Note: this is an extensive set of book notes, clocking in at 1800 words. It’s a more weighty and dense post but (I think) worth the ~9 minutes to read it.
I recently read and finished taking notes on a book called: Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Life Decisions (4.5 stars, 63 reviews on Amazon, affiliate link)
Making good decisions and executing well on those decisions are basically the only things that matter in life. I recently shared my book notes on Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, which explains how organizations can develop better strategies. This book is similar but focuses on how individuals can make better decisions, especially for the important aspects of their personal life. The approach is simple and the examples are relatable: buying a house, changing careers, planning an event, etc
The Acronym to Remember
The authors coined this somewhat helpful acronym: PrOACT, which stands for Problem, Objectives, Alternatives, Consequences, Tradeoffs.
The Biggest Mistake
The most common (and most easily avoided) mistake people make when deciding things is that they just don’t think about it. They just go with the gut. For smaller decisions, this isn’t always a big deal, but for bigger decisions, just taking a few minutes or a few hours to carefully think through a decision can make a big difference, especially given how bad our brains sometimes are at making decisions.
It’s useful to start off by asking yourself what problem you are trying to solve exactly. Their example is of a family that’s out growing their current home. One problem definition might be “What new house should we move to?” but perhaps a better one is “How can we find a home that fits our family’s needs?” which includes the possibility of renovating the current home.
Thinking about problem definitions is a fuzzy thing but a few other tips include:
- ask what trigger caused you to consider the problem in the first place
- question the constraints contained in your problem statement
- recognize what other decisions hinge on this one
- develop a workable scope for your problem definition
Objectives are what really matter to you in your decision. Before you look at your options, you should first think about what success looks like. What would constitute a best case scenario for your decision? For example, if you’re choosing a new office, your list of objectives might be minimal commute time, low cost, lots of space and fully staffed administrative services.