One of the most crucial roles you as an entrepreneur play is that of decision-maker; as the founder and leader of an organization, you have the power to make final decisions at all levels, whether you're hiring that new intern or changing your business' strategic course.
Importantly, there’s an art to making decisions, and though you'll rarely see an objectively “right” or “wrong” decision before you, how you approach this task can have a massive impact on your end results.
The crucial factor here is pressure. If you're a new entrepreneur, once you begin making important decisions, you may fall victim to that pressure, procrastinating rather than finalizing any one course of action. This path can be self-destructive, so it’s important to proactively recognize it, and correct it so you can become a better decision-maker.
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Diagnosing the problem
The first step is recognizing if you’re a "decision procrastinator" in the first place. All of us are procrastinators in some capacity; you’ve likely delayed the completion of various assignments in your education or work history, or put off making a difficult phone call until the last minute. And a handful of motivations are usually at play here, such as the desire to opt for immediate gratification or you waiting to see if "something changes." And, in some cases, procrastination can actually be a good thing (more on that later).
However, you know you have a problem if you find yourself delaying decisions regularly because:
- You’re anxious about the outcome.
- You don’t want to be held accountable.
- You simply don’t know what to do.
The operative phrase here is “regularly.” You’ll likely encounter these scenarios intermittently even if you’re a solid decision-maker, but it’s only a problem if it’s recurring or severe.
When procrastination is useful
Sometimes, procrastination can be a useful tool. For example, you may want to delay your decision until you’ve gathered more data about the issue. If the decision is a particularly significant one and doesn’t demand an answer right away, you may ruminate in order to produce a better conclusion.
Related: The 7 Styles of Decision Making
If multiple variables might influence your target outcome, you may wait to see if those variables emerge or change. These are examples where procrastination acts as an assisting force, rather than a means of avoidance; this is the critical distinction that separates beneficial procrastination strategies from harmful ones.
If you find that you’re consistently relying on harmful or destructive procrastination strategies in your decision-making, there are some strategies that can help you overcome that tendency:
- Imagine the worst-case scenario. Many times, we procrastinate on a final decision because of the unknown variables involved; taking risks can be scary, and if we aren’t sure how our options could play out, we may be tempted to avoid choosing any options at all. This strategy forces you to imagine the worst-case scenario, on each side of the decision tree. What’s the worst that could possibly happen? This thought experiment should make you more comfortable with the potential outcomes at all sides, easing your anxiety about the uncertainty.
- Give advice to a friend. It’s hard to make a decision if you don’t know what you really want, but making decisions in business isn’t about picking what you want as much as it is picking what’s best for the business. If your emotions are getting in the way of your logic, frame the decision as if it’s a friend making it, and give advice to that friend; this will help you separate yourself from the problem and give more grounded, practical, logic-driven advice (to yourself).
- Break the decision down. If the decision is too monumental or you’re worried about how it might affect different areas of your business, try to break the decision down into smaller components. For example, if you can’t decide which vendor to go with for one of your most important supplies, first decide on what your most important supply priorities are; is it more important to have consistent quality or a consistent shipping schedule? These micro-decisions can help you finalize a broader decision that encompasses them.
- Do what you can, then go with your gut. If all else fails, finish up your research; gather as much information as you can on the decision, talk to the people around you, then commit to finalizing a decision. If, with all the information in front of you, you still feel torn, close your eyes and go with your gut. Your instincts may lead you in the right direction; even if they don’t, if the decision was this close, you can’t mess up too badly.
Many of your decisions as an entrepreneur will likely be complicated and difficult to make. However, you need to be willing to work through your decisions directly and resolutely if you want to be successful. These strategies can help you overcome your tendencies to procrastinate making a final decision, leading you to better, faster and firmer decision-making strategies.