Making Choices Narrows Your Remaining Options

I’ve had variations of this conversation a couple of times lately and thought it was worth writing down some thoughts. The essence of the problem is that people are often frustrated that an early decision ‘boxes them in’. Absolutely it does, and that’s why it’s important to figure out which decisions to make early, because they shape everything else.

For instance, say you’re building a house. You can wait quite a while to decide on the color, but you have to make and stick to a decision about the size and composition of the foundation early, I think for obvious reasons! Can you change it later? Sure, but it’s expensive, and in all but the most extreme cases not a viable option.

Or say you’re planning a family vacation. You probably have some time restrictions based on available vacation days, school calendar, and other life events. You probably also have to set a spending budget. Those decisions then shape what you do and for how long on your vacation. Here it’s a little more flexible, maybe you find out that your dream cruise is 1 day longer and $200 more than planned, you take a hard look if you can do it. But you don’t spend a lot of time looking at vacation packages that are twice as long or twice as expensive as your budget.

The further you go on building the house or living your vacation, the fewer choices you have left, running out of time and money, but you can make lots of smaller decisions. What color to paint the rooms, carpet, where to eat dinner, what dinner show to attend.

I call that narrowing the funnel. At the beginning anything was possible, you could literally go in any direction. Two or three decisions later you’ll find that you’ve gone from infinity to much smaller tactical decisions because the course has been set. It may seem like an annoyance to hit constraints, but in reality it’s valuable – you commit to a goal and set some fences, and then you start executing. You can’t keep rethinking (well, I guess you can) your original decision points, you just adjust as you can and capture lessons for the next time.

That’s why for any big decision it’s worth understanding the limits that picking a choice imposes.

3 thoughts on “Making Choices Narrows Your Remaining Options

  1. Janice, I think that last paragraph is the crux of it. Knowing when to be resolute isn’t easy. Most people either quit too soon or too late, and it’s rare that you know which you did!


  2. Boy Andy do I ever know what you mean! Just 2 weeks ago it seemed we had unlimited options on our next SQL Saturday. Only thing was, our foundation was poured by someone else and we just planned to share that footprint.

    Oh well, I guess we’ll just have come up with something brilliant. No clue what yet, but as Buck Woody might say: `I can’t wait to see what we’re going to do`.


  3. Excellent words of wisdom to keep in mind. Narrowing choices isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is important to use the next range of choices to look back a little and evaluate that decision. You might find that it was better, or worse, than you thought when you made it.


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