Thirty years ago, Roger Fisher and William Ury published their bestselling negotiating book, Getting to Yes. One of the key strategies they espoused was to resolve the easiest issues first and work toward the more difficult ones. By the time you reach the most critical issue, they argued, you will already have momentum by coming to agreement on the smaller disputes first.
The same might be said of making critical decisions. It is only natural to focus on the “elephant in the room” when trying to make a big decision. That obstacle can seem insurmountable when viewed in isolation. But most big decisions are really a collection of smaller decisions. If you approach the big obstacle by breaking it down into its incremental challenges, you relieve some of this pressure.
Consider the purchase of a house – Yes, the purchase itself is a big decision, filled with emotion, the unknown and the fear of making a mistake. But this decision is really broken down into lots of smaller choices – house layout, number of bedrooms, amenities, financing, location, schools, access to stores and entertainment, commuting time, taxes, proximity to friends and family. Given a piece of paper, we could all list an additional dozen factors or more.
But few people take time to list and prioritize all these elements in a rational way. Once you have, and considered each element individually, many of the smaller decisions become easy to make. As they do, some of the pressure over making the biggest decision is relieved. In a way, it’s almost like a jigsaw puzzle coming together. Besides, once you’ve made the decision and experienced the inevitable buyer’s remorse, you can go back and remind yourself of the reasons why you made the choices you did.
This technique of listing and prioritizing can be applied to most any significant decision. But too often, we allow ourselves to be distracted by other’s opinions, the endless advice on social media, our natural impatience, and the worry associated with making irreversible choices. Does this process require some concentration and self-discipline? Of course. But any decision with lasting consequences requires these traits. Once you’ve developed these practices, they become easier to implement every time you are faced with a big decision. This is one of the keys to becoming a smart decision maker.