5 Handy Rules of Thumb for Better Decision Making

Last Updated Dec 15, 2009 9:50 AM EST

Better rules of thumb make for better decisionsDecision making is hard, especially when it comes to something as mobile and multifaceted as your career. With so many factors to consider and so many of them changing rapidly, sifting through the relevant information and coming to a solid conclusion can be maddening, especially for those with relatively little career experience to draw on. That's where heuristics come in. What's a heuristic? Blogger Colin Marshall explains that it's an,
Experience-based techniques that help in problem solving, learning and discovery. A heuristic method is particularly used to rapidly come to a solution that is hoped to be close to the best possible answer.
So, in other words, a rule of thumb. But whether you use the fancy or the everyday term for these handy hacks, having the right one for a difficult decision can keep you on track and clarify your thinking. That's why all around creative guy Marshall has rounded up ten of the best he's heard lately on his blog The War on Mediocrity, including these five:
  • Would I respect me? I supposedly ask myself this about either my life in general, as a tool for broader self-assessment, or about a specific action I'm contemplating taking.
  • What benefits my future self? I've found no better way to battle the bad habit of foisting tasks and undesirabilities onto the Colin of a few days from now than to identify what I could do next and automatically choose whatever benefits my future self most -- or harms him the least, anyway.
  • Find the thin end of the wedge. This is stuff of folk aphorisms about thousand-mile journeys begun by single steps... Meaning: daunting tasks are made more doable than they seem by isolation of the small ones that precede or collectively constitute them.
  • Barf it out, then clean it up. The sole path to non-suckage winds through the treacherous woods of suckage. I must therefore make peace with producing something sucky and then iterate that initial product until it achieves decency. The trick is avoiding discouragement by that first piece of suckiness. As a writing principle, everyone knows this -- you pound out the rough draft, then do the real writing, which is rewriting -- but I submit that it's applicable across all pursuits.
  • Can I fail at this? It's like Raymond Chandler said: there is no success without the possibility of failure. Therefore, something I can't fail at is also something I can't succeed at. I can fail at conducting an interview, writing an essay or making a video. I can't fail at meandering around the internet in search of "neat stuff to read."
Like these? The remaining five can be found at Marshall's blog. Hat tip to the always thought-provoking Ben Casnocha for the pointer.

(Image of massive thumb by AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.