15 Feb

Mental frameworks for making decisions

Now that I lead a team of 25 there are a lot more decisions to be made. Fast decision making is a major advantage to being a small company and something I’d hate for us to lose as we grow. To help, I’ve started listing out several mental frameworks I use for decision making.

These frameworks mean that I can tackle a problem more quickly without having to agonize over each outcome. Here are three that I’ve used recently:

Dealing with stress

When you are stressed about a particular issue it’s important to take a step back and ask two questions:

  1. Does it get better or worse with time?
  2. Do I have any control over it?

If this particular problem gets better with time, then you may not even need to worry about it. Last year, once ConvertKit got on a good path financially, I stopped stressing about money. Even though we still had very little in the bank, I knew we were on the right trajectory.

That problem was going to get better over time so I didn’t have to focus too much energy on it anymore. If you find your problem gets better with time you may be able to ignore it entirely (or dedicate minimal resources to it).

Now there are cases where the problem gets worse over time. A leaky roof on your house will create worse and worse problems the longer you let it go. So if it gets worse with time you need to ask the second question: Do you have any control over it?

We often stress about things that are outside of our immediate control: the economy, what a competing company might do, or politics on a national level. You can’t control those. Sure, you can spend your money with companies and causes you care about, talk to friends, cast your votes, etc., but largely you won’t solve the problem through stress. So stop worrying about it.

Action may be helpful, but the stress is not.

If the problem gets worse with time and you have control over the outcome? Then you can jump in and tackle it head on. Only a small subset of problems and stress fall into this category, so this framework will keep your stress levels low so you have capacity when this does happen.

Knowing when to quit

In 2014 I was faced with a major decision on one of my side-projects: shut it down or double down? That’s tough. There are endless stories of entrepreneurs persevering through endless trials before they finally hit it big. That leaves everyone else out there wondering if they gave up too soon. Or maybe you’re wasting time on a dead-end project and your time could be better spent elsewhere?

I wrote a full post on this framework here, so we’ll just cover the summary. But deciding whether to shut down a project or double down on it starts with two questions:

  1. Do you still want this as much today as the day you started?
  2. Have you given it every possible chance to succeed?

If you’ve lost interest in running a SaaS company, being a famous author, or launching an iOS app, then it’s time to admit that and move on. But if you still want it as much today as the day you started, then it’s time to ask yourself the second question: Have you given it every possible chance to succeed?

Be honest. Five hours a week doesn’t count. Being all talk and no action doesn’t count. Is the execution there? Did you put in the hard work?

There are plenty of reasons projects fail and if you gave it your best shot, then it’s time to call it and move on.

For me I decided to double down and that decision has resulted in $6 million (and counting), but it just as easily could have gone the other way.

Dealing with team issues

A few months ago Val on our customer success team told me about a framework that she learned being a manager at Lulu Lemon. Since this is 3rd-hand I’ll probably butcher the details, but this framework has been very helpful when dealing with personal issues on the team.

If team member A comes to you with a problem about team member B it’s easy to take on that burden and promise to help them solve it. Do that three or four times and you’re quickly overwhelmed carrying the weight of everyone’s issues.

So instead, when team member A approaches you about the problem, you listen carefully. When they finish you say:

“I’m going to assume that you’re either telling me this because….

A. You need to tell someone in order to get your thoughts clear before you have the direct conversation with your co-worker or…

B. You’re worried about that how that conversation will go and so you want someone else to be there as an observer or to help keep the conversation on track.

So, which one is it and when are you going to have the conversation?”

What just happened here is pure magic. Instead of taking on their entire emotional burden, you listened to their case and then channeled it toward the only thing that can get long-term results: a direct conversation.

You can be there to support and facilitate, but it’s not your burden to carry. Most importantly these questions point you to one clear outcome which will get results!

Do you have similar frameworks?

If you have similar frameworks that you use—or a story from when you’ve used a framework to make a decision—I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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3 Responses to “Mental frameworks for making decisions”

  1. Great article Nathan, thanks.

    One that I love (and share with my clients at mindfulness4mothers.com & flourishtime.com) when deciding whether to say something – or what to say is:

    T.H.I.N.K. before you speak:

    1: Is it True?
    2: Is it Helpful?
    3:Am I the best person to say it?
    4: Is it Necessary?
    5: Is it kind to this person and others?

    Cheers, Kellie Edwards


  2. This is really useful Nathan. I particularly like the first two frameworks. In fact I used your “Knowing when to quit” post last year to help me get clarity on a business decision. (In that instance I did actually quit, which still feels like the right decision!)

    Looking forward to hearing more of your decision-making tips!

    Thanks,
    Matt


  3. Regarding the team issues framework, it reminded me of something similar Ben Horowitz talks about in his book “The Hard Thing about Hard Things”. I’ll post my notes on the topic below, and would recommend the book highly, if you haven’t already read it.
    ——-
    You can get 2 kinds of complaints about an employee:
    About his behavior: Get the complainer and the target person in the same room and resolve ASAP.
    About his competence: If this is news to you, immediately tell the complainer that you do not agree with his assessment. You do not want the complaint to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then evaluate both people. If you agree with the complaint, you should have fired the target person a long time ago.


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