Our daily activity is littered with hundreds of decisions that we make without a second thought. What to wear, where to eat, who to meet... but once in a while comes a decision that we really struggle to make. It could be a major business deal, your hiring or product strategy - or it could be a personal decision about your career, a significant purchase or your significant other.
So how do you choose? Below I highlight six strategies. Despite the risk of diluting my own points, each of the techniques contains a caveat. This implies that there is no silver bullet here - mix, match and use your instinct as you feel appropriate.
On-the-spot decisions are rarely a good idea. It's not surprising that the first rule of negotiation is to take a time-out. Usually, as time goes by more information becomes available. Additionally, this is the best approach if your decision is a symptom of Shiny New Thing syndrome.
Caveat: defer, don't procrastinate. Try setting a deadline for your decision.
Too often we are emotionally attached, our judgment is clouded and we get fixated with certain concepts. Brainstorming with someone else will help you restore objectivity and give your own approach a sanity check.
Caveat: if it's your decision then ultimately you have to make it - and live with it. As Jeff Pulver put it, don't outsource your life.
4. Choose what not to choose
Often, there is no clear winner between the choices (well, otherwise the decision wouldn't be tough). In these cases, don't compare what you stand to gain from each choice. Instead, for each choice determine what you stand to lose if you pass on it. In this weird revision of the Judgment of Solomon the choice harder to give up is the one to go for.
Caveat: taken to the extreme this technique implies a conservative approach with zero risk. Sometimes, jumping into the deep end can be a smart idea.
3. Choose the lesser evil
So not only is there no clear winner, but all the choices suck. Get over it. Remind yourself that you are choosing the lesser evil, not the saint. By realizing you don't have to love your choice - just prefer it over the others, you can accept it as a legitimate one.
Caveat: there are some special decisions that I would not prescribe this for. For those special decisions the rule is "if you have doubt, then have no doubt". Sometimes it is an all-or-nothing case.
Especially useful for business choices, there are many methods that break down the costs, benefits and assumptions involved in a decision. The formulas don't decide for you, but rather help you verify you have asked the right questions and factored everything into account. With the results of your analysis, you can make an informed decision and be able to back it up with hard data.
Caveat: logic can only go so far. See #1.
1. Use your instinct
You've taken your time. You have analyzed. Consulted with everyone possible. Looked at the decision from every possible angle. Now, it is time to decide. Even if it flies in the face of your best analysis and contradicts everyone's advice - listen to your inner voice.
What are YOUR strategies for tough decisions?