Personal Productivity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people wanting to improve their personal productivity. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I saw an interview with Warren Buffet, where he states that if he makes something like two or three good decisions in a year, then it was a good year.

Is there best-practice process on how to make hard decisions? I am not talking about investment decisions, but hard decisions in general. The problems that I want to solve using such a process include:

  • How to make the decision at the right time, not hastily and not too late. Relevant for this is how to guesstimate the cost of delaying the decision, compared to the benefit of a delay.
  • How to guesstimate about the cost/benefit of obtaining more information relevant for the decision

It would also be interesting to know how to ask people efficiently for advice on the topic. This last part might be off-topic for this site, but I included it for completeness.

share|improve this question
How do you currently handle hard decisions and why is it not meeting your needs? I'd like to avoid composing a long answer and find out you already do it. – Renan Sep 21 '11 at 12:18
@Renan Thank you for your question. At the moment, I do not have a specific process, so I am not aware of exactly how I currently make hard decisions. – David Sep 21 '11 at 12:45
You probably do have a process that you follow, but it's just not formalized. It's just who you are and how you think. The first step to improving a process (any process) is to first understand your current process and identify the weaknesses. – Thomas Owens Sep 21 '11 at 13:21
up vote 7 down vote accepted

A few idea;

Making a Plus / Minus List

Thiss a cool way to start with any decision. But all plus or all minus are not equal. Of course, they shouldn't be. Use a positive or negative number to weight each plus, minus and implication. When the list is complete, add up all the weights. Compare the totals of each choice and go with the largest one. In the case of a yes/no question, if the total is positive, it's yes - if not, it's no.

enter image description here

Analysis of multiple criteria

Paralelling with Decision Theory, decide your criteria and give them point. And get total summary for each row you have. You can download iDecide for free

enter image description here

Trust your instinct

As Yoda say, the answers are within you, my friend. If you're absolutely stuck in deadlock on a binary decision, trick your gut into telling you what to do.

The key to making a smart decision is giving yourself the time to gather all the information you need, and a confident, proactive approach with a method you trust.

share|improve this answer

Funny enough, Wired Science Blogs just had a post on this exact thing:

How Should We Make Hard Decisions?

Updated (as requested) to include a brief synopsis: It seems the best way is to learn as much as you can about the situation, then relax and go with your gut instinct.

share|improve this answer
Can you add specific, relevant details and/or a summary of the article? In the event the site (or that page) is ever down or someone can not reach it, the value of this post immediately drops to 0. – Thomas Owens Sep 21 '11 at 19:28

In my experience, hard decisions occur when both options seem to be equally weighted in terms of pro's and con's. In these situations, there's no clear cut winner or loser, either way you choose will result in some benefit and some sacrifice as a result of not choosing the alternative option. Sometimes there isn't a right or best answer so we just have to decide and keep moving forward.

When faced with this situation, I find it helpful to to ask myself the following two questions:

(1) what does my gut tell me? (2) what are my priorities?

The first "gut" question lets your natural instincts have a say. Even though it's a hard decision and logically, both options seem equally weighted, your gut can be a reliable tiebreaker that will account for past experiences, foreseeable outcomes, and natural tendencies.

If my gut isn't helping, I turn to priorities. And by priorities, I mean look at all the factors involved in the decision and decide what is the most important. Prioritize what, above all, is the top goal/hope/need/want/objective/outcome to result from this decision. This should be something that can be clearly identifiable. Once you have determined your top priority, recognize which decision comes closest to realizing that priority and go with that one.

Go easy on yourself knowing you've thought it through as best you can and you're making the best decision possible at this moment. If it's any consolation, what's going to happen usually happend one way or another. But it's better to proactively take control and decide, then waver and let the decision be made for you.I hope this helps.

share|improve this answer

I can only cite Samurai (or here) - just decide within seven breaths :-)

"One should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths...With an intense, fresh and undelaying spirit, one will make his judgments within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined and having the spirit to break right through to the other side."
-- Hagakure

share|improve this answer
Why the down vote? This is a viable method of making a decision. – Bernhard Hofmann Sep 28 '11 at 15:06

When I'm called upon to make a hard decision, aside from the above-listed ideas (list of pros and cons, gut instinct, etc) there are a few more things I do. First, if it's a decision that will impact more than just me, e.g. a job change or a large purchase, I get the input of those who will also be affected. My spouse is definitely one of the people I talk to--many times, in talking over things with her, we can start to see which of the options "feels" right, or which one would involve greater pain.

Another trick that I use, which falls under the "trick your gut into telling you what to do" is to flip a coin. I'll assign each choice to a side of the coin (assuming it's a binary problem) and flip the coin. Then I'll examine my feelings when I see which side of the coin I got. Lots of times I'll feel disappointed at the impartial verdict, and that leads me to pick the other option.

The third trick is not really a trick. The original poster didn't include any indication as to faith. And none of the other answers mentioned it either. So, like it or not, one of the methods I use to find an answer is to pray. I believe in a God that cares about me personally, so it would be rather self-defeating to not ask for guidance in reaching a decision. If the OP doesn't have the same idea of a Higher Power, then perhaps meditation or something similar could be substituted.

share|improve this answer

for taking proper decisions first think what advantage you will get out of it and what can be possible backfires that you can face.. Always mitigate the negatives of a decision by thinking a plan B if something happens against you. Always keep a second plan ready if your decision fails so that you have confidence in taking the decision .

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.