When you face a tough decision and need advice, start by writing a description of your situation. Define the problem, stakes, options, and tradeoffs. Identify questions and risks. Explain what you think is important and why it matters.
Read it out loud to yourself. What’s missing? Add it. What’s irrelevant? Cut it. What’s confusing? Clarify it. Don’t stop until everything important is on the page and any excess cruft has been trimmed away.
Now, sleep on it. Then read it out loud again the next day. Congratulations! Nine out of ten times you will no longer need advice. Nothing refines thinking like writing. The choice may still be difficult and the tradeoffs may be significant, but the path forward will be obvious. And even if you find yourself in the rare situation where the path stubbornly remains obscure, you’ve just written the email you should send to your trusted adviser in order to help them help you.
Complement with Most successful people have no idea what made them successful, Ideas aren’t unique, execution is, and Be bold.
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Eliot Peper is the author of nine novels, including Cumulus, Bandwidth, and, most recently, Veil. He sends a monthly newsletter, tweets more than he probably should, and lives in Oakland, CA.