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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 January 13, 2020

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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