As a freelancer, you have to wear every hat in your company. The result is that the worker you, has to live with the decisions the CEO you has made. For a long time, I had a chronic problem of agreeing to take on every opportunity that came my way. The CEO me thought, “Great that sounds like a cool job, let’s do it!” However, the worker me was the one that had to spend months on projects that often in no way advanced my goals and only stressed me out. The problem, as I figured out, was that I would make on-the-spot decisions in a state of excitement without fully thinking over the consequences.
The Problem with Spontaneous Decisions
Working for oneself, it’s natural to be scared about missing opportunities. We’ve been trained to take on projects and please clients. Because we’re just starting out and don’t want to miss that big break, it seems like a good strategy to say yes to everything. As a result, when we’re caught off guard and forced to make a spontaneous decision we default to yes. This instinctive response brings about several issues.
The main problem is that we don’t think through the long term. While agreeing to something might take a few seconds, the project itself might take months. At best a poor decision will result in a bit of stress and a few weeks of work you don’t like. At worst it could mean that you miss a truly great opportunity because you’re caught up working on something else.
Another issue is that we don’t properly calculate the value and negotiate on our end. The person giving you this opportunity has thought about it, decided what factors are important to them, and has chosen you for the job. You should take an equal amount of time to think about the project. Ask yourself if it’s worth your time, does it advance you to your goals, and what the full cost to you is.
There are three main types of interactions we regularly experience – face-to-face, on the phone, and over email. Here is how to stop agreeing too quickly and give yourself time to think things through.
For me, face-to-face decisions are the most difficult. I think part of this has to do with wanting a full outcome at the end of a meeting. The key is to avoid giving the pretence that you are committing to the project throughout the meeting and at the end making it clear that you need some time to think everything over before you decide. You can say something like “Thanks, it’s been really great talking with you, I need some time to absorb everything. Can I get back to you with a final decision tomorrow?”
If you find yourself in a situation where a decision has to be made on the spot, then ask for a few minutes on your own to go through things. If the other party is pushing you to commit and doesn’t want to give you time, then it’s like likely a bad idea to work with them. We’re not surgeons – there shouldn’t be a reason you can’t have a bit of time before deciding.
On the Phone
Phone calls are tricky because more than any other interaction they come as a surprise and often we aren’t fully prepared for them. If it’s someone you work with regularly then I would use a similar method as above and get back to them later. If it’s someone I don’t work with often or an unknown number then I usually just let it go to voice mail (make sure you have a professional message). This way you can listen to the message, go through all the details, and call them back at a convenient time.
Email is the best type of communication for me because it completely avoids all the problems of the first two. Also, it’s clear, searchable, and easy to reference when you need details later. I try to move all business interactions to email as soon as possible.
Action Steps: Looking back, pick three jobs you’ve worked on that you regret agreeing to. Why did you agree and what steps can you take in the future to prevent it from happening?
Also, if you have your own tricks for making smarter decisions please share them in the comments!