As any Entrepreneur will tell you, making the wrong decision in your business can be costly, time-consuming, and even disastrous.
But when you’re forging a new path, as all entrepreneurs do, you’re going to make the occasional wrong decision. I do it all the time. Early in my career, there were many times I said the wrong thing or didn’t handle a situation as well as I could have. Often I didn’t realize my mistake until later.
After all, hindsight is 20/20.
But rather than seeing your inevitable missteps as mistakes, try to see them as learning opportunities. Pinpoint where you went wrong and try not to repeat it. As my grandmother was fond of saying, only a fool does the same thing over and over and expects different results.
Decision-making is a critical element of entrepreneurship. You won’t always have the answers you need at crunch time — sometimes you just have to choose one path and see it through. But you also have to not let the bad decisions paralyze you. You live and you learn.
Here are a few sure-fire tips to help you make the best decisions possible:
1. Trust your gut, but get help when you need it.
All entrepreneurs are guided by a powerful gut instinct.
If you didn’t have it, you never would have been bold enough to be an entrepreneur in the first place. Maybe you’d have been an accountant or a schoolteacher.
Tune into that initial instinct that propelled you to take the risk of starting your own business. This instinct created your original company vision, or True North — let that guide your decision-making early on, and bring on team-members who understand and connect with that vision.
With every decision, go back to your True North and see if it aligns with your goals.
That said, you can’t always rely on gut feeling alone. That’s where having a like-minded core team comes in handy. Build your team with your True North in mind, and hire the people who understand that vision. Just one or two other people you trust will go a long way.
If you do that, you won’t have to worry when your team makes decisions on your behalf.
2. Don’t waste time multi-tasking.
As an entrepreneur, you often have to wear multiple hats.
Every day, a thousand little problems, questions, and tasks require your Attention. There are countless emails and phone calls, customer requests and meetings, product updates and merchandising decisions. The list goes on.
But every time you switch from one problem to another, it takes a while to readjust your brain and focus.
Recent studies show that you can lose up to 40% of your productivity when you multitask. According to this research, it takes more time to get things done and you make more errors if you switch between tasks than if you do one thing at a time. If the tasks are complex, the time and errors increase.
You’re most productive — and able to devote the attention you need to major business decisions — when you’re focused on the present task.
If you find it difficult to tune out the distractions, you’re not alone. We all have mini computers in our pockets constantly pinging us for attention, but there are a few easy ways to quiet the external noise. Turn off notifications on your devices, write down a list of your priorities, clean up your workspace, learn how to tell people “no,” and schedule your break time.
It’s trendy to think you’re good at multitasking, but the research suggests you likely aren’t. Quit this bad habit and attend to each work task with full attention.
3. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
When you’re first starting a company, you’re probably doing a little of everything. You’re interviewing potential employees and managing your staff, paying bills and keeping track of cash flow, answering emails and leading meetings.
But we all have strengths and weaknesses.
As your company grows, you’ll develop a better understanding of where you excel and where you’re lacking. And as your team expands, you can begin to delegate your problem areas to people who can do a better job and trust that they will. This will, in turn, free up more of your time so that you can focus on the stuff you’re good at and help your company thrive.
To do this, you have to make sure you have people in the right seats, and that they have a clear idea of your company vision. That starts with understanding that you can’t do everything and be in all places at the same time.
Letting go is hard for many entrepreneurs — after all, you built a company from scratch. You are likely hyper-motivated and prefer having eyes on all aspects of business operations. But you must know that learning to delegate is crucial to the success of your business.
When you can trust your employees and know they’ll do what needs to be done in a timely manner, you’ll have more energy to attend to the decisions that require your attention.
4. Don’t get bogged down in minor decisions.
When you picture Steve Jobs, what do you see?
Most likely, you imagine him in his standard jeans, black turtleneck, and New Balance sneakers. Jobs gravitated towards a uniform because it cut down on the mental energy it takes to make decisions. Likewise, Barack Obama only wears gray or blue suits. Dr. Dre wears the same Nike Air Force 1s every day. And Mark Zuckerberg exclusively wears the same grey Brunello Cucinelli t-shirt.
The most successful people have realized that they need to find ways to save mental energy for things that matter.
The average person makes 35,000 decisions every day — some important and most not so much.
Should I eat a salad for lunch or grab a slice of pizza that I can eat on the go? Should I go to the gym or do yoga? Take the train or drive and risk a parking ticket? Hire the person with more experience or better contacts?
As an entrepreneur, you have to make decisions all the time, often on the fly. Get good at prioritizing what you have to get done, shop out the rest, and you’ll make better decisions.
I wake up every day with over 150 emails, which I quickly scan to determine what is important and what isn’t. Then I discard whatever doesn’t align with my goals.
5. You may never have all the facts, so don’t wait around for them.
You aren’t always going to have every single piece of information you need to make the best decision — often, you have to go with your intuition and the few facts you have.
When getting all the data just isn’t an option, Harvard Business Review suggested the DIET approach — Define, Integrate, Explore, Test — for converting data into wisdom.
- Define: Start with a problem-finding mindset, where you push your team to see the problem from different angles. Then ask yourself if you collected the data, then how would your decision change. If the data wouldn’t change your decision, you don’t need to track down any new information.
- Integrate: To integrate information effectively, you analyze how your problem and data fit together. With your team, sort facts into causal relationships. Create a model of the patterns that emerge.
- Explore: To facilitate creative collaboration, assign distinct ideas to each team member and give them time to brainstorm. Then have them pass to a teammate, who continues drafting the idea. As a group, discuss the creative output.
- Test: Use your team members to brainstorm the feasibility of each idea. While people often over-collect data that support their hypotheses, they tend to under-collect data that invalidates their findings.
In practicing these exercises with your team, you can curb your appetite for data while getting better at digesting the data you have. Don’t get lost in analysis paralysis!
Sometimes, the most important decisions you make as an entrepreneur have to do with knowing which decisions to tackle in the first place. As you learn to focus on what’s important, make time for problem-solving, and learn to delegate, the rest will fall into place.
5 Decision-Making Tips Every Early-Stage Entrepreneur Needs To Know was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.