Decisions: Six Things You Should Track

by Joy Johnson on July 27, 2012

When you’ve made a decision that ends in failure, the lessons you learn generally are worth more than the money you lost. Knowledge gained will propel your forward progress. Do you remember Adam Sandler’s movie, “Fifty First Dates”  Drew Barrymore’s character was stuck in time – constantly repeating the same day.  Only Adam Sandler’s approach was different. Business is often like that.  A great many tries end in failure.

The initial human tendency is to get bitter, angry, and look for others to blame. When that happens, the lessons taken from the experience are all the wrong lessons. Tuition paid to the “University of Entrepreneurism” - otherwise known as the “School of Hard Knocks,” is wasted. The key thing is how you respond to failure. Reviewing why you made the decision will contribute to responding in a constructive way.

Understand that things happen the way they happen for a reason. Even if ”luck“ played a part, as it so often does, you need to be in the right place at the right time to get ”lucky.” If you keep backing the logic down, action by action, you will find a point in time when someone make a decision that wasn’t “luck” enabling the recipient to “get lucky.”

Whether it’s luck, or just hard work, that drives your success and your failures, the greatest contributor, overall, is how your own mind works. Understand your own thought processes. Other people, organizations, banks, etc. – that whole list of people and things you are tempted to blame - never enter the picture until you decide to let them. It still boils down to your thought processes. If you don’t remember why you made the decisions you made, you are likely to repeat the cycle - or at least waste valuable time rediscovering old thought processes. That’s substantially slows forward progress.

The best way to understand yourself is to keep a “Decision Journal.” In decision making, you must describe the problem clearly.  Give thought to the way you want to word the problem since the exact wording of the problem will affect where your mind goes to solve it.  For example, never ask, “can I” – ask “how can I.”  A good portion of the time, our businesses suffer because we asked the wrong question to start with.
Once your question or problem is phrased properly, you can begin the decision making process – and that process should be logged.  Key components of a Decision Journal are:

  • Your mood or attitude -if exceptionally good or bad, you may wish to provide detail.
  • What you think
  • Why you think it
  • Is it “pro” or “con”

If there are only pros or only cons, we generally just ”do it” and it never reaches the point where it requires a process that reaches the conscious level of “I have to think about this.” Chronological order is important. You can use a lot of words, or a few words - it’s your journal. It’s not a new concept, but in scouring the web for suitable software, I find it to be a much underserved market.

You can use a basic spreadsheet to start simply. Assign a new sheet in your Decision Workbook for each new decision you want to track. The columns I use are:

  1. General Assessment of Mood (Mood and attitude are very important. Create a key like “1 through 5″ that you can sort.)
  2. Date
  3. Thought
  4. Reasoning
  5. Pro or Con

When you’ve come to a decision, it will be reflected in the last entry on the page. I work from the bottom up so I insert new lines at the top each time I add new entries.

Whether decisions prove to be good, or bad, go back periodically to review your decision process. You might want to highlight observations or thoughts that hindsight have proven to be right in one color, and those hindsight shows to be wrong in another. Many people spend time analyzing what went wrong at the expense of looking at those things that went right. They also fail to be brutally honest with themselves about why the things that went wrong did so. That never helps.  As you get more comfortable and more familiar with a more structured approach to decision making, you may want to move on to software that assists you in the process.

Not understanding how you arrived at a particular decision coupled with not being honest with yourself about your contribution always leads to repeated failures. There is no guarantee, however, that even complete understanding leads to success. Business is risky. That’s why there is the opportunity for substantial reward when you get it right.

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