AMY LINDGREN: Avoiding decision-making pitfalls

When it comes to decisions, we all have our quirks. Some people jump in with almost no information while others research like crazy. Others take baby steps, keeping an eye on the rear-view mirror in case they need to reverse course. And still others hesitate to act at all, sometimes in spite of declaring that they absolutely must make a decision.

As a career counselor I’ve had a front-row seat to sometimes agonizing decision-making scenarios covering everything from career choices to retirement pathways. And while there’s no one right way to make a decision, there certainly are numerous ways to complicate the process.

Following are what I would consider to be the most common pitfalls of decision-making, at least when it comes to career issues.

1. Asking too many people for input. Since there are probably only a few people in your circle who could competently advise you on any particular subject, you need to expand your outreach to include someone with relevant expertise. At some point, polling your friends and family turns into approval seeking and you’re way too grownup for that.

2. Not asking anyone for input. On the other hand, not considering any other views at all can leave you vulnerable to gaps in logic or missed alternatives.

3. Not taking your history into account. Is this the third training program you’ll have started? Are you considering yet another sales job, even though you keep getting fired? While it’s true that patterns can be changed, that only happens when the pattern is first recognized. Sometimes pattern recognition is the most valuable contribution someone else can make to your decision-making process.

4. Acting on the rebound. If you’ve always wanted to start a business and now find that your layoff makes it possible, then the timing seems fortuitous. But if the business idea appeals primarily because you hate the thought of ever being laid off again, you may be applying more emotion than reason to the problem.

5. “Sizing” the decision-making process inappropriately. For decisions with long-term, life impacts, it makes sense to put effort into the process. But some decisions are so easily reversed, there’s no value in over-thinking. Temporary or part-time work fits in this category. People who need money should probably take the work, without over-analyzing how it will “look” on their resume. Since most of these jobs need never be presented on a resume, the point is moot.

6. Over-researching. Haven’t we all done this? It’s almost impossible not to jump from one internet link to another in search of a more definitive answer. Certainly, some information is needed, but there is a tipping point beyond which your effort will not be rewarded. If you find that you can’t stop seeking data, take a moment to ask why: Do you really need one more fact? Or might you be using research as a delaying tactic? Maybe you’re not as committed to the idea as you thought, or you’re scared to get started.

7. Seeking a definitive answer. The quest for certainty is probably the real culprit behind over-researching. We all want to feel certain – not to mention proud and confident – about decisions we make. Unfortunately, not many of us are fated to experience absolute clarity very often. Most of the time, we have to acknowledge that we’re making the best choice we can with the time and resources available, and then make the leap.

8. Not actually making a leap. To make a decision but not act on it is kind of sad. Of course, if the decision itself is to take no action, then no leap is called for. But if the choice you make requires an action that you decline to take, then all the effort of deciding was for naught and the opportunity will pass – possibly making you feel worse than before you started.

9. Not putting a timeline on the decision. This is the mistake that causes more harm than probably any other. Conversely, getting this right can smooth out nearly every other mistake. It doesn’t even matter whether the timeline is fast or slow. Just placing expectations on yourself for having a process in place confirms the commitment to make a decision by a specified date.

And how important is it to conclude a decision-making process? I think it’s critical. Let’s say you’re struggling with the question of leaving your job. If you’re like many people, you’ve already “almost quit” several times.

Living in a stay-or-go limbo is counter-productive for either option. Not only are you not investing in your current work, but you’re not laying the path for a future career either. Making a decision frees you to go on with your life.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.