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How to Make Decisions Under Pressure

How to Make Decisions Under Pressure

Thanks to the nature of life and society, we’re often forced to make our most important decisions under pressure. Whether that pressure is caused by a lack of time, emotional duress, or something else entirely, it’s hardly the best state in which to make reliable decisions. Without a way to switch into an objective mindset — or at least a process to deal with decisions objectively — you could wind up making a bad decision that’ll bite you for years to come.

Almost every important decision I’ve ever had to make has been made out of necessity and under pressure of various kinds, and that’s given me the chance to work out a process that I can use to work through them in a detached way. You can never eliminate all the bias that comes from emotions and circumstances. Subjectivity is inherently part of being a human being. But you can minimize that bias through the use of a reliable process and make the most of a bad situation. Here’s how:

1. Know the Situation

Knowledge is power. The better you understand the decision and all that it entails, the more likely you are to make a good decision. The first step of the process is to put your research skills to use and study the relevant material, study it until you’re intimate with it.

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Employ various research techniques. Don’t rely on anecdotal evidence, such as the opinions of trusted friends, but acquire it — it matters. Hard information matters, and some people would say it matters the most, but a healthy mixture of hard information and the opinions of those who have “been there and done that” is best in my opinion. It serves to reduce the sway that media manipulation by marketers or vested interests may have wielded through the bias in (what seems to be) objective texts.

You want to know the big picture, and you want to know the fine print. Leave no stone unturned, because the small pebbles in their aggregate have just as much weight as the big rocks.

2. Know the Outcomes

From the certainty of information, you must turn to the tentative vacillation of prediction. There’s no way you can know the future, but the knowledge you have gathered will help you to get closer to it. Make the best prediction you can as to the outcome of the various options you have at your disposal. What are the short-term effects? What are (more importantly, usually) the long-term effects? Will the effects of my decision affect the lives of others and how?

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It is too easy to get caught up in the minutiae of your decision and make your final choice based on small factors or short-term effects. After doing heavy research, the quality of your decisions can be affected by familiarity blindness. So it’s important to take a careful look at where each decision puts you in a week, a month, a year, a decade. This helps you regain your perspective.

3. Consult with the Objective

Talk to objective people — people who aren’t your friends — who are experts or knowledgeable in the area you need to make a decision in. Research as done in the first step is about finding out all the information that is out there already. It’s static information and can’t be tailored to your situation because it (should) just describe what is. Objective experts can look at your situation, and without emotional attachment to you, give advice on the best course of action.

But what is objectively the best course of action as far as an expert is concerned isn’t always the best course of action. It usually is, but subjectivity does play a part. If you don’t feel you could live with the results of the decision they suggest or it doesn’t align with your core values and beliefs, it’s not stupid to pass the advice over. Seek a second opinion or go for the next most workable suggestion on their list.

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4. Commit

The thing about difficult decisions, and decisions you need to make under pressure, isn’t just that they’re hard to make in the first place. It’s that they’re hard to commit to. If you’ve followed a sound process for determining the best course of action, and the advice you have attained is sound advice, the best course of action should be clear by now.

That doesn’t mean it’s the easiest course of action. The best one rarely is the easiest. Be sure when you make your final decision, and commit to it. Start implementing it as soon as your situation allows, because once you’ve made the first steps it’s harder to fall back into your indecision.

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We have all just entered into a new year, and an uncertain one at that. It’s a time when many people want to make changes in life and make big decisions, and we also live in a time when many more people are facing difficult times than they’ve had to in years past. So it seemed pertinent to suggest a way of dealing with these things, and I hope these guidelines help you through.

It’s impossible to give a process of flow chart-like proportions that will hold your hand throughout every step of the  decision-making process. That’d be great for making the best choice even when the pressure of the world is doing your head in, but the situation that comes with each decision changes too much for that. We’re left to deal with principles that are flexible enough to help us through many different situations, but they’re solid principles, and followed properly, the finer steps will reveal themselves.

Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

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Joel Falconer

Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2019

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More About Note-Taking

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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