At least occasionally, we’ll find ourselves in a high-pressure situation where we must make a difficult decision quickly. Major life decisions deserve our undivided attention, but the business of life tends to get in the way and we end up feeling frazzled and spread thin.
If you can relate to this, the next time you’re faced with a tough decision, try using this simple “ladder rule” which will break up the steps of decision-making so that it doesn’t seem like such a stressful task.
First rung: Ask yourself two simple questions that frame the decision clearly
- Will this decision have a measurable or noticeable impact on my people, my company, or society?
- Is this decision time-sensitive?
If your answer to both or either of these questions is “yes,” then it’s appropriate to move on to the second rung of the ladder. However, if you answer “no” to both questions, then take a breath, relax, and allow yourself some time to mull over it.
Second rung: Give yourself space and time to focus on the decision
- Set aside five minutes to concentrate solely on the decision you need to make.
- Remove distractions by closing the door to your room or office.
Sometimes, we feel the need to multitask and rush around to get everything done when we need it done, however, if you simply give yourself the opportunity to focus only on the task at hand, then the answers may come to you easier.
Third rung: define all options and outcomes by writing them down
- Define each option in one sentence and jot them down on a piece of paper. Keep it short and stick to what you know (verified observations and facts).
- Next to each option, write a single sentence describing what you believe to be the most likely outcome.
This step allows you to carefully consider the real-life outcomes of your decision. It can also highlight options and outcomes that you feel are unclear and require more definition before you can make an informed decision.
Fourth rung (top of the ladder): Once you have options and outcomes defined, highlight the ones you see as the most desirable
- Circle the best outcome and highlight the corresponding decision. This is your optimal choice.
- Circle the next best outcome and highlight its corresponding decision as well. Now, if your first choice doesn’t work out there’s no need to stress because you have a suitable backup.
Using this approach to making tough decisions really forces you to consider all the facts and details of the situation, without complicating things with emotions or external stressors. It also trains your mind to take an objective stance when making decisions. With enough practice, you may not even need to jot things on paper but can climb the whole ladder in your mind.