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Overwhelmed By Too Many Choices

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Here’s something no one tells you about running your own business: you have to make lots of decisions. So many decisions, in fact, that it’s easy to become what I call “decide-o-phobic.”

Sure, you know you have to decide which product or service to sell, and how much to charge, but there are all those other nagging choices: what to pay employees, which computers to buy, insurance to get, loans to apply for, advertising to use, and phone, internet, and wireless services to choose from. It’s exhausting!

These daily choices can be so overwhelming that you can easily want to avoid making ANY decisions. One night, at the end of a tough work day, I met a friend at a Chinese restaurant. Faced with a multi-page menu, I felt totally defeated. I told my companion to order me anything – I didn’t care – just so long as I didn’t have to make even one more choice.

Now, I’m hardly a shrinking violet; I’m not the type who’s overwhelmed having to choose between an egg roll and a won ton. But it’s the little decisions – over and over and over each day – that grind you down. Entrepreneurs can’t afford to be – or become – decide-o-phobics. In fact, learning how to make decisions is a critical business skill to enable you to get on with the real work of running and growing your company.

There are two aspects to becoming a better decision-maker: developing a positive mindset and adopting some practical procedures.

Decision-making mindset:

  1. Recognize that ANY decision is almost always better than NO decision. In our business lives, if we neglect to make decisions, there are usually consequences. Can’t choose which health insurance to get? Your best employee might quit out of frustration. Can’t decide whether to exhibit at a trade show? The deadline might pass.
  2. There’s no perfect choice. We often procrastinate thinking that the perfect option will come along if we wait long enough. It won’t.
  3. You’re going to make mistakes. Sure, you’ll regret some of your choices. Even some big ones. Allow yourself – and others – to make mistakes; that’s part of doing business.
  4. It’s only lunch. Years ago, a friend said that people in his office would agonize over where to go for their mid-day meal. Many choices just aren’t worth driving yourself crazy over. Keep perspective; will your business really be affected if you choose one wireless phone service over another?

Practical Decision-Making Tips:

  1. Empower your employees. Your employees have brains; let them make some choices. Do YOU really need to be the one to decide which shipping service to use if you’ve got an employee perfectly capable of doing research and making the choice? Don’t just throw decisions at employees: tell them your priorities (lowest price shipping service or most reliable?), let them come to you for input, and then never second-guess or criticize them.
  2. Set a deadline. To avoid procrastination, give yourself a “drop dead” date for making a choice. Allow yourself enough time to do the necessary fact-finding. But make a decision by your deadline, regardless of how much homework you’ve done.
  3. Establish decision-making meetings. A successful entrepreneur drastically reduced the time it took to make choices at his company by declaring some meetings for discussion and others for decisions. At decision-making meetings, choices MUST be made. In my company, we know we absolutely make big decisions and set direction at our annual planning meeting.
  4. Give yourself FEWER options. People get overwhelmed with too many alternatives. I’ve learned a trick I use when trying to decide something with another person. One of us lists three options – only three – and the other can either choose one or veto one. Narrow your choices down to two or three at the most.
  5. Get good advisors. It’s easier to make decisions if you find people you trust, whether it’s your accountant, attorney, insurance agent, employees, or sister-in-law.
  6. Don’t second guess! You can later evaluate your decision at an appropriate time, but once you’ve made a decision, carry it out. Decision-making is like any other business skill: it can be learned and improved upon. You don’t have to remain “decide-o-phobic” forever.

Rhonda Abrams is President of the Palo Alto, CA-based company, The Planning Shop, and author of the new book, What Business Should I Start? Sign up for her free business planning newsletter at www.planningshop.com

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