Need to Make a Tough Decision Fast? Do This First

As an entrepreneur, it’s in your nature to be decisive. You know that the ability to swiftly choose a course of action when a threat or an opportunity presents itself can make the difference between survival and failure.

But these days, many businesses are feeling the strain of a prolonged lockdown, and some are making the tough decision to shut down some or all of their operations (as co-working company The Riveter just announced). At times like these, the need to make time-sensitive decisions as quickly as possible can push you to do something you might be sorry for later. It can also create stress levels that are very bad for both your business and you.

So, if you’re faced with the need to make a difficult decision quickly, do yourself and your company a favor and take a few minutes to follow some simple steps. These few small actions, backed by neuroscience, will return you to a state of calm, and help you make sure that the choice you make is the right one.

1. Take a 15-minute timeout.

Nearly all business decisions — even very pressing ones — can accommodate a 15-minute delay. If you’re in a meeting or a phone or video conversation and you’re being pressed for an answer, ask to take a 15-minute break.

2. First do 30 to 60 seconds of vigorous exercise.

As stress expert Jenny Evans explains, that little bit of exercise is enough to counteract the hormones that build up in your system when you’re faced with a big stressor, and that few moments’ workout will satisfy your primal fight-or-flight urge. You don’t need to change clothes because 60 seconds is nowhere near long enough to work up a sweat. Run up some stairs, or do some jumping jacks or lunges. When 60 seconds is up, you’re done.

3. Then take some deep breaths.

Now that you’ve gotten that initial burst of energy out of the way, continue the process of reducing your own stress by taking a few slow, controlled breaths. Try counting as you go and making your exhalations slightly longer than your inhalations. This simple technique is surprisingly effective at calming your mind because it activates your vagus nerve to emit neurotransmitters that will slow your heart rate.

4. Now take a few minutes to process your decision.

You still have at least 10 minutes of your 15-minute timeout left. Take that time and do whatever will help you quickly process your options and then make a thoughtful choice. If you have a trusted advisor, colleague, or friend who typically helps you talk through your business problems, try reaching out for a quick conversation. Another option is to make a list of pros and cons. Or take a few minutes for research. You won’t be able to learn everything you need to know, but a little extra data might make it easier to see the right move.

Whichever you choose, you’ll come back after your 15 minutes are done in a better frame of mind and more able to make a decision that’s the right one for you and your company. It’s a small investment of time, but one you’ll be glad you made.

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