3 minute read


In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey presents a two by two grid that asks you to ranks your tasks based on importance and urgency. The principle he is trying to make people focus on is that the most important things which are also urgent are the first things you should be focusing on. He titles this principle the “First Things First” principle. He goes on to state that where you do your best, most important work is not in that first quadrant, but instead in the second quadrant where things are important but not urgent and they way you get there is by recognizing that the things in the third quadrant are urgent but not really important. So you shift to the most important things instead and leave the unimportant urgent things for another day or entirely alone.

What Covey is talking about here are things which are tasks to be done on projects we have already decided to do. There is a similar things we can do with decisions. Usually when making a decision I list the pros and then cons and then try and rank them on a scale from 1-3 in the severity or strength of the pro/con. Essentially I have two boxes, one for pros and another for cons. What make this exercise more interesting is if I then add in the idea of the pro or con being reversible or not. Then things become much more interesting when making decisions.

But how does this work exactly?

First, lets look at the old style. In this case we will look a the idea of starting a new business as a solo entrepreneur. Your pro/con list may look something like this:


  • Time freedom
  • Few if any “bosses”
  • Flexible work locations
  • Full control
  • Project freedom
  • Increased creativity
  • Can create the “company culture” I like
  • Possible bump in network with others
  • More income control


  • No paid benefits
  • Every customer is your “boss”
  • Uncertain success
  • Unstable income
  • Long time to ramp up to profitability
  • May have to run everything yourself
  • Missed socialization and communication with peers
  • Invest capital into business
  • Invested time into the business
  • Missed opportunities
  • Missed raises/corporate prestige

I’m sure there are other things you could think of to put in this list, and it is by no means exhaustive, but you get the idea. Now, what does this look like when you put in the reversible/irreversible idea into the mix?

Before we do that, we need to make sure we have a clear understanding of what it means to be reversible verses irreversible. In our case, when something is irreversible it means we cannot go back. The state has changed and we cannot go back to the way things were before. An example would be meeting somebody. The phrase is “You can never make another first impression,” is an example of an irreversible quality. In most things you may find things are reversible. People are able to recover from losses of most kinds, but there are a few things which cannot be backed out of. The question is, are the irreversible qualities of the decision worth it?

Below is an attempt I made to take the new business decision and add the reversible aspect to the pro/con list.

  Pro Con
Reversible Time freedom Uncertain success
  Few if any “bosses” Every customer is your “boss”
  Flexible work locations Unstable income
  Full control May have to run everything yourself
  Project freedom Missed socialization and communication with peers
  Increased creativity No paid benefits
  More income control  
Irreversible Possible increase in network with others Long time to ramp up to profitability
  Can create the “company culture” (the culture can change, but its harder) Missed opportunities
    Invested capital
    Invested time
    Missed raises/corporate prestige

Adding the reversible/irreversible dimension to a decision list can help you weigh the real costs. If you can reverse a decision then it makes it easier to make that decision, but if there is a possibility tat you can cannot, then you need to be aware of the risks and

Photo by Hunter James on Unsplash.