Have you ever felt overwhelmed by too many decisions, ideas, or “to-dos” running through your head? Life changes like retirement can bring big decisions like moving. Selling a business may lead to decisions like starting another company, going to work in another capacity, retiring, buying a new home, or relocating. Other major life changes that require decisions include divorce, widowhood, winning the lottery, an athlete signing a pro contract, or receiving an inheritance. Even with something like COVID many people are finding that they are suddenly dealing with decisions in their lives that they had not been anticipating. Like changes in work, children’s education, or other financial struggles. Even having an aging parent move in with them or making other arrangements for them instead of long-term care. Many times, when life changes it comes with a lot of different uncertainties. In the face of uncertainty, the options and choices running through our heads can be overwhelming. It is during these times that we are most at risk of making decisions we regret. The stakes are high and He risks are great. Our money, our closest relationships, and even our future possibilities. If we want to make sure we make good financial and even life decisions, sometimes the best thing we can do is say “not now.”
In her book, Sudden Money: Managing A Financial Windfall, author Susan Bradly created what she calls the Decision Free Zone®. As Susan says, the objective is to structure an intentional time out from all but the essential and urgent actions. Note, this is not a “no decision” time – this is not an excuse to not make any decisions. Rather, its about bringing order to all the ideas and possibilities you have on your mind. It is a tool that helps people move from feeling overwhelmed and confused towards calm. And it is a calm mind that can make much better decisions, that can avoid pitfalls and regrets.
If you have a number of ideas, or decisions on your mind and are feeling overwhelmed, based on the Decision Free Zone, here are 3 steps to help bring some order to your decision making:
Step 1: Write them ALL down – make a big list, then group together the decisions or ideas that are related. For instance, if one of your considerations includes a real estate decision group thoughts like Stay in My House, Sell & Rent, Sell and Buy, Relocate together. Just getting all of your possibilities down on paper will free up headspace and help you feel more in control.
Step 2: Sort your list into Now, Soon and Later
Now: There are things that need to be done now, and they are urgent. Things in the Now category are the ones you feel are essential and do require your immediate attention. For instance, before you can make a decision about real estate (which may be in the soon or later categories), perhaps you need to get your home appraised so you have a good idea of how much you would get for it. Or, perhaps due to divorce or widowhood, you need to open a new bank account in your name to manage your cash flow needs. For the items in the Now category, write down anyone you may need to meet with or steps you need to take to accomplish them.
Soon: These are the items or action steps that are important but don’t have the same level of urgency as those on your Now list.
Later: What can you postpone? What are those items or action steps that can wait until you have had the time you need to properly contemplate, organize, and plan properly for? In this category you may choose to include some nice-to-have items for once everything else has been dealt with.
Step 3: Set to work on the Now. As you make progress on these urgent items, some of the items on your Soon list may move up. Resist the urge to do something that you just aren’t ready for. Sometimes we are tempted to take on something from the Later list and try to accomplish it in a rash way. These items can be large and large decisions can be the ones that put you at most risk for future regret. Make sure you give yourself the time you need to be able to make a sound decision.
Whether it is COVID-19 leading to a lot of uncertainty and potential decisions or if there is another life change or transition you are going through, this Soon, Now, Later framework can bring order, and feelings of control and calm to an otherwise overwhelming situation. While we all do the best we can in the circumstances we have, we can improve our ability to make better decisions. And when it comes to financial decisions, they are best made when you have had time to contemplate, organize, and plan for.