It’s insane how much time we spend making decisions. Not to mention, the time we spend dwelling on them. When we think we’ve made the “wrong” choice, we’re usually battling something bigger than the decision itself – like guilt or a lack of confidence in our own decision making. But if you’re running your own business and living the flexible lifestyle of a freelancer, you need that confidence. It’s the only way you’ll attract and keep clients to grow your business.
With that in mind, we put together this guide for making better choices in various aspects of life beyond just your career. Because at the end of the day, as a freelancer, all of your choices – from your daily outfit to who you hang out with – blur and mesh into your work life.
Be a satisficer, not a maximizer
On Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast, her and her co-host Elizabeth Craft discuss two different types of decision makers – maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers will spend hours, weeks or even years making a decision because they’re so intent on making the optimal decision. Whereas satisficers embrace “good enough.” But that doesn’t mean they settle on every decision. Rather, they have an internal set of criteria – a checklist – for making decisions. If an option meets that set of criteria, they quickly move forward with it.
According to Gretchen, research suggests that satisficers are happier. They’re more content with their decisions and far less likely to experience regret than maximizers. Try being a satisficer. When making simple decisions (rather than life-altering ones) ask yourself: “is this good enough?” then move on. This process will lessen your likelihood to overthink decisions and waste your time.
Embrace the two-minute rule
Some decisions are so small that they don’t require a set of satisficer criteria. For small, everyday decisions, embrace the two-minute rule – especially when you first wake up or get to work. If an action will take two minutes or less, get it done that very moment. Examples include hanging up your coat when you walk in the door, answering quick emails that don’t take too much thought, putting something away once you use it, etc.
When you embrace the two-minute rule, you eliminate the chances of these things adding up to bigger messes, issues or worse – more decisions. Habit expert James Clear says that the two-minute rule also helps build healthy habits. If you take just two minutes a day to do the habit you want to build – write a sentence, read a page of a book, put on your sneakers and get out the door – you’ll create a foundation of consistency to build on.
Simplify, automate and eliminate certain decisions
In addition to the two-minute rule, there are other approaches to automating small choices. Try limiting your options for daily decisions, such as what you eat for breakfast or lunch, what you wear, your grooming routine, etc. Some of the world’s most influential people – like President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg – wear essentially the same thing every day to avoid decision fatigue when it comes time to make decisions that matter. Other ideas include shopping somewhere like Trader Joes with a limited selection, only subscribing to one-two well-rounded news sources, blogs, or newsletters, etc.
This great post by Crew suggests using a service like Amazon’s Subscribe and Save to ship common items like paper towels directly to your house. Enroll in autopay for your credit card, phone bill, cable bill, etc. That way, all of these small but time-consuming decisions and actions just happen in the background without you having to think about it. Think of it as streamlining your life.
Know when to make quick vs. slow decisions
All of the examples above apply to quick decisions. Choices like what you eat or wear or even read should be made quickly. However, there are other decisions that deserve the time and brainpower you’re saving with automaed decisions. Deciding on things like whether or not to quit your job or take on a new client or project, where to live, or where to travel are examples of slow decisions.
Of course, some people are able to make these quickly. I decided to book a flight to Dublin the other day within 15 minutes. The trick when identifying quick vs. slow decisions is to quickly assess the length of impact, depth of impact (will there be a domino effect to this decision?), and how it might impact your other projects, plans, etc. Deciding between quick and slow decisions might take some practice but it’s mostly a matter of common sense. Make the trivial decisions quickly, and allow yourself some more time for those with longer consequences.
Know when to opt for independent decisiveness vs. collective discussion
This Harvard Business Review article points to psychology for our poor decision making and the anxiety that comes with it. The article says:
“Behavioral economists have uncovered a range of mental shortcuts and cognitive biases that distort our perceptions and hide better choices from us. Most business decisions are collaborative, which mean groupthink and consensus work to compound our individual biases. Further, most business decisions are made under the stress of high uncertainty, so we often rely on gut feelings and intuition to reduce our mental discomfort. Decisions are hard work; there is a strong emotional impetus to just make them and move on.”
The trick is to know when it’s best to make a decision independently and not let group-think slow the process down. Research says that once you have seven people in a decision-making group, each additional member reduces decision effectiveness by 10%. So even if a decision does require collaboration, it’s best to keep it limited to a small group.
For example, when I first launched A Song A Day, I got our community of curators involved in every decision – from logo to process to product decisions. It was beneficial to have our community cast a vote on final options for some of these decisions. But for others, it slowed down our development and growth. Over time, I learned which decisions to make myself, which to get a couple of people involved with, and which are best for the entire community. The result has been much quicker progress on our product and community time spent on the things they care more about.
Making decisions about people
You probably already know that the quality of your relationships matter more than quantity – especially as you get older. When making decisions involving people – clients, partners, friends, or significant others – ask yourself: “how does this person make me feel?” If the answer is anxious, stressed, sad, or bad about yourself, it’s probably time to cut ties. We know this is easier said than done, but the more you focus on the projects and people that bring you joy, the higher quality your life will be.
When it comes to assessing new, potential clients, get on the phone with them. If possible, meet them in person. If you’ll be emailing with them a lot, do that as well. You’re going to be working with this person – make sure you communicate well together. Assess their tone and attitude. Do they talk to you as their equal? Do they ask you a lot of questions and your opinions? Are they interested in your process or creative direction? If the answers to these questions are yes and if you like the work you’d be doing, then the project is worth exploring – depending on the contract, pay, etc.
If you’re excited to work with a new client or about a new project but know you don’t have the bandwidth or time, it’s best to either end another project or streamline other areas of your life before moving forward. Your relationships with your potential clients are important to your future. You don’t want to burn any bridges by flaking because you took on too much!
Learn when to go with your gut
The trick to learning to go with your gut is to trust your intuition. It’s all about having that confidence in your decision making we talked about earlier. If you feel like you’ve made poor decisions in the past and suffered negative consequences, your mind probably needs some perception training. The best thing you can do to become a better decision maker is to practice mindfulness. To become aware of your thoughts and feelings around different decisions. To prioritize what matters most to you.
After you’ve mastered (or at least improved) your mindfulness, you’ll find decision making to come much easier to you. You’ll be able to link every decision to your end goal and the right choice will become clear. If you need help learning how to practice mindfulness, check out these 10 free and inexpensive apps.
Believe it or not, all of these tips can be applied to career decisions. With some practice, you’ll be able to spot which freelance opportunities are fruitful and which are more likely to not end well. If you have a bad feeling about something, really think about what it is that’s making you feel that way. Is it external influences like friends or family? Or is it the opportunity itself? Give yourself time and space to reflect on your feelings and do your research! Ask around about your potential clients, read reviews, ask them about past experiences working with freelancers. A little communication goes a long way.
Have you found any other ways to make better choices for you? Share them in the comments below!
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