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A 5-Minute Decision-Making Framework for Life & Business

I’ve spent way more time on small decisions than I’d like to admit.

What makes it worse is I’ll ruminate on the decision for days.

Have you done that?

You lay in bed wondering if you made the right decision. You play out the worst-case scenario, and the anxiety doesn’t help.

I did that for most of my life until I realized it was wasted energy.

I recently decided to purchase my first property (a condo), which came with a lot of questions:

  • Would the housing market crash again?
  • Is a condo a good investment?
  • Should I Airbnb or do long-term rental?

But this isn’t about real estate.

This is about how I applied a line of questioning to help me make decisions big and small.

By answering these questions, you get clarity on how quickly you can make the decision and how much more time you should spend thinking (stressing) about the decision.

Most of the time, this makes it easier to make a decision and saves you a lot of time and mental energy.

In some situations, you’ll realize you need to put more thought into the decision.

Here’s the decision-making framework I use to make most decisions in five minutes and save me sleepless nights.

How easily reversible is the decision?

Is it very easy to reverse or very difficult (even impossible) to reverse?

This question will determine the level of effort and stress you need to put into the decision.

It should be a quick decision if it’s very easy to reverse.

There are many decisions that, on the surface, seem difficult or impossible to reverse, but most decisions are reversible. Some might require more effort or time, but they are not lifetime commitments.

Most decisions are easy to reverse. You’re not committed to it for life. You can always change your mind. Examples of decisions that are very easy to reverse:

  • Most purchases on Amazon – Easy to cancel and/or return
  • Running Facebook ads – You can quickly turn them off
  • Most plans with friends – You can always cancel if something comes up
  • Where you want to go to eat – You can always change your mind, or if it’s a bad meal, you know not to go again.

Examples of things that are possible to reverse but require lots of effort:

  • Career choice – People get stuck deciding what they want to do, thinking they have to stick with that for their entire lives. In reality, most people change careers multiple times in their life. It’s normal. Once you get over that mental barrier, choosing your first career will feel like less of a commitment.
  • Who you’re dating – Tough to say, but if it doesn’t work out, you can always stop seeing them.
  • Experimenting with a new product feature – You can always sunset the feature, but it’ll take some effort.

Examples of things that are very difficult or not possible to reverse:

  • Choosing which university you’ll attend
  • Who you marry
  • Choosing a business partner
  • Launching a new product

Few decisions are impossible to reverse like having a child, or killing someone, those sorts of things that usually involve other lives or legal contracts.

That should significantly lower the stakes of a decision and help you make a call. In some cases, you probably don’t even have a strong opinion. But if you’re making a decision with someone else, you might find that by nature of you making a call, someone else decides they have a strong opinion and will voice their disagreement. At that point, if you didn’t have a strong opinion, you could go with their decision.

Most decisions will fall into the easy-to-reverse bucket and shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes to make a decision. So the process usually ends here. There ya go, the key question to make a quick decision.

Now, let’s say you have a difficult-to-reverse decision on your hands, what next?

What’s the worst-case scenario?

This is probably easier to think about. Play out the worst-case scenario (all of them).

Now what’s the probability of each of these scenarios?

And how bad would those scenarios be, really? I think if we got down to it, the worse case scenarios are not likely to be fatal.

If the worst-case scenario happened, how would you address it?

What is the best-case scenario?

This is my favorite question. From my experience, it’s natural to focus too much on the worst-case scenario. I was raised with a scarcity mindset, I was always focused on what I could lose, how I might look stupid, or what could go wrong.

Reversing that script has been a work in progress but has significantly given me a new lens to look at each situation and decision.

So if everything worked out, what happens if you make the right decision? What’s the best-case scenario?

  • You build a business with your best friends?
  • You make a lot of money?
  • You love the person you’re with?

And what’s the probability of the best-case scenario?

What’s in your control?

What can you do to increase the likelihood of the best-case scenario and decrease the likelihood to the worst-case scenario?

What are the unknowns?

This is the most challenging part because you have to zoom out and ask yourself what you know you don’t know.

You also have the consider the risk of not knowing those things.

Is the decision going to help you learn about those unknowns? Or could those unknowns be your undoing?

Most likely the first one.

Even more reason to make a decision and move forward so you can learn.

What are your alternate options?

Is it an option to not make a decision)?

Knowing those alternate options, is the decision you want to make the best decision based on the available information?

It sounds like a lot, but it becomes second nature over time.