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Decision-Making Skills

Being in business means making decisions -- routine decisions that affect your day-to-day operations and monumental decisions that may affect the future of your company. How you approach those decisions big and small will be key to your success.

Tips for Good Decision-Making

Start by asking yourself some questions. Is this really your decision or someone else's? Do you really need to make a decision? When does it need to be made? Why is this decision important?

Write down as many alternatives as you can think of. Get all the facts you'll need to weigh the implications of each option.

Visualize the outcome of each alternative. Do you feel more satisfied with one outcome than with the others?

Do a reality check. Cross off those alternatives that most likely will not occur.

Once you have made your decision, get moving on it. There's no point in worrying or second-guessing yourself. Remember, no decision is set in stone. You're free to adjust if things are going the way you'd anticipated.

Common Decision-Making Mistakes

The road to a good decision can be filled with bumps, potholes and obstacles of all sorts. Here are a few of the most common things to avoid.

  • Relying too much on a single source of information. Even experts have their own set of biases and prejudices. By consulting several sources, you will get better and more rounded information.
  • Overestimating the value of information received from others. Experts, authority figures, high status groups, and people we respect have a way of swaying our opinion based solely on our perception that they know more than we do. The problem is, our perceptions can be wrong. Ask yourself:  Do they know as much about this problem as I do? Are their values the same as mine? Have they had any personal experiences with a problem like mine? In other words, keep their opinions in perspective.
  • Underestimating the value of information received from others. Do you tend to discount information you receive from people you think couldn't possibly know as much as you do? What if you're wrong? Your prejudices may be prompting you to reject valuable perspectives and sound advice. Keep an open mind.
  • Only hearing what you want to hear or seeing what you want to see. You can't let your expectations and biases cloud your decision-making. You must see things they way they are, not the way you want them to be.
  • Not listening to your feelings or gut reactions. Sometimes decisions just feel right down deep. Don't ignore the feeling. By tuning into your intuition, you will find that you will make much better decisions in the long run.

Making Time

Hectic work schedules. Family responsibilities. Social engagements. There just doesn't seem to be enough time for everything we need and want to do. In business, time management skills are crucial.

The first step in learning how to manage your time is to develop a general work schedule. Your work schedule should include time for yourself as well as time for the maintenance of your business.

Start by defining the major elements of your workload. Next, sort them into things that need immediate attention and things that can wait. Answering questions like "How much time do I have to make this decision, finish this task, or contact this person?" will help. Set priorities based on deadlines and whether you're doing the work alone or can delegate work to others. If you are involved in group projects, reserve additional time for communication and problem-solving.

Once you have identified your priorities, look at all of your options for achieving them. Evaluate and move forward with the ones you feel are the most useful for you. The only time to consider changing approaches mid-task is when you know the change will save time. When in doubt, stay the course.

Other time management suggestions you may find useful for managing both your business life as well as your personal life include:

  • Contract out tasks you do not have the expertise to complete. Your client will appreciate your honesty and effort to get the best result
  • Start the day with the most pressing or worrisome task
  • Complete deadline work early
  • Know your capacity for stress. When you are hitting overload, take a break
  • Stay organized. Take time at the end of each day to briefly organize your desk and make reminder lists of tasks for the next day or week
  • Allow yourself some down time between busy periods to review your schedule and reevaluate your priorities

Learn More

Consultants at our Small Business Assistance Office can help you understand more about making sound business decisions. And our network of Small Business Development Centers has experts located in nine main regional offices and several satellite centers statewide.

Our publication A Guide to Starting a Business in Minnesota provide a deeper look at this and other issues.

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