Constraints should be obligatory - limit your choice to make good decisions

Together with my wife we're almost finishing our new apartment and we're planning to move in very soon, in about two weeks. Definitely before the end of November.

That's our constraint, our limit, we need to have every "dirty" work done in the apartment one week before December to make sure we have the time to move and settle in.

Unfortunately, that's the only limit we have with this project - time, the options as to how to make the apartment, which floors to choose, which bathroom, bedroom, living room or kitchen furniture and other stuff to buy...

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... the choices are limitless...

...and that's a serious problem, 'cos very often we can't make up our mind about things, those tiny little things...

...and since everything for the apartment costs so much, there is additional fear of spending lots of money on something that will look like crap and that we'd hate every day for the rest of our lives.

This is why I'm always trying to limit myself, add a constraint to every decision.

Like when I'm choosing the material for bathroom, there are literally thousands of materials and tens of companies that offer them in different sizes, shapes, colors... and there is a simple process I'm doing every time a decision has to be made:

1) I choose just one company to go with, the one that looks has the best kinds of stuff overall for the fair price

2) I choose 2-3 options from this company's offer

3) I make the decision, choose one and don't look back.

Easy, right? Hell no. There are so many companies and so many colors that it's still hard... and since it's "our" apartment, we need to make the decision together - me and my wife - and she's a lot more concerned about colors and shapes than I am.

And she cares more for the entire vision of the finished apartment... like will this floor in the living room match the floor in the kitchen with the kitchen furniture... etc.

And it's not a bad thing that she's so concerned about these tiny little details - it's a good thing... but we have to remind ourselves not to get sucked in too much in all this. Why?

Because you'll almost never know if the decision you've made is right, directly after you've made it.

No computer simulation or 3D visualization will tell you - not until the stuff you chose has been bought and installed. Real life is different than virtual computer reality.

Most decisions are being made "almost" blindly anyway...

That's right. Very often the shade of brown we chose for furniture will turn up different after the furniture has arrived, the beige floor will be more brown than beige after it's been installed...

... so we trust our gut and instincts - we've chosen great looking stuff anyway!

That's why we have to remind ourselves not to get over-careful with our decisions.

The same principle applies to almost every aspect of our lives. We hardly see the outcome of our decisions right after we've made them. We need to trust our guts. We need to limit ourselves and if there is no constraint, put one ourselves to make sure we have only up to 3 valid good choices. And then act on them and choose the one and don't look back.

Just like with software development: "shipping is a feature", in life: "decision is a feature" too. And limiting our choices helps us make good decisions.

I've been in a similar situation (and I still am) during Nozbe 2.0 development - I have to choose - which feature to keep, how to implement it, what's the limit and how to limit myself so that I can ship it as soon as possible and show to my users. And now that I'm working on a second app, I need to limit myself again... to make sure I actually ship version 1 and avoid staying in a loop of adding more and more features before the release.

It's really good to embrace the constraints... and if you don't have them, create them yourself to make sure you can make a right and quick decision and move on... and never look back.

And if you do make the wrong decision, you'll later have plenty of time to fix it anyway. This is life. Nobody's perfect. Embrace it.

Question: With what kind of decisions have you been struggling lately? How did you make up your mind? What techniques, tips or tricks you're using to move forward and decide? 

--> me I'm Michael Sliwinski and I'm an entrepreneur who's also the...
.. Founder of Nozbe.com - a time and project management web application
.. Editor of Productive! Magazine - a global PDF publication on productivity
.. and a blogger as well as a producer of a weekly 2-minute Productive! show.

Posted on Sunday, November 8, 2009 (life,productivity,startup)