligence. You’ve considered every angle, explored all of the possibilities, gathered the right inputs, and weighed the options. At some point, you need to end the analysis before it becomes paralysis.

Just as there’s a cost in making the wrong decision, there’s also a cost in not deciding (ex: lost focus, missed opportunity). Remember: Most decisions, even really big ones, aren’t disasters when you choose thoughtfully. Trust your experience and your team members, look to the data if you have it, and course-correct when necessary.

From Dropbox

More helpful tips for making big decisions

Check out these other practices from the Virtual First Toolkit:

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From others

Great resources from experts we trust

The more you know, the better you’ll feel. Recommended articles: 

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3 easy wins

Build the habit

  • Tomorrow: Reflect on the types of decisions that challenge you.
  • Next week: Try using a new decision-making method.
  • Quarterly: Build out a decision tree for thinking something all the way through.

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