Making hard and complex decisions can be difficult and time consuming. Decision-making advice often includes listing pros and cons. However, for hard and complex decisions the dichotomy of positive and negative can be restrictive and not that helpful.

Try using these five simple steps for your next tough decision and see how making complex decisions can be easier, much less stressful, and result in the best way forward.

Think about the decision in a new or different space to the one you usually work in.
Space is far more important than we think. The space we are in defines how we behave, how we feel and how we think. Research has shown us that light, space and materials all have a big impact on everything we do and feel. And the right space can help us be creative in our decision-making.

The first step, therefore, is to think creatively about the situation in a new space. A space that can be great for creative thinking is outside – where there is plenty of greenery. Research has shown that 3-5 minutes having contact with nature reduces stress and enables you to think more clearly and creatively. Or, to stay indoors, standing halfway up a staircase and looking down. By gaining height, and being halfway on a journey up (or down) the stairs, the space you are in opens up new possibilities and new thinking.

If you are pressured for time, and cannot leave your office, standing or sitting in the middle of the room can help you to think differently. A change of room within the buidling can also do the trick. If your thinking about the decision is in its infancy go to a room with a high ceiling or a glass wall. The openness of the space encourages your creativity and freethinking. If you are further along the journey of the decision you could try a room with a low ceiling, and limited, or no windows. The room should encourage focused thought about the decision you need to make.

Get focused information
Hard and complex decisions cannot usually be made alone. Most complex decisions need input from others, and require some research or data gathering to be done. The key for this step is to ensure that your information gathering is focused and selective, rather than exhaustive. Gain opinions of others but try to limit it to 3 different opinions. Aim to ask 3 people who have different frames of reference to each other (such as one of your team, a peer, and a customer/client). Secondly, source only the key data you need to make the decision. Too much data can be confusing and counterproductive.

Ask yourself key questions
Write your own responses down. Try not to over-think the answers.

What would I really like to have happen?
If I had no constraints what would I do?
What else is relevant?

Do something else that totally occupies your conscious mind
The conscious mind is great at making decisions that have just a few variables to consider. But when it comes to complex decisions, the unconscious mind needs to be involved too. The best way to do this, is to first think about the decisions rationally and creatively (as above), and then distract yourself completely so your conscious mind is busy doing something else. Whilst you are doing that something else, your unconscious mind continues to think about the decision that needs to be made. The trick is to ensure that you are completely focused on a new activity – that could be a leisure activity or a new work activity – that is nothing to do with the decision you need to make.

Then ask yourself closing questions
When you return to thinking about your complex decision, your subconscious will have done the work for you, and you can now consider these questions. Write your answers down to the questions:

What does my gut tell me to do?
What will I do?
What do I need to do first?

These 5 simple steps can ensure you make the best decision you can, whenever you need to.

Sarah Alexander, Director. Coach and Trainer, Vivid Communication